EPISODE 471: What Hiring Managers Must Seek in Sales Candidates According to Top Recruiters Ken Leiner and Frank Munero

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[EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a replay of the Optimal Sales Mindset virtual learning session sponsored by the Institute for Excellence in Sales on February 10. 2022. It featured an interview with Ken Leiner Associates recruiters Ken Leiner and Frank Munero.]

Find Ken on LinkedIn. Find Frank on LinkedIn.

KEN’S TIP: “Don’t forget to keep really good track of your track record because most people are moving on to the next thing, and I query them because I do very detailed interviews about the details of their track record, their deals, their customers, and they don’t have it all together. Then the other thing just to make you stand out is positive energy. Put it out there and what goes around, comes around. 

FRANK’S TIP: “Stand out. Try to get in front of the companies that you’re interested in and apply all the principles that Ken pointed out on how to interview for a job. It’s a sales job. Just stand out among all the other people that might be having conversations during an interview versus interviewing to win. That’s the main takeaway for salespeople.


Fred Diamond: Today’s an exciting show. We’re talking to Ken Leiner, Frank Munero from Ken Leiner Associates. You guys have been around for about 25 years. You recruit sales, tech, marketing talent for tech companies, value-added resellers, integrators, professional services firms, and you guys are the leading search firm in the government space and also for the Mid-Atlantic markets as well.

We’re excited to talk to you guys. You are always out there working with some of the best companies, some of the elite performers to really match up. Interestingly, the mission of the Institute is to help sales leaders attract, retain, motivate, and elevate top tier sales talent. You guys are two of the best sales recruiters in the industry, so I’m thrilled to have you on the show. Let’s get started here.

Let’s get started with you, Ken Leiner. You and Frank, you guys know the best salespeople in the market. Give us a little bit of an update beyond what I just said. Again, you also were focused, we mentioned, on the government market.

You’ve worked with a lot of the companies that are members and sponsors of the Institute for Excellence in Sales, and a lot of the people, the VPs of sales that I’ve had on the show before, I’m sure you’ve recruited for or you’ve helped them find some amazing talent. Tell us a little bit of what they’re looking for in candidates right now, and what are some of the most important factors for qualifying them?

Ken Leiner: Fred, thanks for the invitation, and thanks for the good work that you do on behalf of the sales profession. Our company is headquartered in the DC area, and we just opened up an office in Montreal. We’re known as a recruiting company, some people call it a search firm, and we’re also known as headhunters and that’s okay with us. We help technology vendors and solutions providers, or value-added resellers build their sales and leadership teams in the government but also in the enterprise space.

Our primary focus is helping them in the federal marketplace where we have seven recruiters working full time in that niche. In terms of why our clients hire, for the last 30 years, our clients have hired for the same four factors. I call it the four cylinders. For a candidate to win the deal, in this case – the deal is the offer, the candidate is the product – they usually have to hit on three or four cylinders.

Number one is track record of success. Nobody can always over-achieve but if generally they’ve over-achieved their goals, it’s a good indicator for the hiring company that they’re going to do the same thing for them and they’re going to be a low risk hire with a strong ROI. The second aspect, the second cylinder is solutions knowledge. What have they sold? Enterprise software, within that security, integration, analytics, networking, whatever it is. It’s not that people can’t learn about a new niche, but if you already have knowledge of the niche and have knowledge of the competitive space, you hit the ground running.

The third cylinder is customer knowledge, customer intimacy. Have you sold to the federal government, to the DOD? Within the DOD, to which agencies? Civilian agencies. Which civilian agencies? Intelligence community, federal systems integrators, value-added resellers. Again, each one of those have their own special ways of doing business, they have their own challenges, they have their own budgets, they have their own cultures. They’re all different. If you’ve already spent a lot of time working with them and have some credibility with those customers, that’s a big leg up for you. That’s the third factor.

