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SME Employers of Sales Teams: are you settling for ‘just good enough’?

Guest Writer:  Michael Simonyi:   The sales recruiter SME & Mid-Market business leaders partner with to secure the talent needed to deliver growth.

You can connect with Michael here.

The team at Sales VA is committed to being an employer of choice. Our team of dedicated VA’s will be placed in Universities around the world, providing On Campus Employment to Universities and Real World Experience to University Students.

The majority of my clients are SME/mid-market businesses, typically owned by families, private equity or management – people with real ‘skin in the game’. When talking with leadership about their challenge in attracting the ‘right’ talent, there’s often a recurring theme: “we struggle to compete with corporates for the best people.” But does this belief lead to settling for someone who is ‘just good enough’, rather than someone who will genuinely raise the average?

Comments I typically hear include:

“Big companies can afford to pay more”

“They offer a career path that we can’t”

“People feel more secure working for them because of their size”

“They have budgets for training and development that we can’t match”

“We don’t have the marketing budget to support our sales team that corporates do”

“Our systems and processes aren’t as advanced as those in bigger companies”

“We don’t have the employer branding that corporates do – we don’t look as good on

someone’s CV”

I believe there are ways for SMEs to appeal to top talent and have them seriously consider mid-market businesses as employers of choice. I base that belief on practical experience – of helping people move from corporates to SME clients of mine over the past 11+ years and make profoundly positive impacts, both on the businesses they’ve joined and, just as importantly, on their own careers.

So, let’s explode a few myths….

“Big companies can afford to pay more”

Perhaps they do on occasion, but given the focus on taking costs out of businesses following the global financial crisis (GFC), in my experience they rarely do. In fact, it’s commonplace for a corporate to offer less than smaller businesses, based at times on the logic that ‘if someone wants to work for us, they’ll accept less, because of our brand.’ Then there’s salary banding, which means that a company will only pay within a certain salary range for a given position, regardless of the calibre of an individual candidate, and won’t deviate from that policy for fear of creating what they perceive as inequity.

“They offer a career path that we can’t”

Do they? The career ladder that’s often discussed at interviews has a lot less rungs on it post-GFC, with organisations flattening their structures. That means fewer potential opportunities for promotion, and a lot more bodies to climb over to get there.

“People feel more secure working for them because of their size”

When I’m interviewing and ask people what they’re seeking in a move, security is routinely near the top of the list. When I drill into what security actually means, size rarely features in the discussion that follows.

What is important? Clear vision and strategy, a well-established presence in a given market, a reputable product/service offering, and experienced leadership making consistent, commercially-sound decisions are the most common desires. All of which are well within the capacity of a small-to-medium-sized business to deliver.

“They have budgets for training and development that we can’t match”

Sure they do. Or they did, because those budgets were slashed with the onset of the GFC.

“We don’t have the marketing budget to support our sales team that corporates do”

Except that the marketing budget went the same way as the learning and development budget when the GFC hit. Along with most of the marketing team.

“Our systems and processes aren’t as advanced as those in bigger companies”

Perhaps, but there are plenty of corporates struggling to successfully implement large-scale IT system roll-outs, which is causing their sales teams no end of heartburn. And SMEs can utilise a CRM system, for example, as effectively as any corporate. Robust systems are about mindset, not size.

“We don’t have the employer branding that corporates do – we don’t look as good on someone’s CV”

When I look at someone’s CV, I want to know what they’ve achieved against key deliverables. I think most recruiters and hiring managers feel the same way. It’s fair to say people will assume that someone who’s worked within, say, a large FMCG or pharmaceutical business, should have received a solid grounding in sales disciplines, but the fact that someone has worked predominantly in corporates can also be a negative in some situations.


 

Think about your own business – will someone who’s only worked in corporate environments successfully make the transition to yours? I’m sure you’ve seen people fail to do so – I know I have.

Of course, there will always be a percentage of the workforce that specifically wants to work for a corporate. However, there are a number of advantages SMEs bring to the table, which in my experience, make a compelling case:

 Ability to genuinely make a difference: Which would you rather, to be a cog in a giant wheel, or to make a tangible, positive impact on a business and be remembered for it? The latter, right? Which environment do you think gives the best opportunity for motivated people to be able to achieve that?

 Access to decision-makers: People may not always get the answer they want, but they’ll get decisions made and probably be able to converse directly with the ultimate decision-maker in the process. Try getting that in a multinational.

 Flexibility: Around the make-up of remuneration packages, incentives, working from home, working hours. Of course there are limitations and business imperatives, but which environment is likely to be able to offer the greater scope for flexibility?

 Customer focus: Not that there can be absolutes on this, but I know which environment I suspect is likely to be more nimble and responsive to customer needs. And which environment will feel to employees as if they’re trying to turn the Titanic around to get an outcome for a customer.

You don’t need to go to extreme lengths to ‘brand’ yourself as an employer of choice, but giving real thought to just what it is that your business offers – and ensuring you present that in a compelling manner to top performers – will go a long way to securing the talent you’re really seeking.

Want more ideas as to what you can do at a practical level? Please drop me a line – I’m happy to help!

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