Recruitment and sales are more similar than people realize.
Finding the right candidate for a business or position – or vice versa – requires the same value-first approach and learnable skills many salespeople use to sell products.
In this article, you’ll learn which sales tactics to employ for more successful, profitable placements and which traits to refine for a competitive edge. Your new sales mindset will help you generate high-value leads and build strong, lasting relationships with clients and candidates alike.
What makes sales and recruitment so compatible?
As a recruiter, you’re responsible for helping clients and candidates to be more productive and fulfill their ambitions.
That means selling talent to prospective employers and vice versa. Recruitment is essentially a two-way sales role.
To be an effective recruiter, you must do many of the same things that sales professionals do daily, like:
Generating plenty of leads. Having a pipeline of qualified candidates and new clients is essential for matching people with suitable roles.
Understanding needs. What challenges does your client need to overcome? What is your candidate looking for in an employer? Answering both questions requires research and organization.
Knowing your service inside out. Recruitment is a product. Communicating how you can deliver value to leads and existing clients will help you forge profitable relationships.
Communicating effectively with both sides. Whether setting expectations for a new starter or overcoming staffing issues with a growing business, you’ll need to connect with a diverse range of contacts.
Measuring your results so you can improve. The right performance metrics (i.e., key performance indicators or KPIs) help you learn from successes and failures to make your recruitment strategy more effective.
With those similarities in mind, it’s easy to see how sales reps and recruiters can transition between the two fields relatively smoothly. More on transferable skills later.
5 sales strategies that will make you a better recruiter
Applying a sales mindset to your role as a recruiter can help you source top talent efficiently and streamline your clients’ hiring processes.
The results are almost always more productivity and repeat business.
Here are five sales strategies and methodologies to build into your day-to-day recruitment work.
1. Solution selling
You can break solution selling into two stages:
If a candidate comes to you looking for a role, your job is to help them find the right industry, position, location and working hours. Those are their key challenges. If a business wants help to fill a position, their criteria (e.g., skills, experience and salary) are the main challenges.
In either scenario, it’s your responsibility to find the best solution.
However, your clients and candidates won’t always know they have a problem or opportunity, what it looks like or how urgent it is – this is where a solution-selling approach is most valuable.
By identifying and solving problems that aren’t immediately obvious, you’ll wow leads rather than just meet their basic expectations. That’s what leads to loyalty and advocacy.
Say you notice that an engineering client has invested money, energy and resources due to a high administrative staff turnover. Their previous recruiter matched them with several qualified candidates but none lasted long.
You can set yourself apart as a better recruiter. Instead of matching that client to the same type of talent and hoping for the best, you tweak the candidate criteria to include experience in engineering environments.
All applicants fully know what to expect from the role, so they’re more likely to settle if placed
The client can use engineering-specific language without training their new team member, so they get results faster
The client saves money and time spent on hiring new talent in the long run
As a result, both parties recommend your recruitment agency to their peers, helping you grow your brand.
Uncovering new challenges like this takes patient research. Get to know clients and candidates in detail by conducting interviews when you first meet, sending out regular surveys and recording all correspondence in a customer relationship management (CRM) tool. The more you interact, the more likely you are to spot opportunities.
2. Consultative selling
Like sales, successful recruitment is all about strong relationships. This is why consultative selling works so well.
Consultative selling involves putting your relationship with your customer (i.e., your client or candidate) first and focusing on selling them your product (i.e., talent or a position) afterward.
It’s similar to solution selling in that you’re helping people and businesses overcome problems, except there’s a bigger emphasis on communication and research. Here, your job is to listen carefully and work with rather than for your client or candidate to find the best way forward.
Sometimes, that will mean recommending less profitable solutions. However, the strong relationships you build in the process should help performance and revenue in the long term.
For example, a business could want help to fill a niche position with a short deadline. You don’t have anyone on your books who is ready but expect to soon. In the meantime, you’re honest with the client and put them in touch with a more specialist recruiter to find a faster solution.
Valuing your honesty and helpfulness, the client returns with a bigger batch of roles to fill in a deal that generates more commission for your company. Your consultative approach pays off.
