6 compensation tactics to make great sales hires

By Eliot Burdett, Peak Sales Recruiting

In spite of the science that suggests money isn’t the primary motivator of people’s behavior, it’s the one thing that almost all sales people want to talk about before discussing a career change.

And it matters how you discuss this topic with a potential hire. Say the wrong things and you could possibly make a poor impression that sends the candidate to a competitor. Say the right things and you are more likely to land the sales person you want.

After having spent many years negotiating sales compensation plans and witnessing the balance of power shift in recent years, from employers to top sales people, I’ve found that the following six compensation tactics help hiring managers make great sales hires.

1. Don’t be shy—Sales people are money driven, so it is important to address compensation expectations early on in the recruiting process. When engaging any candidate, find out if their compensation goals are in line with your budget. This way neither person is wasting their time if the two sides are far apart.

The trick is to not make the conversation purely about money since that is only one component of assessing if the candidate is the right fit. That said, ask the candidate what they are currently making and what base and commission at target would be required for them to consider a move.

2. Focus on the target income—Great sales people expect their earnings to far exceed their base; however great sales people always expect to make a great base salary. Since the best of the best meet and exceed their sales goals, they take home considerable compensation in the form of commissions.

While offering a competitive base salary to a prospective sales hire is a necessity in order to demonstrate an employer’s financial strength, the assumption is that you have properly vetted the candidate, that they will be achieving their quota, and that they will be earning their full commissions at target, so the conversation during the compensation negotiation should revolve around the Total Target Income (TTI).

3. Offer proof—It is one thing for an employer to tell a prospective sales hire about all the money they will make if they join the team. It is quite another for them to see proof or speak to current members of the sales team to hear first-hand that the targets are achievable.

4. Never low ball—When recruiting a high-performing sales person who has proven themselves over time, it is critical to recognize their achievements with an appropriate offer. While it is important to make an offer focused on TTI, if you offer a base that is lower than they make now, not only will you insult them and lose them (probably to a competitor), but they will spread the word through their network about your awful offer, damaging your reputation as an employer of choice.

5. Maintain constant communication—Employers often make the mistake of presenting an offer, then not be available for questions afterwards. During any compensation negotiation period, particularly after the first offer presentation, there will be questions from the candidate. And since negotiation can be an emotional experience for a candidate, being available to provide responses to key questions can make or break your hiring efforts. The adage – “time kills deals” absolutely applies when sales recruiting.

6. Negotiate live—Many employers send an employment offer with compensation details by email. The downside of not negotiating in person or on the phone is that there is limited opportunity to gauge the candidate’s response to the offer. Furthermore, it could be disastrous if the response is negative, since there is no opportunity for recovery. The candidate may simply go silent; so it is always better to negotiate live, answer any questions in real time, and confront any deal breakers before it’s too late.

Eliot BurdettEliot Burdett is the co-founder and CEO of Peak Sales Recruiting, a leading B2B sales recruiting company. With CSO Brent Thomson, he co-authored the book Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast. Under his leadership, the company has achieved double-digit annual revenue growth working with many leading boutique, mid-size and Fortune 500 companies.