How to Use the Challenger Sales Approach in Recruiting

March 4, 2015

We’ve just started a project helping a client hire 50+ Account Execs who’ll be selling multi-million dollar software packages to F500 CIOs and CFOs. The VP of Global Sales started the conversation off by saying they were looking for AEs who met the Challenger Sales profile.

It turns out these are the personal characteristics identified by the Corporate Executive Board (CEB) as essential for selling complex systems that offer unique and less understood solutions. While it’s an advanced form of solution selling, to be successful, sales reps are required to fully understand their own products while informing and teaching their customers, who aren’t necessarily initially open to being taught. This sounded a lot like passive candidate recruiting to me.

As I researched the CEB study, I found that they identified these five different sales (aka, recruiting) styles:

  • Challenger: pushes his/her point of view through understanding, teaching and controlling the conversation.
  • Lone Wolf: does it his/her own way.
  • Hard Worker: works as hard as heck focusing more on activity than progress.
  • Problem Solver: great at cleaning up bad situations that should have been anticipated.
  • Relationship Builder: aims to please at all costs, including generating more business.

Based on the actual sales successes of more than 6,000 sales reps, the Challenger approach stood out as superior, with the Relationship Builder a distant fifth. It turns out that when trying to convince people to do something they don’t think they want to do, it takes an unusually persuasive, confident and knowledgeable person. Again, this sounds like the prerequisite for a top-notch passive candidate recruiter.

You be the judge. Here are the characteristics the CEB identified as essential traits of the Challenger profile:

  • They have a different view of the world in which they’re selling.
  • They understand their own products and their impact on the customer’s business.
  • They love to debate.
  • They don’t have a problem pushing the customer to rethink what he or she is doing.

This sounds exactly like the process great recruiters use to find and recruit passive candidates. It’s also the exact same approach the recruiter needs to use when taking an assignment from the hiring manager. Both steps require the recruiter to challenge conventional wisdom, teach the hiring manager and prospect to rethink how jobs are defined and how careers are launched, and to control the conversation to ensure each fully understands the implications of saying yes  or no.

To see if this Challenger Recruiting approach could work for you, why not try it out? Here’s how:

  1.  Lead the hiring manager through the creation of a performance-based job description when taking the assignment. Every job can be defined by 6-8 performance objectives describing the action required, a description of the task and deliverable and a rough timeframe.
  2. Ask the hiring manager to define the employee value proposition (EVP) by asking, “Why would a top person who’s not looking want this job for only a modest increase in pay?”
  3. Identifying a source list of Achievers (passive candidates in the top 25% of their peer group) is a waste of time, unless you can convert 65% or more into legitimate career discussions. That’s why you need to track your conversion rate of hot passive candidate names into career conversations. Include the EVP at the beginning of your email to increase the response rate and, when you get the person on the phone, ask, “Would you be open to exploring a situation that’s superior to what you’re doing today?” Both ideas will improve your conversion rate by 2-3X.
  4. A Challenger-type recruiter controls the process, creates interest by conducting detailed career-oriented discovery and ultimately decides whether to move the candidate forward or not. By creating the opportunity gap using the 30% Solution, the recruiter maintains “Applicant Control” – an essential component of passive candidate recruiting.
  5. If the recruiter determines the prospect is not a fit for the open job, it’s essential to get 2-3 great referrals of people who are. That’s why you need to track the number of great referrals you get from these candidates as part of any passive candidate recruiting effort.
  6. Have your hire managers agree to conduct a 30-40 minute exploratory conversation on the phone with 100% of the prospects you recommend. If you can pull this off, you’re well on your way to being considered a certified Challenger Passive Candidate Recruiter.

Of course, this is just the first half of the process of converting passive prospects into interested candidates and getting your hiring managers to talk to all of them as equals. This takes exceptional recruiting skills to pull it off. That’s why I contend the Challenger Sales model is a great benchmark for any recruiter targeting passive candidates. Why not try out the six steps and see how you fare? The biggest thing you’ll discover is that you can’t take no for an answer. So don’t.

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