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The Complete Manual: Eliminate “Random acts of recruiting” With a Powerful Sales Playbook

The Complete Manual: Eliminate “Random acts of recruiting” With a Powerful Sales Playbook

by April 1, 2015


 What is one of the most powerful talent acquisition tools that can increase productivity and decrease costs?


 A Sales Playbook. Did you know that sales playbooks are a proven tool that can lead to a vastly improved candidate experience –while  actually decreasing the time it takes to screen and close great talent?

How do sales playbooks help?

A sales playbook can help you avoid random acts of recruiting by providing business process consistency, based on proven best  practices. Although one might argue that random recruiting acts may still yield results for the organization, I would counter by saying that their effectiveness would only be by chance. In addition, any successes would be difficult – if not impossible — to replicate. Random implies lacking pattern or predictability … leading to different outcomes over a large number of events.

When it comes to successfully closing great talent, why would you leave things to chance or to “different (or uncertain!) outcomes”? Put another way, do you know if your current talent acquisition process is an asset or a liability? When it comes to the critical function of talent acquisition, ignorance is not bliss.

I’d like to make the case for using sales playbooks as part of excellence in talent acquisition and share some best practices. More importantly, I am going to “rip a page” out of a sales playbook – a page that will give you a “play” that you can run right away to solve a very common problem in talent acquisition organizations: lack of alignment (a.k.a. product-centric selling/recruiting).

But first, let me provide some important clarification and context.

What is a sales playbook?

A sales playbook is a guide that provides best practices for closing deals and increasing win rates. It usually integrates customer knowledge – especially knowledge of the decision-making process – as well as specific tools, sales collateral, and job aids that map to specific stages in the buying process. Great sales playbooks can also include other key messaging “talk points” as well as competitive information.

In the world of sales, successful companies use sales playbooks.  Why? Because they don’t want to leave critical revenue opportunities to chance. They know that success depends on having the skill and knowledge to ask the right questions at the right time (think: sales playbook); map their selling process to how their customers buy (think: sales playbook), and; successfully manage common price objections (think: sales playbook). With sales playbooks, successful organizations have more reps making quota and are better able to provide accurate sales forecasts.

Playbooks provide consistency and minimize the likelihood of “uncertain outcomes”. They offer best practices and proven methods for managing prospects throughout the selling/buying process. More importantly, sales playbooks can vastly increase the quality of the buying experience because when done right, they help put the “buyer” first, not the “product”.

What’s the big deal? Making the case for sales playbooks in talent acquisition

Over the past several years, we have worked with some excellent (even award-winning!) talent acquisition teams, helping them achieve their goals through sales skill training. However, one thing that always struck me was the lack of sales playbooks.

Sales playbooks can be extremely effective tools, regardless of experience levels in the organization. For more mature, successful talent acquisition teams, sales playbooks can offer a key, competitive advantage that can help great teams achieve that next level of excellence in recruiting. For newer talent acquisition teams, playbooks can provide some important structure that will help get newer recruiters off to a great start – establishing the right habits. Recall that it’s much easier to start with the right habits than to try and break old (bad) ones!

Sales playbooks are not meant to limit or replace existing best talent acquisition practices or individual personality preferences. They are meant to augment and refine existing processes. The best playbooks take into account the culture and strategy of a company and skill level of the recruiters. They are not “one size fits all” but rather a structured – yet dynamic – tool that can be used to quickly and efficiently engage and manage prospects and candidates. The best playbooks are ones that recruiters will actually use!

I like to think of playbooks more like a “compass” than a specific “step-by-step roadmap” to a destination. Playbooks are not meant to be “word-for-word scripts”, although some parts of a playbook might include specific language that can be used at key times in the screening process — depending on the skill level of recruiters and individual situations.

How do I know if I need a sales playbook?

If you are a talent acquisition manager or leader, here are 5 good diagnostic questions to help you gauge whether or not you might benefit from sales playbooks. If you are a recruiter, simply substitute the word “I” for “your recruiters” or “recruiters”:

  1. Do your recruiters follow a consistent, proven process to maximize productivity on calls?
  2. Do your recruiters know how to quickly manage the “discovery of needs” – asking the right questions at the right time? And do they know how (and when) to ask powerful follow-up questions?
  3. Has your organization taken time to learn what “A Players” do differently to make them successful? (if so, have you successfully replicated these best practices within your organization?)
  4. Can your recruiters successfully manage resistance and differences – including salary objections?
  5. Can your recruiters tailor the company value proposition to meet the needs of each prospect and candidate? (and do they know when to do so during calls?!)

Our own experience and results shown that on average, recruiters spend 75% of their time “telling” and/or asking what we call “fact-finding” questions – questions that verify past experience or training. With one recruiter, we actually counted over 40 “fact-finding questions” in a 20-minute candidate screen!