Cylinder number four, your personal attributes/chemistry with the hiring team. When people ask you, what are your personal attributes? Many people don’t like to brag about themselves or toot their own horn but think about your greatest fans that you worked for, worked with, or sold to. What would they say are your differentiators? It could be work ethics, team player, collaborative, presentation skills, drive, passion, positive energy.

You should try to think about what really applies to you. Then also along with that is chemistry with the hiring team, because it doesn’t matter if you have a great track record, great knowledge of solutions, great customer knowledge. If there’s no chemistry, they’re not going to want to hire you and live together eight hours a day. That’s the basics.

Fred Diamond: We’ll get deep into some of those. I’m curious. Frank, I want to ask you about how salespeople can elevate, let’s just call it their hireability. How can they be seen more attractive? One thing I do want to hit on after Frank answers this question is we keep hearing about how hard it is to get great talent right now. As a matter of fact, I used to ask a question on the Sales Game Changers podcasts to the sales VPs.

What are the two biggest challenges you face as a sales leader? I was interviewing a guy named Frank Passanante, who’s the Senior VP of Sales for Hilton. He said, “Everybody who is a sales leader has to deal with hiring and recruiting. That’s table stakes. We’re not even going to mention that. Here’s the other two things that I find is big.” I’m just curious in the fact that it’s gotten harder for a whole bunch of reasons, with any of those four cylinders of companies or maybe moving those a little bit off the plate so to speak, and we’ll address that. But Frank, let’s get you in the equation here. How can salespeople elevate their hireability?

Frank Munero: Thanks, Fred. Ken and I are thrilled to be here, so thanks for hosting us. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while. I love the four-cylinder speech, I’ve been with Ken for 30 years. I can recite it but I always feel like I still learn from it. It’s really helpful. When candidates hear it, it means something to them. Anyway, how to become a hirable candidate. A lot of is meeting those four cylinders, but let’s talk about what a really good resume looks like for a hiring manager.

Usually, it’s got a couple things. Performance is almost always the most important. Quota performance, ranking among your peers, awards that you won, quota club, being promoted, those kinds of things. That’s important. The other thing is having some longevity in a job or hopefully in several jobs. That depends how long your careers span. But if you’ve got a 20-year career, you want to show at least three or four times where you stayed with a company for at least 3-5 or more years and shown consistency of performance.

How do you guide your career as a sales rep to have that kind of resume that every hiring manager wants to see? It sounds simple but part of it is just being a great sales rep. What does that entail? I think it’s three main things for great salespeople. One is intelligence. Intelligence is important in any job, not just sales, but a lot of our hiring managers these days talk about intellectual curiosity.

Intelligence doesn’t mean that you know everything. Intelligence means that you know how to ask good questions, you know how to be coachable, you’re always trying to learn from your customers, from your managers, from your co-workers. That’s what we mean by intelligence. You can carry that into an interview by doing those things, asking good questions, being prepared and just being able to have an intelligent conversation.

The other thing about great salespeople is just the fierce competitive nature. They’re always striving to be the best at whatever they do. Maybe they play team sports, maybe they didn’t. Maybe they run the debate team. Whatever their passion was, they usually strive to be the best at what they’re doing. That’s usually a good thing in any great salesperson.

The third thing which is probably not as well-known is this mission orientation that some salespeople have. I think some of the best salespeople become what we call trusted advisors to their customer. They literally become part of that community. The customers understand that that sales rep really cares about what the mission of the agency is, and tries to help them overcome obstacles that are in their way – technical obstacles usually because we’re talking about technical salespeople. Help them overcome those obstacles.

The other thing about mission orientation is really smart salespeople are so in tune with their customers that they know what technologies are going to be critical to them 1-2 years out. Not just today, but 1-2 years out. They’re constantly asking about that. Then when they’re ready for a job move, they’re seeking out those companies that provide those types of solutions, and if there’s really smart, they’re finding out which are the best ones, and they’re trying to get into those companies. I think that’s what makes the sales rep really hirable.

