To recruit or not to recruit? That is the question.

Well for some.

Australia, like most parts of the world, finds itself in the midst of one the greatest economic downturns in our lifetime. The pressure of that is most definitely being felt by small to medium-sized enterprises, with many having had to shed staff over the weeks and months since March of this year.

However, there are signs of a resurgence – albeit small and tentative. Announcements will be delivered by both State and Federal governments in the next few weeks, intended to kick-start our economy and to begin to rebuild confidence. My own experience in recent weeks, as a recruiter of sales professionals for SMEs, has been that many small business owners have bounced back from the initial shock of shutdowns due to the pandemic and realised A) there’s lost ground to be made and B) conditions are going to be tough and so bringing on expertise, in the guise of a sales professional, is probably a smart thing to do.

Like almost everything in life, of course, there’s no one perfect answer or way forward, so there are a number of things that we should each be considering, when it comes to hiring (or, re-hiring) sales staff in the coming weeks and months.


There’s a fine line between being ‘trim’, or even ‘lean and mean’… and becoming anorexic. In downturns and recessions past, I have witnessed businesses that became so ‘skinny’, they were in fact unhealthy. They had bandwidth and therefore fulfilment challenges because they had cut back on their staffing numbers, too deeply. Whether we like it or not, customers/clients (even if there are fewer of them) still have an expectation about quality and timeliness of service/product, regardless of the economy. So, undertaking a proper analysis of the balance between anticipated demand and workforce planning, to be able to meet that demand is really important right now. Now, more than ever, we need to strike what I describe as ‘A Goldilocks Balance’. Where there’s not too many staff draining the bank account for not enough return… nor too few staff, resulting in dissatisfied customers/clients or vital sales opportunities being missed. It needs to be ‘juuust right.’

For those that have shed sales staff in weeks past, it seems obvious that if we’re ready to grow again that they would be the first port of call. To re-hire them. Better the Devil you know and all that, right? In principle that’s a sound move. However, now is also a good time for you to assess your method of working. Are there revenue generation activities you used to do inhouse that could be outsourced and paid for on a piece-by-piece basis? Also worth thinking about is whether the previous incumbent really was performing to the standard you’d hoped? Or were you living in hope that they’d come good?


In my business and for many of my clients, I use and have taught managers to use a simple formula to weigh this question out. I call it the Hope Index. Quite simply reflect on their past (and you can use this with current team members too) performance and rate them as:

  1. Exceeds expectations
  2. Meets expectations
  3. Below expectations

Then, consider how much effort they put into their work. Do they:

  1. Strive to deliver on expectations
  2. Cruise – you know they’ve always got ‘gas left in the tank’
  3. Minimal – they do the least they can get away with to stay off your radar

And then, how teachable/coachable were/are they?

Green: A Seeker – they’re always coming to you wanting to learn new things

Orange: Open – when you want them to adopt new methods, they run with them, without resistance

Red: Resistant – Always pushing back or finding reasons to not take up the new way

Anybody you rate as having been 3 C Red, you probably don’t want them back in the business. Even a 2 B Red might be a question mark.

With those that you do re-hire, what will be important now, is for you to give them absolute crystal clarity on the outcomes you expect them to be delivering in their role. You don’t pay people a wage to perform tasks. You pay them to deliver outcomes to the business. You’re not a freight-forwarding business (unless you actually are!), so, you don’t carry baggage. You’re not an airline (unless you actually are!), so, you don’t want to be carrying passengers. Get very clear on what success looks like for each of the revenue generation roles you have in your business and then be very clear about communicating that to your new or re-hired sales team members. Imagine they were a contractor that you only paid if they delivered a result. What would that result look like? How would you define success?


For those of you looking to hire sales staff afresh, 7 things to consider…

#1 Recruitment is a marketing exercise.

