In earlier postings, I’ve observed about the continuing challenges all businesses encounter in discovering and retaining really competent sales and marketing employees and contractors. Note the word “competent”. There are plenty of people out there who say they can sell, or market, if you provide a salary, benefits, and hope. And some will talk the talk in the interview and selection process, but make you want to walk the plank when you see what happens afterwards. In AEC practices, seller-doers, or “rainmakers” are especially challenging to recruit and retain — after all, most of these special individuals could own their competing practice if they wished.
In our own business we’ve discovered some answers to these questions, but not enough to say that we have really solved the problem. I don’t feel bad about this weakness, recalling a meeting of truly high-flying successful entrepreneurs a few years ago. When we went around the table to discover our greatest challenges, they came out: Selling, business development and truly effective marketing.
Ironically, one answer I’ve discovered “works” but have not yet been able to systematize is to discover young talent, at college/university level, who are looking for their first career opportunity and lack much experience, but have plenty of determination. In one case, the recent grad I hired years ago, worked with incredible energy on a truly unprofitable publication — selling ads that I thought no one could sell. He couldn’t make a living doing this, long-term, and the publication ultimately failed, but he certainly went on to great things after he left our organization. He now runs a truly successfully event marketing business.
There are other examples, but all of them combine two elements, one wonderful, and the other frustrating. The wonderful: Really good ideas, innovation, high talent and energy, and the ability to sell what seems to be the impossible. The frustration: These young people don’t stay around too long.
I’m not sure how I can solve the latter problem easily. If the work/income can’t grow fast enough to meet the competitive landscape, the young person will simply move on to something better. Or, being young, the young person well, may simply, move on. You can buy some, but not all that much stability in this space.
This wouldn’t be too much of a problem if you could continuously replenish the young candidates with fresh talent, in a systematized way. In this model, you would continue to find new people, who would add creativity, talent and inspiration, and possibly a few would “stick”. But where do you start looking?
“Aha”, I thought, in a moment of inspiration spurred by the 2013 movie: The Internship. Why not develop an internship program? There are opportunities, theoretically, for “free” internships, but realistically, in a sales and business development environment, or if you really want results-oriented marketing, you’ll need to pay something. But maybe minimum wage plus a commission bonus for success would be enough. And indeed, that seems to be a possibility.
I discovered internships.com, which appears to offer a free listing service (I looked for any catch where fees are involved, and so far haven’t seen any. Type the keyword “sales” in Chicago, and you’ll find about 2,700 entries. Not all will be a good match for the work — but the website describes virtual internships — where the potential student employees work from their homes .
Now, this is an untested idea. I can’t say for sure if it will work. But it offers some intriguing possibilities. We may indeed discover a sustainable pool of talent here. I’ll report back later on the results.
Have you had any success in recruiting/hiring students and interns for sales, marketing and business development? Please share your observations either by email to firstname.lastname@example.org or as a comment below.