We recognize the importance of verifying important experience and credentials. However, when overdone, recruiters quickly get out of alignment with prospects and candidates and run the risk of excessive talk time (what I call “terminal transmit”). This dynamic can quickly spiral into a poor candidate experience and compromise recruiting excellence.

The constant temptation is to “cut to the chase” and get a quick “go/no-go” and move on. I’ve read the most recent “time-to-fill metric” is about 26 days (more or less, of course depending on the industry and location). With competition for talent heating up and hiring managers demanding quick turnarounds, I certainly understand this dynamic. But there’s a price to pay for what seems like this “speed at any cost, fact-finding mission” approach.

When they don’t get a “quick sell” they typically just ask for referrals and end the call. Needless to say, this approach is anything but collaborative and aligned. And, by the way, these recruiters probably just “branded” themselves as being just like their competitors – only interested in the job (or “sale”). Don’t be surprised if the experience appears somewhere on a social network for the world to see! I call this recruiting malpractice because you are prescribing without diagnosing. [1]

It’s one thing to quickly snag a prospect and turn her into a new hire in record time. But it’s an entirely different thing to look more strategically at a set of indicators that tell the story about the quality of that hire. Unless recruiters are skilled in being able to control and effectively manage a customer-focused call, they are in danger of losing great candidates – especially when engaging passive candidates – and jeopardizing quality of hire.

I’d like to “rip out a page” from a sales playbook — one that you can use right now to help you get off to a great start with your own talent acquisition sales playbook. You can use this page as a “standalone play”, or you can choose over time to add to it – customizing it and adding additional plays to make it work for you.

Play #1: Discovery of needs

Let’s develop our play, using the common problem described in the previous section. Many recruiters struggle with being able to conduct a good “needs analysis” – or what we call in sales “discovery”. It’s in the discovery phase of selling that sellers get the information they need that will form the basis for developing a unique value proposition and tailoring the product “sell or pitch” to match the needs of the buyer.

This play can help ensure that recruiters are able to have a rich conversation about “aspirations and afflictions”. I can’t overstate how important this step is. Without a complete and accurate picture of the “problems” that triggered a search, recruiters will always struggle with developing the unique value proposition that is foundational in great selling. As an aside, a unique value proposition is the building block for successfully being able to manage salary objections.

This play should provide a good “compass” to help recruiters navigate the call in a way that allows the important shift to a more balanced, collaborative conversation – and  can help ensure that both parties make a good decision.

The buying process: Foundation for the play

To run this play, recruiters need to be sure their recruiting process matches – or aligns with –how their candidates and prospects make career decisions. Hence, the “buying process” forms the structure for running this play.

Don’t know how your prospects make career decisions? No worries. Figure 1 shows a simple “generic” 3-step buying process you can use to successfully run this play.


3-Step generic buying process [Images courtesy of pakorn & stuart miles]

The generic model in Figure 1 applies to all types of buying decisions, regardless of the size or complexity of the purchase. Whether you are buying a tube of toothpaste or a new house, you will follow this generic process. It also works quite well as your “quick start” page for your first play in your recruiting sales playbook.

The process starts with recognition of a problem or need. And that recognition triggers a search for a solution. After weighing options, a decision is made. The decision will be based on the extent to which the buyer believes that the cost of the solution solves the problem and meets the buying criteria.

This same generic buying process can also easily form the basis for engaging passive candidates. When developing relationships with passive prospects, the recruiter needs to spend a considerable amount of time understanding the conditions under which a top performer might consider another career opportunity. The temptation we hear on many calls is that recruiters talk way too early on calls about specific job opportunities and try to “sell” too soon.

Again, if you don’t already have a map of how your prospects and candidates “buy” from you, you can use this template.

Lack of alignment: The problem we need to fix

As mentioned, one of the biggest mistakes many recruiters make is they are out of sync (think: not aligned) with how their prospects and/or candidates “buy”. As part of our recruiter sales skill training, we have listening to (literally) thousands of hours of live recruiter calls. Based on our experience, I can say that most calls are “recruiter-centric”, not “customer-centric.” They lack alignment as shown in Figure 2.


Lack of alignment: Recruiter-centric selling process (TAC = Talent Acquisition Consultant)

 The agenda in this last figure represents the recruiter’s “fact-finding” needs. Of course, as mentioned, fact finding is important. However, this play is designed to match the ”buyers” decision-making process and fully discover the needs that are driving the desire for change.

Alignment: A collaborative selling and buying process

In Figure 3 I show what alignment looks like. You can see that the simple “buying process” remains the same as in Figure 2. It’s the “selling process” that has been modified to align with the buying process. It’s this alignment that forms the basis for your great recruiting/sales playbook.