So many small business owners fall foul of an arrogance where they believe they’re doing the potential new employee a favour if they employ them. In our experience the truth is quite the reverse. As a small or medium business you have a fraction (at best) of the stability, financial backing, resources and ‘door-opening power’ of much larger businesses – what that can mean is you really are a risk to work for, by comparison. So, getting good quality applicants is as much of a marketing exercise as getting new customers or clients. Boring, arrogant, lazy job ads which portray you as unimaginative, uncaring and possibly demanding are highly unlikely to get you the result you want.

#2 You are not Google, or Virgin, or Apple, or… Gary V Enterprises Inc…

You’re a SMALL business with great aspirations (as yet, unrealised). So, stop kicking your ad’s off with rubbish like “We’re the market leader in…” – “We’re the number 1 in…” It means absolutely nothing to any potential new-hire with even an ounce of social-savvy.

#3 Humans like resonance and belonging

Most job ads list a bunch of required skills, experiences, competencies (we call it the ‘ransom note of demands’). 9 times out of 10 – especially when recruiting for someone with experience – the right applicant knows, without you listing them, what’s required to be able to perform the role. Far more effective is to describe the nature, the characteristics, the way the ideal person is likely to naturally conduct themselves. If I see me described in the ad, I’m far more likely to apply.

#4 Humans love human stories of aspiration

Most job ads, for the last 50 years have been an exercise in chest thumping, followed by a list of ‘demands’ (aka “The ideal candidate will possess…”). They’re inhuman. Robotic and just a tad arrogant. Instead, try telling the story of your business. Not the brag story – but the ‘journey story’. Give your business a personality, bring it to life.


#5 Don’t rely on job boards

A) Boooring! B) You need to be where your best candidates are – which might be job boards… and Facebook and LinkedIn and your company website and your company LinkedIn page and YouTube and even Twitter. Today’s ‘social’ world means you need to build and publish ads that are dynamic stories about your business, about the role and about you! And they need to be found wherever your best likely future employee hangs out. Most job ads bore people to death – and they don’t attract the best. Get creative with them – and definitely add video today…

#6 We join organisations… and leave bad bosses. Right?

Chances are you’ve done this already in your own working life. So, your next new sales hire, is far more interested in who YOU are than your company’s brand stuff. So, consider telling your story in the ad. Your journey, your passion, your ‘why’. Who are you? What do you value? Why did you start this business? A really powerful way of conveying this piece is via a 3-minute video – talking to camera. (You can add these on Seek).

#7 A picture paints a thousand words

You’ve heard that saying dozens of times- and it’s true. Depending on the limitations of the various platforms you might be posting on, include colourful, or, thought-provoking, or humorous images that add to your story line – and catch the eye.

Like it or not, even in this economy the ‘War For Talent’ is raging and at the small end of town we’re the combatants trying to defend our turf. Getting creative and human with your recruitment ad’ campaign is ‘mission-critical’ in 2020.

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James Michael
James Michael is the founder and CEO (Chief Engagement Officer) of Justified Talent, a specialist recruitment agency which assists small business owners all around Australia to recruit their first sales professionals. James has owned and operated 8 businesses over the last 20 years and has a passion for helping SME owner/operators make the stepchange from start-up to scale-up. As a co-director of The Kona Group, James coached, trained and mentored over 10,000 sales professionals, over 15 years, seeing good, bad and indifferent performers across many industry sectors. He's recruited over 120 for small businesses in the last two + years. More importantly, he's profiled over 3900 sales people in the last 3 years and has now developed a scientifically-validated behavioural benchmark of B2B Solution Selling success. James can tell you, with stunning accuracy, the unique behavioural architecture true sales professionals possess - and which candidates have 'got the right stuff' for you. Using his proprietary and evidence-based methodology James helps clients to identify, attract, select, recruit and then optimise the right sales professional for their business. He only works with SME's who are looking to scale up and only works on 3 assignments at any one time, assuring absolute focus on quality. He charges a flat fee, provides you with a 6-month guarantee of performance and will work with the business owner in managing and accelerating that performance over that 6 months, also teaching them how to be the best high-performance sales manager they can be. As a former professional soldier, James is also an inaugural member as well as Business Mentor to the Veterans Community Business Chamber in the areas of sales recruitment, sales leadership and sales cultures.