Fred Diamond: Frank, that’s a great answer. We’ve done close to 500 shows, and a lot of the sales leaders that we’ve interviewed have focused on either public sector or healthcare or education markets, and I always ask that question because we have a lot of people who listen to the show from around the globe, not just in the DC area. I’ll ask them, why have you devoted your career? And usually, they’ve devoted their career.

These great sales leaders, the guys and the ladies who reached the VP levels, the GM levels, they’ve been selling to public sector or federal for their entire career, so they’ve reached some of the pinnacles that you’ve talked about here and the answers are always like that. “My father was in the military,” or, “I’m committed to the mission of the government.”

We got a couple of questions coming in here. I’m going to take one question here which goes in line with Ken’s point, one of the cylinders being track record. This question comes in from Mick, Mick says, “Can I jump between company size? What is Ken’s advice, and Frank’s advice for that matter?”

Again, you guys have recruited for companies of all sizes I’m sure. The largest companies, midsize, startups, high league finance startups, etc. Answer that question. Are companies looking for maybe if you’re recruiting for IBM, Oracle, Xerox, whatever those large companies, and is it easy to go from a startup to a monster or $60 billion company and vice versa? What is your advice on that for hiring managers, and then also for the employees? Ken, why don’t you take that one first?

Ken Leiner: What I recommend to our hiring managers, our clients, where we are trusted advisors for them, and the smartest ones take a lot of coaching from us, to really be open minded whether people come from small, medium, or large companies. Large companies probably would love to hire people who have entrepreneurial experience and mid-range experience. That’s not a problem. The challenge is the entrepreneurial companies who do not want to hire somebody who’s only worked at IBM for 30 years, or Microsoft or Oracle, where you have a big brand behind you in product marketing and tons of support. You’re not getting that in a startup.

For those who are at the midsize and large companies, I highly recommend that you target the smaller companies, which are sometimes rougher sledding, but where you could have a larger impact and a bigger learning curve and put more on your shoulders and just run with it. The smaller companies are looking for the small company experience. The midsize and larger are just looking for the best people who want to join their team, understanding that there’s a lot more processes and bureaucracy which the people who’ve gone to the startups are not necessarily looking for.

Fred Diamond: Frank, I got a slightly different question for you. Again, you mentioned you’ve been working with Ken for close to 30 years. You’ve seen ups and downs and we’ve had all various types of things. Of course, we had the corrections in 2008, 2009, right before 9/11 in 2001, 2002. Those were very, very difficult markets for people to find great opportunities because companies were just cutting back hiring. Now it seems that everybody’s trying to hire. It’s probably the hottest market, maybe the late 90s were probably pretty hard too with all the money being thrown in. But right now, what are some of your advice for hiring companies and for candidates in such a hot marketplace?

Frank Munero: Comparing the two, I’ll spend more time on the current hot job market but it’s basically the flip. You flip things. In a lousy job market, you’ve got not many companies hiring, and you’ve got a ton of people looking. In that particular scenario, you’ve got hiring managers that are getting overwhelmed with resumes. Ninety-nine percent of them don’t meet the criteria, and so their challenge in that kind of market is, where do I spend my time?

How do I reduce the number of people? I don’t want to interview 10 bad candidates. I want to interview four good ones. How do you find those four good ones and how do you make sure you don’t spend too much time interviewing people that don’t fit? For candidates in that market, you got stand out. You’re one of a hundred resumes or more that are sitting on a hiring manager’s desk, and you have to figure out a way to stand out and get to that person, so you have an opportunity to interview and maybe get an offer.

Flip it to today, and late 90s like you said, where it’s a hot job market. Now you’ve got tons of companies hiring, and you’ve got a very small talent pool. That talent pool gets picked off really quickly. I think for hiring managers, in this case, they need to make their job and their interview process stand out. They have to be ready to sell candidates while they’re also interviewing and making sure they’re hiring people that fit. They want to make sure that they’re selling the candidate as much as they’re interviewing.

