How Taking a Sales Approach to HR Can Change the Game

You’ve heard the old adage, “Sales cures all.” Anyone who has worked sales very long knows that while this saying is true, there is one idea that follows closely behind: “retention of clients long-term and repeat customers calm the soul.” Okay, so I obviously made up that saying, but you get the point. While sales can cure a lot of troubles, high turnover with clients running out the back door as fast as they come in, can create an whole other level of frustration.

The same is true in the hiring process. A great new hire can be a game-changer, adding to the performance and chemistry of a business’ culture and bottom line. However, when employees seem to go out the back door as soon as they come in, everything in the company suffers.


Today’s hiring and retention numbers just don’t add up to something that’s profitable for companies. According to the 2012 Allied Workforce Mobility Survey, companies lose 25 percent of all new employees within a year, and many other new hires never reach the target productivity levels. The financial toll is substantial on a company’s bottom line. To fill one position, it costs on average $10,731, with an additional $21,033 per new hire for relocation. These numbers are staggering, when you consider that 71 percent of employees who are still there, are not engaged.


With employees deciding within the first 6 months whether they will stay or not, statistics overwhelmingly show that a proper onboarding process makes a tremendously positive difference in retention, engagement, and the bottom line. Amazingly, 81 percent of companies don’t have an onboarding budget. No, that’s not a mistake, you read that correctly. Potentially the one thing that could completely revolutionize your hiring process, culture, and total profitability is something that is largely ignored.

So what’s an HR person to do? You’ve got to put on your sales hat. Here are 3 ways that HR can become The Greatest Salesman in the World…and why it’s important to do so:

1. Listen to what your candidate needs.  A good salesperson knows to listen for the things that his prospective customer needs. It’s during this time that he has to decide whether his product, and what the potential customer needs, can work together. It may be a fun challenge, but there’s no need to sell ice to an Eskimo, if he’s looking for a heater. Of course a good salesman would say, “but I can sell ice to an Eskimo,” and herein lies the issue. Trying to sale something to someone who doesn’t need what you offer, turns the exchange into you trying to do something TO someone, instead of doing something FOR someone…and there’s a difference.

Through the interview process, it’s important to listen for what a candidate is looking for, needs, and wants. If she’s not a match for the position, find another position for her if she’s a great candidate that you want on the team. Or, you have to be willing to pass on her, instead of trying to sell her something that you know she doesn’t need or want.

And here’s where it gets “sticky”. Hiring someone that you really like without a real plan for her immediate future will likely backfire. How can you give someone clear job expectations if you don’t know how she fits the team or what she might ultimately do? Don’t fall prey to the idea that “we’ll figure it out as we go.” More than likely, you will look up, and as soon as 45 days, she’ll be gone to pursue another opportunity.

However, if you can understand what it is that she really wants and needs in her career, along with establishing a clear understanding of her capabilities, you can then make an offer to someone who you feel confident can fulfill what you also need. Instead of trying to do something TO your potential new hire, view the opportunity you have as doing something FOR her, whether that’s passing on her or hiring her. Either way, she will likely appreciate the experience she had with you, long into the future. Put another way, listen to see if the candidate’s needs and wants fill your needs and wants, instead of just seeing if you can fit her into what you need.

2. The Money is in the follow-up.  I’ve heard it so many times from big sales producers: “The money is in the FOLLOW-UP!” If you want to make money, you have to follow-up. The stats prove that, as 80 percent of sales require 5 follow-ups. What’s that have to do with HR? If you want to retain your new hire, and help him to engage and get to full productivity (make money for the company), you must communicate with him…consistently. Top onboarding processes have planned times of continuous follow-up through the first 6 months and beyond of a new employee’s tenure. It’s important to know the following about your new hire:

  • How is he doing?
  • Does he understand what is needed/wanted of him?
  • Does he clearly understand his job responsibility?
  • Is he able to learn the job?
  • Is there some continuing education needed?
  • How does he feel the onboarding process is going?
  • Are there any conflicts that you need to know about?

All these questions are important, along with many more. However, the only way to find out the answers is to…ASK. You’ve got to follow-up repeatedly to make sure your new hire is being properly assimilated into the company culture, as well as being taken to his maximum productivity.

3.  Meet the needs of your customers employees.  Quick off the heels of the previous point is the idea of actually treating your employees as if they were your customer, and taking care of their needs. It’s one thing to ask, “how can we improve?”, and it’s another thing to deliver what is needed. Asking for feedback without providing a proper response turns management into lip service lead by deaf ears, and employees will shut down engagement the minute they sense that. Just as a sales person understands the importance of his customers, and that he needs to listen to them, so HR personnel must understand the importance of the needs of the people they hire. Just as a top sales person has his pulse on what the customer needs and wants, so an HR person must have a clear understanding of what her staff needs.


The list could go on with the ways HR personnel can operate like a great salesperson. The important thing to consider is that, just as in the sales process, HR is introducing the candidate to a potential job (product), offering a position (closing the deal), following up to help the new hire (customer) assimilate, and then responding to the needs. It’s an approach worth trying in order to protect your company’s culture and increase profitability.

Ultimately, you are “selling” your company to a new hire, and you want them to stay long-term. At the same time, you’re “selling” your company on the idea that your new employee is the right person for the job.  Taking a sales approach to HR can change the game…but maybe the game just begins for the 81 percent of companies who would do well to start with an onboarding budget and process?