You know you’ve made it when you’re known by a nickname. When people say “Coach K,” there’s no mistaking who they’re referring to — Mike Krzyzewski, coach of the Duke University Blue Devils NCAA Division I basketball team.
Okay, so maybe it has a little bit to do with the fact that “Krzyzewski” doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue, but with five national championships and 12 Final Four appearances under his belt, I’d say he’s earned his nickname.
That kind of consistency is nearly unheard of in the modern era of college basketball, where programs and coaches can only expect top-level talent to stick around for one to two years before chasing their dreams in the NBA.
Imagine dealing with this reality as a business. You’ve got to lead a team knowing full well that your top performers will have a shelf life of just two years before leaving for greener pastures.
Tough, right? Still, Duke’s found a way to push through, as 2015 marked Coach K’s 1,000th win and the Blue Devil’s 20th consecutive invitation to the NCAA Tournament.
The key to their success isn’t a mystery. It’s Duke’s ability to recruit top performers year after year. They identify athletes at a young age and track them through high school, courting them all the way to graduation.
Organizations that don’t begin recruiting until they have vacancies to fill have no hope of even coming close to Duke’s level of success. And it’s not just sports teams that benefit from Coach K’s philosophy — sales organizations have much to learn from him too. Below are the six most important recruiting lessons Coach K has to teach us.
1) Build your brand.
Is your business a household name? If so, maybe you haven’t had to worry so much about recruitment. But if it’s not, it’s unlikely that you’re able to attract top talent without even trying — the vast majority of companies can’t. So focus on building your brand.
Keep your feelers out for talent and building your company’s presence. Get out in the community consistently and make your presence known. Regularly attend career fairs and internship recruitment events, as well as sponsor events where your ideal candidates go. Take your recruitment efforts online and on social media to build buzz. Your company’s digital presence should reflect the culture and ideals of your company through and through, highlighting why it’s a great opportunity for someone to join your team.
2) Recruit with company culture in mind.
More often than not, business owners tell me their biggest challenge is a lackluster sales force. They want to know how they can motivate their team to have that, “Go get ‘em!” attitude and bring in enough of the right business to help their company thrive.
The truth is, you can’t make people become motivated. You have to hire them that way. But once you’ve hired them, you have to create a company that empowers your team to tap into their own motivation.
For Duke basketball players, that personal motivation might be to win a National Championship, to make it to the NBA, or to make enough money to provide them a better lifestyle.
Find out what motivates your sales team. Create a sales culture that makes it clear you and your company are here to help them achieve their goals.
3) Seek out top performers.
When I’m speaking to an audience of business owners or sales managers, I ask them, “Are you presently active in the marketplace, looking for someone to recruit and hire who can become your new number-one salesperson? Are you looking for a top performer?”
Generally, fewer than half of the people raise their hand. How could you not have your hand up?
If you are trying to grow your company, you should always be looking for top-producing salespeople. Top performers can raise your bottom line by improving average performance through their own numbers and knowledge transfer to the rest of your team. The best players are the ones that make those around them better.
4) Set aside time for recruitment activities.
If you want to build a world-class organization of top salespeople, you have to allocate time to recruit on a consistent basis. It doesn’t have to be hard. Target 10 to 15 candidates and reach out to them with some type of breakfast, lunch, dinner, ball game, or industry event twice a month.
Recruiting talent isn’t all that different from landing a new client — it won’t happen with just one touchpoint. If you have a target list of candidates, keep in touch regularly. Do it consistently and soon enough you’ll be recruiting like a National Championship winning coach.
5) Define your ideal candidate.
How do you find 10 to 15 top candidates to pursue? Build a position profile — not a job description, but a profile of the characteristics and attributes that make up a great salesperson. Base your profile on what your own top performers look like.
Build this profile out, put your contact information on the bottom of the profile, and carry it on your person everywhere you go. When a potential candidate asks what you’re looking for, show them the card. Explain to your contacts that it doesn’t matter whether a candidate is currently in your industry — they should just send great salespeople your way. With your pre-built profile, those candidates will know exactly what you’re looking for.
6) Folllow the “Five Threes” hiring process.
In my experience, managers hire salespeople too quickly.
They fall in love with smooth talkers the first time they meet them, or they’re in such dire straits to fill a vacancy that they put an offer in front of anyone who seems okay.
Do you think Coach K and his talent scouts just watch YouTube video highlights of high school talent? No. They have a system and process with multiple “touches” to learn more about the young athletes’ skills, education, home life, and more to vet top talent for their university.
Here’s a process you can follow to recruit like Coach K:
- The sales manager should conduct at least three interviews with prospective salespeople.
- Those interviews should be at three different locations — even a different conference room will do.
- The interviews should be on three different occasions.
- Three other people in the firm each should conduct an interview with the prospect.
- Repeat this process until you have three solid candidates.
Follow this process and each of those final three candidates will have been interviewed at least six times. Why so many interviews? Because each time, someone different shows up. And with each interview you get closer to discovering who the person really is.
Over the years, I’ve learned that many sports teams are run better than most businesses are. That’s because they’ve mastered systems and processes, and practice them. The best teams practice their moves until they’re perfect. Your recruiters shouldn’t act any different.