Alignment: Buyer-centric selling process (TAC = Talent Acquisition Consultant)

You can see that in this play, the recruiter needs to fully and completely develop the needs and/or problems that resulted in the search (in the case of active candidates). You will also notice that some fact-finding questions are still necessary. After all, it’s important to identify any quick “deal breakers” up front (e.g., lack of certification, misunderstanding of job specifics) to ensure no one is wasting time with an unnecessary interview.

The recruiter will know this play has been run correctly (and completely) when he or she has identified and clarified a complete list of the top job motivators/satisfiers for the prospect or candidate. Figure 4 provides a summary of the key elements of this play.




Discovery of Needs Play#1 Summary

When using this sales playbook page, a few assumptions need to be made explicit.Some assumptions

  • Recruiters have a good set of “discovery questions” that can generate a complete list of candidate/prospect needs.
  • Recruiters have developed excellent listening skills to ensure they are able to balance the important skills of advocacy and inquiry.
  • Recruiters have great knowledge of your company and specific jobs (“product knowledge”). Without product knowledge, recruiters will not be able to effectively deliver sell-backs and unique value propositions.

Before moving ahead with a play or playbook, be sure you have addressed any assumptions that may not be true.

Three best practices

Finally, I want to provide you with three best practices – or design principles — with regard to sales playbooks. Once you have developed your buying cycle alignment playbook page, keep these in mind as you get grow and develop your complete sales playbook.

#1: “KISS” – Keep it simple

The first consideration when developing your sales playbook is to be sure it is easy to follow and replicate. The playbook should be clear and intuitive to implement. If your playbook is too complex or has too many steps, it will be “dead on arrival”.

Resist the temptation to make the playbook into encyclopedia – “everything you always wanted to know about recruiting …..” Less is always better when it comes to playbooks. Remember, your playbook should be more of a compass than a step-by-step roadmap. A compass is a guide, giving you important information about where you are. It is an aid to navigation – functioning as a “pointer”.

The same goes for playbooks. They should be simple guides that give you information to help you successfully navigate to your final destination. They are not meant to be maps, giving detailed “turn-by-turn” instructions.

#2: Make it easy to customize

Once you have a basic sales playbook, it should serve as a template for adding additional playbook pages – or new playbooks — as needed. Playbooks might need to be modified for different job levels, lines of business or geographic regions. The key here is that playbooks should be easily modified to meet these varying needs.

As mentioned earlier, avoid highly detailed “roadmaps” that inherently are going to be costly to develop and/or impractical to modify and deploy.

As a final related point — be sure you incorporate a method for regular reviews and updates of the playbook. Find ways to continually gather feedback and make changes that reflect the real-time needs of your markets and recruiters.

#3: Use playbooks for continuous improvement

In my earlier days in consulting, I was involved in process improvement efforts in a Fortune 500 company. We developed ISO 9000 documents that included (in painful detail) key marketing and sales processes flows. A phrase struck me at that time – and has stayed with me since: “You can’t manage what you can’t see.” So many key business processes (including talent acquisition processes) are unmanageable because they are invisible.

When playbooks are in place, it is much easier to get a good picture of where a recruiting process might be “broken” or where individual recruiters may be struggling. And this valuable information can feed into continuous improvement cycles in a quality process improvement effort.

Again, in our experience with talent acquisition teams, managers and leaders had good information about how long it was taking to fill open requisitions. However, they knew less about where and why prospects/candidates were stalling out – leading to excessively long times to fill. They did not know, for example what their conversion rates were within pipelines, and they struggled to develop accurate forecasts.

Sales playbooks can become excellent developmental tools for coaching recruiters. Using sales playbooks, you may find that your recruiters are generally weak when it comes to qualifying opportunities with passive candidates, or are missing key pieces of information during the discovery of needs phase, or are not able to manage objections and gain commitment. With this level of detail, you can more effectively prescribe the right solution – whether it be additional training, support systems, or specific coaching techniques.

Again, you can’t manage what you can’t see, and you can’t coach/develop invisible skills.

A final word…

Great selling –and talent acquisition – begins with ensuring that your sales process is aligned with how your customers make buying decisions. Sales playbooks can be powerful tools that provide consistency and best practices. With sales playbooks you can be sure that your talent acquisition is more than “random acts of recruiting”.

Happy selling!

[1]  If you have 5 minutes, check out this fun video I developed to help you avoid this mistake.

featured image courtesy of jomohong at


About The Author
Nancy Parks
Nancy L. Parks, Ph.D. founded HRPartnersplus, specializing in customized recruiter sales skill training. She has over 40 years of experience in business and education -- including 10 years in sales and sales training at a Fortune 500 company. She believes in learning -- not education, and that learning agility is a key, competitive advantage. She also believes in "pull" instead of "push" with regard to learning content, and in giving learners a "compass" instead of a "map". HRPartnersplus customized training has resulted in an average of 91% increase in selling skills as well as solid productivity gains (getting better information in less time).

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