For salespeople, generally they want to hear about how much money their salespeople are making, how much over quota, why is the product different? Why is it going to beat the bigger companies? You got to be ready to answer questions like that. For the interview process, you want to have a very organized, very well-communicated, very efficient interview process. Your candidate should know what’s going to happen next, when it’s going to happen, and you need to stay in constant contact.

If you have a really organized interview process and efficient and well-communicated process, and that candidate might be interviewing with another company, maybe they’re hotter, maybe it’s a cooler company. The interview process will make your company stand out. They’ll be more impressed just by the communication, and the whole organization of the process itself. I think that’s really key for hiring managers in a hot job market like this.

For candidates, the trick is to manage your time. What a lot of people do is they call their friend who’s at some hot company and loving it, and go interview and take that job, that’s fine. You might have missed out on some other really cool opportunities that might have been better, but you still have to manage your time. It’s like the opposite of the hiring managers during a lousy job market. You want to figure out a way to make sure you’re interviewing with the select few companies that meet your criteria.

Fred Diamond: We have a couple questions coming in as a follow up to what Ken had mentioned before about the four cylinders. Your track record, your knowledge of products and solutions, your knowledge of the market. I always tell people, when people say to me, how do I become real successful at sales? I say, “Intimately know a customer market. Become an expert beyond expertise in a customer market.”

We have a couple of questions coming in here, Ken. I’ll just take one from Aria. The question is, “What if I don’t have the first three but I’m really, really talented? Can I be successful in getting a job with a great company?” Number four, personal attributes. Things like energy. We hear about the great athlete. What if somebody doesn’t have? Can you as a recruiter convince a company to bring this person on? Talk a little bit about your relationship with the hiring manager as it relates to bringing them great candidates.

Ken Leiner: Well, a lot of companies with us, they’re looking for everything. They think that we’re going to bring in perfection, and they’d like at least three or four cylinders to be hit. We’re not the folks who are placing entry-level people. It’s people with track records. That’s why the companies pay us. But for people, I think you should be able to hit on the first and the fourth. You should have a good track record, maybe not in technology sales, maybe not in federal sales, but it might have been in school. It might have been in the jobs that you did working in retail or where you’re working hard and not making a lot of money, but gaining great people skills.

You should have at least a track record wherever you work, and the great personal attributes, and then it’s all about overcoming the Catch 22. How do you get your break? Once you get your break, you’ll be okay. You run with it. But in today’s market, you can get creative and go after getting your break and frankly, to close the biggest deal of your life, which is your offer to get into our industry.

Let’s say you think you can sell. Start figuring out the companies that you want to talk to and go after trying to get in front of them. Please don’t do it with the resume down a black hole and putting it this way when nobody’s going to look at it. Target the companies and how about the old fashioned way? Pick up the phone and call the VP of Sales. Maybe not ask directly if you could work for them, but maybe ask for their advice on your job search and how to break into the industry. You’d be surprised. People are nice, and they’ll help you out.

Fred Diamond: With social media, with LinkedIn, we all know people who are connected to people, and if you have that type of interaction going, then it shouldn’t be too hard to at least get that type of meet, especially if you’re in sales. Your job is to get the meetings like you just said, and your job here is to get the interview.

Frank, we have a question. I’m going to direct this question to you and Ken, you could chime in. Ken, you talked before about how an entrepreneurial company doesn’t want somebody from the IBM or the Microsofts and I agree with you 1,000,000%. But we have a couple of questions coming in here. I’ll take one from Judah. Judah says, “How about moving from products to services?” Frank, maybe you could address that one. Is it easy or hard for someone who, let’s say, worked for typical tech products, some kind of data product or something like that, some kind of software to move into the integrator side or the companies like the CACIs or the SAICs?