3. Value selling
Value selling emphasizes the positive impact a product or service can have on prospective customers.
In recruitment, it means:
For a business: Highlighting the measurable benefits from your support or hiring a specific candidate.
For a candidate: Ensuring they understand the measurable benefits of working with one of your clients or taking a specific role.
Value selling works by helping prospects see past immediate costs and instead consider long-term value. However, value means different things to different people and companies, so consider what your client or candidate wants most. Then you can tailor your job descriptions and conversations to that desire.
Most businesses have one or all of the following goals:
So, how does your service contribute to these?
If you can recommend a highly experienced candidate with a track record of innovating, they may help a business reduce running costs by finding more efficient ways to get the job done. A creative marketer, on the other hand, is more likely to help an employer become distinguishable in their industry.
Candidates also value more than compensation. According to Criteria’s 2022 Hiring Benchmark Report, work-life balance and career advancement opportunities are more important. By emphasizing those aspects of roles, you should have more success finding suitable matches.
4. The challenger model
The Challenger sales model involves teaching, tailoring and taking control of sales experiences.
It requires you to be authoritative, confident and well-informed. Your clients and candidates must believe you know best and can help them succeed.
The challenger methodology comes from the idea, publicized by Matthew Dixon and Brent Adamson in their book The Challenger Sale, that all sales reps fall into one of five distinct profiles:
Those in the last category have a different view of the world. They understand their customers’ businesses, love to debate and regularly push customers out of their comfort zones to close deals.
That sounds counterintuitive at first but in recruitment, it works well in the right scenarios.
Say you’re an established marketing recruiter:
You’ve worked in the industry for 20+ years and have watched trends come and go
A startup comes to you looking for a low-cost, part-time social media assistant to help them promote their brand
You challenge their thinking by proposing a more rounded, full-time marketing assistant who can grow with the business
It’s not what the prospect wanted or budgeted for but, based on your superior knowledge of their industry, you know this type of new hire will deliver greater long-term benefits
Your confidence in situations like these can strip a prospect’s thought process back. It reframes your recruitment firm as an authoritative, trustworthy voice and reiterates that you’re out to help clients succeed.
5. Referral selling
Referral sales is a fast, controllable way to get people talking positively about your recruitment services. It involves incentivizing existing clients and candidates to bring new business to your door.
This kind of word-of-mouth marketing is a powerful lead-generation technique due to the trust it involves. Nielsen’s Trust in Advertising 2021 study found that 88% of consumers most trust recommendations from people they know.
It’s also helpful for getting high-value leads. According to SaaSquatch’s 2020 State of Referral Marketing report, referred customers are 18% more loyal, spend 13.2% more money and have a 16% higher lifetime value than non-referral customers.
Here’s a basic example of how you could use a referral program to fill your pipeline with fresh talent:
Each time you place someone in a role, offer them a 5% bonus for every qualified candidate they introduce to your business.
To keep the standard of recommendations high, make the bonus payable when new contacts have been in a position for three months.
Offer the same bonus to your recommended hire to keep the chain going.
Include any bonuses in your marketing budget and track your customer acquisition cost (CAC) in a CRM tool to ensure the program is always beneficial. CAC is a measurement of how much it costs to acquire the average customer for your business.
If your CAC decreases, the program is working well and you may be able to boost the results with bigger payouts. If CAC rises, consider changing your compensation.
Sales and recruitment: Key transferable skills
The similarities between sales and recruitment mean there are many skills that you’ll find useful in both professions.
Knowing which to hone first can help you transition between the two fields, prepare for a new sales recruitment position or get better at what you already do.
Here are five valuable sales skills that help all recruiters to perform well.
To be empathetic in recruitment, you need to show that you care about an employer or candidate’s needs. That’ll help you build trust and create lasting, profitable relationships.
Put yourself in the shoes of potential candidates and clients to understand their challenges and the root causes, so you can recommend the best solutions. The results should be greater customer satisfaction and loyalty.
Do the following to hone your empathy:
Actively listen to clients’ concerns. Instead of waiting for your turn to talk, really focus on what your client is saying. Practice being more engaged so you can get to the best solution faster.
