Sales and Human Resources

Sales leaders don’t have enough time in the day and it’s costing them.

They are busy developing strategies and implementing tactics to drive their companies to the next level, and sometimes the necessary minutiae of managing their team can come in second. But there is help, and it is close by in your company’s human resources department. Yet, many leaders do not want interference from HR, and only look to them for tactical, not strategic, support. But the best leaders invest the time to teach HR what the sales department really does and the type of people that perform best within it. They take key members of the HR department along for a sales call or two, so they can see up close and personal just what it takes to succeed in sales. They give them a solid understanding of the duties performed by people in different sales roles and realize that with this knowledge, HR can provide a great deal of time and money-saving support, as well as provide invaluable advice in critical decision making.

Here are some areas where a strategic partnership with HR can pay off:

Employment Law: Hiring, staff management, compensation plans and terminations are all legal minefields. Even some of the top sales gurus have been known to unwittingly recommend practices of questionable legality. Sit down with your HR Department and get a firm hold on what you can and cannot do legally. Give them your list of interview questions to review. Discuss compensation, incentive and bonus plans with them. And, of course, if you are even considering terminating an employee, your first stop is the HR Department.

Recruitment: Once HR understands the structure of the sales department, what it is selling and to whom, HR can help to recruit for those roles. Here’s how.

Job Descriptions: Although no doubt sales leaders have a good idea what they want in a candidate, HR can take the job description you give them and put it in standard company format and check to be sure it is within the law. They can also search for similar job descriptions from other companies to show you additional responsibilities and metrics to consider incorporating into your plan.

Sourcing Candidates: HR can reach out to likely passive candidates from other companies or on online sources such as LinkedIn. They can also manage the relationship with sales recruiters.

Diversity: There are ethical reasons for building a diverse sales force, but it is also very good for business, particularly where customers are made up of both men and woman and are of varied racial and ethnic backgrounds. But when is it legal to proactively seek people of a particular gender, race or ethnicity? And if a company does not do that, is it open to legal action if its work force ends up comprised quite predominantly of white males? This is an area where Sales needs to seek the strategic advice of HR.

Screening Candidates: With the direction of Sales, HR can help provide structure (processes, scorecards and scripts) which helps to weed out unlikely candidates and preinterview more likely ones. HR can also give valuable insights into the candidates they pass on to Sales for further interviews.  HR can also provide scheduling support and arrange travel which allows the sales team to focus its time on selling.

Personality Testing: This is one of the most important ways HR can help Sales. HR can arrange for personality testing that will help Sales decide who to hire and give insights on the best role for each candidate. For example, a candidate who shows a very healthy ego but low empathy may be a top performer in new account acquisition, but may not have the patience required for nurturing existing accounts. This is a critical aspect in order to hire the right sales person for your company and that is why we utilize industry leading psychometric testing in our recruiting process.

References and Background Checks: When sales managers are on the fence about who to hire, they will probably want to call key references themselves. But for those calls that are meant to check the veracity of resume and interview claims, including previous income, HR can be a great help. Of course, HR can also do background checks that go far beyond the resume.

Compensation Packages. Sales leaders will have their own ideas about how to compensate their staffs, but HR can help them to align sales goals with the broader goals of the company. Sales vice presidents should also familiarize themselves with all benefits offered, and discuss them with HR if they do not come up to the benefits packages offered by the competition. The compensation plan is how to motivate the sales force and influence them to support business goals; its importance cannot be underestimated.

Onboarding: It’s no secret that the first days can be critical to a salesperson’s ultimate success and their impression of a company. HR will should not be responsible for sales and product training, but they can help make onboarding a lot less painless. For example, they could mail all those tedious forms in advance, so your new hire can minimize time on the job filling out w-9s and contemplating health care options. HR may also be able to help you coordinate the logistics, if not the content, of training events. This may not be all that strategic, but this source of support should not be overlooked.

Termination:  Before terminating an employee, sales management must follow a structured plan. It bears repeating that sales vice presidents and managers should sit down with HR well before there is a need to terminate in order to get a good understanding of legal issues, then sit down with HR again if it is necessary to terminate. Here are some ways HR can help:

  • Review plans for goals and metrics salespeople must meet in order to remain employed with the company
  • Review sales management’s termination decision, so if termination is necessary, it can never be claimed it was a personal vendetta
  • Advise on how to document the employee’s activities and performance, and compare them to the job description, the expected numbers and other written expectations
  • Advise what the sales manager should do in the form of warnings and written instructions so the problem employee can attempt corrective action
  • Be present as a witness at termination meetings
  • Conduct an exit interview to inform the person of the details of any packages or benefits they will receive

Exit Interviews: Of course many employees leave of their own volition. For all employees leaving the company, HR should conduct exit interviews which may give valuable insights into how the culture of the company can be improved and how to retain more sales staff in the future.

The key take away: Don’t overlook the value that your HR department can bring to your sales recruitment and talent management plans.


Closing the Credibility Chasm between Sales and Human Resources, Sales Benchmark Index

Sales and human resources — a perfect collaboration, Philadelphia Business Journal

How to Fire an Employee Without Being Sued, INC.

How to Set Up a Sales Compensation Plan, Elizabeth Wasserman

Who Makes for the “Best” Hire?, Allan Schweyer

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles |


Eliot Burdett

CEO at Peak Sales Recruiting
Before Peak, Eliot spent more than 20 years building and leading companies, where he took the lead in recruiting and managing high performance sales teams. He co-founded Ventrada Systems (mobile applications) and GlobalX (e-commerce software). He was also Vice President of Sales for PointShot Wireless.

Eliot received his B. Comm. from Carleton University and has been honored as a Top 40 Under 40 Award winner.

He co-authored Sales Recruiting 2.0, How to Find Top Performing Sales People, Fast and provides regular insights on sales team management and hiring on the Peak Sales Recruiting Blog.

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