Frank Munero: My definition of a hirable, desirable salesperson, the first one being intelligence, I think great salespeople adapt to anything that they might be selling. I don’t think learning a new product or service is that difficult. Hopefully, the company has some good training on how they do things. Again, if you’re intellectually curious as a sales rep, when you start working for that company, you’re asking all the right questions to figure out, okay, this is what I need to do to sell this different type of solution that I’ve never sold before. I think it’s very possible and it happens a lot.

Fred Diamond: I want to ask you another question here. A lot of times when we talk on the Sales Game Changers virtual learning sessions and the podcast, we always talk about, you need to understand the mind of the customer. A lot of times I’ll ask the question, What is the customer thinking?” no matter who I have on the show. Give us some of your insights on what the hiring manager is thinking.

Also, let’s look at it from two perspectives. I guess there might be the recruiters or HR who may come to you guys and say, find us some candidates for this particular job. Then of course there’s the hiring manager, the sales VP, or whomever it might be. Give us some insights. Ken, why don’t you go first? What’s going on in their mind? What are they really, really looking for? How are they looking so that the people listening to today’s podcast can be more effective in “selling” them to get hired, or at least get the interview?

Ken Leiner: What people should realize is that the companies are in a little bit of a tough spot right now. There’s way more demand and supply of A-player talent. Even if you’re not an A-player, but you’re on the road to becoming an A-player, you have an easier chance to get your shot now than ever. The coaching to the companies and what I’m learning from our smartest clients are they’re learning to be very nimble, to move quickly, to get away from processes and procedures that are slowing them down. Frank alluded to this, but it’s a romance and you got to handle the romance right.

We have a client that we’ve been working for for the last nine months, a midsize software company, and they can close a candidate that they like from first interview to offer accepted in 10 days. They’ve done it various times. Other companies that are talking to these candidates say, “What happened?” Well, they got gobbled up already. The romance went really well and they closed the deal.

That’s the coaching that I would give to companies. On the flip side, we have another midsized company that we love that we’ve worked for for 15, 20 years and we had a civilian agency sales candidate in front of them and the schedulers would schedule them with the other team members and then they would mess it up, and it’s just one blunder after another. After 100 days of having this candidate in the loop, they were shocked when they lost the candidate.

Companies need to be more nimble. They need to handle the romance right, and they need to be more flexible on not having 8 out of 10 boxes checked. They need to know if they see it, it might not be perfect, they need to jump on them and make it happen because look at the opportunity cost of not hiring people. In fact, that one client said, “Ken, we don’t need A-players, we’re happy with B+ players. We don’t want prima donnas. But a B+ player who’s on the road to becoming an A-player and has the right attitude is just as good for us.” They’ve hired 10 people from us in I think seven months.

Fred Diamond: Frank, how about you? What are your thoughts on that as well about what should people who are applying for jobs be aware of as it relates to what’s going on in the mind of the hiring manager and the company for that matter? What should they know to get through?

Frank Munero: I’ll take it from the candidate side. Ken took it from the hiring manager side. I think, again, this whole notion of standing out is critical. The best thing to do if you’re really interested in a company or a job is to do your research upfront. LinkedIn is a very powerful tool to see who you might know in common with the hiring manager, or even to find out who the hiring manager is. Do your work, do your research on who is this person connected to, how can I get to him or her and use your network to get in.

Stand out not only by sending a resume that looks great and hoping, “Hopefully they’ll call because I’m very interested.” No, go after them. Go get in touch with the hiring manager through LinkedIn, or call them, or have your friends who have worked for them or work at that company, bringing your resume to them. You got to really work hard to get to the person that is the hiring manager for a job you’re interested in.

Fred Diamond: We got time for one or two more questions before we ask you for your final action step. Let’s take a question here from Martee. Martee says, “What do you see people doing wrong?” I’m presuming she’s talking about job applicants. What are some things that you see people doing wrong right now? Even though it is such a rich market for talent, there are probably people who are doing things incorrectly. What will be some of your advice? Ken, why don’t you go first on what do you see people doing wrong that they need to correct?

