With our current skilled labor market as tight and lean as a New York City marathon runner's hamstrings, plastics and packaging executives nationwide are being challenged with two critical problems standing in their way to sales growth and profits: first, the need to extract more results from their existing sales and management team, and second, becoming more creative and proactive in expanding the strike zone to find qualified sales talent to keep the sales funnel full.
Yes, there is a skilled labor shortage. Finding top-notch engineers, designers, manufacturing leaders and the like is difficult.
Conversely, on the sales, marketing and management side, there is a wide range of viable, proven sales and marketing professionals working in the plastics industry and outlying industries who are looking for a better career track. These individuals are smart, driven and selling technically oriented products and services.
Hiring executives right now need to take more initiative and shift some budget dollars to create stronger onboarding programs and sales training strategies. These two improvements will help to ensure faster and more successful crossover and building in better accountability and benchmarking tools will reduce the risk of keeping weak performers on the payroll too long. (Note that the salary and benefits budgeted for open positions is a viable line item to shift those moneys into sales training and on-boarding enhancements.)
Over the past seven years, the plastics and packaging industry has seen its share of aging boomers leaving the rank and file workforce. Couple this societal shift in demographics and the ever-growing "remote worker" trend leaves hiring executives with a lot of new aspects of how to lead, motivate, train and monitor activities of their sales people.
What can hiring executives implement right now to enhance recruiting, build a stronger sales funnel and ensure the current team is functioning at a higher level? Here are some ideas:
1. Invest in a sales training program of some kind. Be it a video series, an online sales mentoring program, a great new book, an in-house training session — any movement you can begin that sends a message to your sales team that they are accountable to drive sales.
2. Expand the strike zone for new sales talent. "Industry experience" is a limiting step to securing even better, more creative sales professionals to add to your team.
3. Compensation and incentives. Correct your variable compensation plan to ensure you are rewarding for the desired behaviors. If you want to grow sales, then reward for activities that will lead to sales: meetings, plant visits, proposals, number of calls, meetings and letters.
4. Hold sales professionals accountable to engage in the disciplines of selling. Monitor activity, calls, emails, prospecting techniques and time management.
5. Reward for activities leading to sales, not merely making the sale. If you reward and pay a bounty or some incentive in the first six to eight months to a new sales person, you will see instantly if that person has the drive and self-discipline to chase the right carrot and behaviors.
6. Be proactive and start sourcing talent immediately after a position is vacated. Leaving an open sales territory to allow the competition to barge in makes it harder to rebound sales and reclaim confidence of customers.
7. Take charge of your budget. With all due respect to your HR team, if they are not able to quickly source, recruit and headhunt the best talent for you, then you should have the authority to use any sourcing method you can to ensure the open position is filled quickly.
8. Get professional interview training for every hiring manager on your team. If you don't know how to effectively interview another human being's skills and ability to succeed, you will not be able to expand the labor pool.
Russ Riendeau is senior partner and chief behavioral scientist with New Frontier Search Co. and an executive search professional in the packaging/plastics industry.