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Richard Lane

durhamlane

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What can HR learn from the sales team?

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Every business professional could improve their performance by adopting tried-and-tested selling techniques.

But it is particularly true of those working in HR, a profession that requires top quality people and communication skills and the ability to win boardroom buy-in on often alien concepts ranging from workplace wellbeing strategies to the latest employee benefits. 
 
But HR professionals are also tasked with boosting staff motivation and commitment, not least by showcasing opportunities for career progression and training.
 
So in what way is this a sale role? Well, in the same way that sales people need to keep on cultivating new leads and managing relationships with potential clients, HR professionals have to continually find ways to engage and retain personnel if talent is to progress up and through the organisation.
 
When you think about it, talent management and building up a pipeline of future prospects are just two of the strategies that sales professionals employ, which are similar to those adopted by the HR department.
 
Sales professionals keep hold of customers by staying in touch and up-to-date with their requirements and providing them with relevant information about the product or service that they are selling.
 
Talent management
 
Similarly, HR professionals keep hold of their top talent (which, come the upturn, could become more of a challenge) by nurturing their abilities and interests, ensuring that they receive adequate training and support and are engaged in their role.
 
Moreover, just as sales people sell a ‘vision’ to their clients, HR practitioners have to look to the long-term with their employees. Managers with a 10-year career plan will be far more likely to commit to the business, for instance, than those who are surrounded by insecurity or have no idea what their future looks like.
   
What this means, in reality, is that a clear communication plan is essential when implementing an effective talent management strategy. Such an approach will not only ensure that staff understand how they can get the most out of the opportunities being offered to them, but also appreciate the value of them.
 
Another key role for HR is to sell the organisation as a great place to work in order to help it attract the best talent. It is also important to create a pipeline in order to ensure that there is a constant flow of talent joining the organisation and progressing through it. 
 
As to what constitutes a successful sales person, they tend to be natural communicators and are able to manage relationships with a wide variety of people. They are also usually good at planning for the future so that they can ensure sales continue to come in.
 
So what can HR learn from them? Here are four suggestions:
 
1. Be proactive
 
HR directors should encourage their teams to develop a ‘what else can we do?’ attitude. This idea is always at the forefront of successful sales professionals’ minds in order to ensure that their pipeline continues to grow and they continue to win new business. 
 
2. Be target-focused  
 
Love them or loathe them, sales targets provide focus and are very measurable. While a ‘targets structure’ might not work in every facet of HR, having clear goals and measurable outcomes is key to success. Effective sales teams get this particular situation right every time.
 
3. Develop empathy
 
Being able to put yourself in your customer’s shoes is a key sales skill. This involves working hard to understand what the other party (let’s say, a new recruit or focus group) is trying to achieve, which will enable you to be more effective in your people development activities.
 
4. Plan for success
 
Sales professionals have to plan. Without planning, it is impossible to know where to spend their time most productively. HR professionals can build a strategy for success in the same way. For instance, how much time and effort do you put into project planning, whether it involves introducing new benefits or rolling out flexible working practices? Without planning, success will be hard to achieve.
 
So the question is, do proactive selling strategies form the cornerstone of how your HR team operates? If not, it might be worth thinking about some of the parallels and asking yourself: if you really were able to sell, how much more effective would you be?
 
 
Richard Lane is a partner at sales training course provider, durhamlane.
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Richard Lane

Partner

Read more from Richard Lane