Ken Leiner: Well, first, I alluded to the interview being a seven-figure sales call, but not in the case of a seven-figure sales call for your company where you take home a 1,500K commission. This is seven-figure sales call for you and your family, so you need to be at the top of your game in terms of how you handle it. Common errors are talking way too much.

What you want to do when you’re on the interviews is do everything you do on your best sales call-in front of the CTO of the Department of Homeland Security, which is open up the interview by asking the simple question. Excuse me, before we get started, can you talk to me a little bit about what you’re looking for in a candidate? The hiring manager loves it because they like to talk as many of us do.

They love it because they’re going to get to explain that, and they see that you’re a consultative solution salesperson and you love it because you’re taking notes, and you’re listening and they’re giving you the answer to the exam. A couple of tips are do your homework, handle it as a solution sales call, understanding the needs and closing them on you as a solution that’s going to help them accomplish their mission. It’s all about them at the beginning.

Fred Diamond: Frank, we got time for one more question here. Again, we’re doing today’s interview in the middle of February 2022. Most people are still doing work from home. Not every customer is back yet. Some are, but there’s still a lot of companies that have told their people not to go to see the customer yet or to go to events and those kinds of things. A lot of the interviews are still being done on the rectangle and you have all that going on.

What are some of your recommendations? Of course, COVID has impacted the recruiting, interviewing and hiring process. What are some things that you recommend? Because it looks like we’re still going to be in this mode in a lot of ways for the foreseeable future. Give us your thoughts on that, and then I’ll be asking you for your final action steps.

Frank Munero: COVID, I don’t think it has changed what’s important to do in an interview process as a hiring manager or a rep. It’s only changed the media by which you do an interview. All the same principles apply. I hate to say that COVID’s had a positive impact on anything, but for the recruiting field, and just for hiring in general, it’s made things a lot more efficient and easier and streamline because you don’t have to drive to an office.

You don’t have to fly out to the corporate headquarters, and you don’t have to go out to an office six different times to interview with six different people. It’s all available on your screen and you’re working from home, so it’s just made things actually a lot easier. We have not seen a drop off. At least I haven’t, I don’t know what Ken thinks. But it’s not like there’s been a drop off in the quality of hiring because of COVID and having to interview through collaboration tools. It’s all gone really well.

Fred Diamond: I want to thank you both for the great insights. You guys have done so much valuable work for, it’s got to be close to tens of thousands of sales professionals and companies. When you get that job like you talked about before Ken, especially right now, the better the company you work for, the right job you have, the happier you are, the happier your family is, it just all gets spread around and being connected.

I’ve been connected with recruiters in my career to great companies like Apple Computer and Compaq Computer. It just really changes the quality of life, not just for you but for everybody that you touch. You guys, good for you for all the great work you’ve done for so many job seekers in so many companies. Frank, why don’t you go first? You both have given us so many great ideas. Give us your final action step for the sales professionals listening today to help them take their sales career to the next level.

Frank Munero: Stand out. Try to get in front of the companies that you’re interested in and apply all the principles that Ken pointed out on how to interview for a job. It’s a sales job. Just stand out among all the other people that might be having conversations during an interview versus interviewing to win. That’s the main takeaway for salespeople.

Fred Diamond: The great Ken Leiner, bring us home. Give us your final action step for the people listening today.

Ken Leiner: Well, while you’re selling out there, please don’t forget to keep really good track of your track record because most people are moving on to the next thing, and I query them because I do very detailed interviews about the details of their track record, their deals, their customers, and they don’t have it all together. Keep good track of your track record. Then the other thing just to make you stand out, it’s going to sound really goofy, positive energy. Just have that positive energy, put it out there and what goes around, comes around.

Transcribed by Mariana Badillo

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