Be curious. Rather than expect your client to tell you everything up front, ask questions in organized interviews, assessments and questionnaires. You may unearth new problems to solve.
Sometimes, you’ll need to gently reassure a candidate that a position or employer will be a good fit for them. Other times, encouraging clients to take risks will help them achieve long-term benefits – perhaps by spending extra on a more experienced applicant.
The ability to guide people toward the decision you know will benefit them most is important. Just don’t mistake it for manipulation. The product or service must always be a good match. Otherwise, you risk losing new clients fast and gaining a poor reputation.
Hone your persuasion skills by:
Prioritizing long-term value. Lasting benefits always outweigh short-term wins. Reframe your interactions with prospects to highlight this.
Using questions to break deadlocks. Being helpful can help you overcome objections. Ask if there’s a better time to talk or if the prospect needs more information to decide.
As a recruiter, you primarily “sell” to two types of people on opposite sides of the recruitment process: hiring managers and individuals looking for work.
You’ll need to communicate effectively with both to ensure you:
Understand their needs. Ask the right questions and listen carefully to the answers to learn what prospects want from your service. Only then can you personalize your recommendations.
Appear relatable. Speaking to clients and candidates on their level, using language familiar to them, helps you build stronger connections.
Get what you need when you need it. Say you need an applicant to submit two versions of their resume – communicating the reasons for your request will help you get a fast response so you can keep the process moving.
To become a better communicator:
Use a range of communication methods. We all have our favorite channels but relying heavily on one can cause you to become less proficient with others. If you’re great at cold calls, challenge yourself to send more emails so you can hone your writing skills.
Ask for feedback from trusted clients and colleagues. A close contact should be able to give reasons they enjoy communicating with you and pointers for improvement. It could be as simple as replacing more meetings with instant messenger conversations.
Between keeping clients and candidates happy and informed, recruiters have plenty of responsibilities. Without strong organizational skills, it’s easy to drop the ball and let your service suffer.
An organized recruiter knows which contacts most need their attention. They offer support at the perfect moments and prioritize their workloads for optimal productivity.
That doesn’t mean you need to keep everything in your head. A CRM tool keeps all your contact data safe and accessible in a single location so you know exactly when to reach out or follow up.
To get more organized:
Use project management apps. Project management software can help you prioritize your work more effectively than a handwritten to-do list. Use the scheduling features to ensure you never overlook a task again.
Automate repetitive admin. The best CRM and project management tools can handle repetitive tasks like scheduling meetings and sending follow-up emails. Use them to free time for more pressing tasks.
The more you know about your client’s industry, the easier it’ll be to:
Understand their pain points. Every industry has its challenges. Knowing some of the issues your clients will likely have will helps you make valuable recommendations earlier in your relationships for faster results.
Communicate in their language. When a client or candidate can interact without simplifying their language, they can communicate exactly how they feel. That means you’ll uncover their objectives and opportunities sooner.
Build valuable networks. By working in one or two fields over a long period, you’ll gain valuable contacts you can share with new clients. For example, you might build a pool of trusted freelancers to help your marketing clients quickly fill skills gaps.
Keeping track of your own industry will help too. You’ll understand how your offering compares to other recruiters’ so you can fill gaps and highlight the most appealing aspects of your service.
To build your industry knowledge:
Subscribe to relevant media. Reading LinkedIn articles and listening to podcasts are easy ways to stay on top of trends and understand emerging challenges. Use what you learn to keep your services relevant.
Interview your clients frequently. Passionate professionals enjoy discussing their fields. Arrange regular catch-ups (monthly is ideal) with clients to learn what’s on their minds. Look beyond challenges to discover what your clients are excited about – that’ll help you have more enjoyable, enthusiastic interactions with others in the same industry.
Studying other industries can give you a competitive edge in your field. This is because, over time, you’ll get to know the kind of people they need in order to thrive.
Due to its proximity to recruitment, look at how your sales team works for further inspiration. If they’re successful, you’ll see how their well-refined sales processes keep leads moving through the pipeline toward conversion.
Map your own pipeline in a CRM tool for a more direct visual comparison. It’ll help you see what currently works and doesn’t work so you know which skills and tactics to refine first.