The sales rep recruiting game has just gotten a bit more crowded and a lot more competitive. As we have discussed at our conferences and in recent Kelsey Advisories, with the influx of new online directory players such as Citysearch, Yodel, LiveDeal and ReachLocal, and the added growth of YellowPages.com’s sales force, the recruiting space for online sales reps is much more crowded. If we add in the demand created by newspapers and TV stations also seeking online-savvy sales reps then experienced online sales reps are as scarce as hen’s teeth or as valued as gold (you pick the metaphor!). While this may be a boon for professional sales rep and sales management recruiters, this massive need for skilled online sales reps means companies will have to battle for candidates in the areas of base salary and benefits and add in a few creative recruiting methods to meet their manpower needs.
In a recent post on Venturebeat.com, Dan Kaplan reveals ReachLocal is aiming to dramatically increase the size of its online sales force. “Local search marketing company ReachLocal will use its massive $55.2 million infusion to build a gigantic sales force that it hopes will dislodge the Yellow Pages as the de-facto place local businesses spend their promotional dollars.” Kaplan makes a good point on the grand goal set out by ReachLocal. “To add some perspective, ReachLocal has around 300 salespeople; the global Yellow Page market employs more than 41,000 in sales alone. Zorik Gordon, ReachLocal’s chief executive, doesn’t balk at that figure, and suggests that a sales force of 10,000 or more might be in the cards. This is an unprecedented goal for an Internet-focused company, and a risky one. It comes at a time when the market for talented salespeople is extremely tight.”
While I applauded online companies with ambitious business and sales goals, I often sit and wonder how they expect to meet these lofty sales force recruitment goals they have promised their investors. The most likely strategy is that companies and recruiters will work covertly to steal sales reps already trained and experienced in online sales while supplementing their numbers with a smaller percentage of college graduates and experienced sales reps with a working knowledge of online. Now is a great time for sales reps to have online sales on their resumes. Entering “online sales” in Monster.com over the weekend turned up more than 5,000 matches with Idearc’s Superpages.com and several other major vertical online companies showing up in the results.
The idea of building a sizable online sales force in short order is more of a tall order for any major brand organization let alone some of the lesser known companies such as Yodel or ReachLocal. Acknowledging a slower ramp-up timeframe for building out a well-trained sales force certainly affects any business plan and should give investors pause when considering realistic sales recruitment and sales productivity goals.
While no organization wants to settle for a subpar sales organization, the crowded market will most likely mean many organizations will have to “try out” people of varying backgrounds until they come upon a candidate profile that produces the best candidates in volume who have the ability to be successful and meet or exceed sales goals. The hot market for online sales reps also means companies will have to work harder to support and maintain their best online reps for fear they may be recruited by another organization offering better compensation or benefits. While it is often easier for managers to focus their efforts on low performers hoping to raise their output, managers must be mindful now more than ever not to neglect top performers’ needs, making them vulnerable to recruiters and competitors.
It’s a wild, wild world in online sales right now as traditional media shifts online and more media outlets are focusing their efforts on developing online verticals, IYPs and local search portals, all requiring sales staffs to monetize the effort. Reps often go where the money is, but more often than not the company environment and intangible benefits like team spirit, advancement opportunities, training and education benefits go a long way in demonstrating how a company values its sales team. HR departments, recruiters and sales management will have to reexamine how they are recruiting, compensating and maintaining their online sales teams or suffer endless turnover, and constant recruitment just to maintain some sales momentum in the market.