Coffee’s for Closers (HR as Sales Professional)


As we prepare to invade the North Dakota State SHRM Conference this week, I thought maybe I’d share some of my philosophy regarding why I think all Human Resources professionals should think of themselves as being in sales.

People are often surprised to find that while I now spend my days leading an HR department for an organization of about 800 employees, I have no formal education in Human Resources. As you know, my career started with a job selling copiers in small town rural America. I literally spent my days walking up and down main street of small towns, making cold calls hoping to find someone who might give me a few minutes to talk about copiers or fax machines. I ultimately found my way to HR by way of executive recruitment (another sales job that happens to do with connecting people and jobs). So, when I finally landed as a professional in HR, I viewed it through a sales perspective. Fortunately for me, I think this perspective has played a major role in my success in HR. Here’s a few of my thoughts on why.

Sales is about relationships. Sales people spend a lot of time trying to connect to people and get to know them. We were trained in sales to build and leverage relationships to help us make sales. It’s easier to buy from someone you know. In HR, most of the really important work we do involves convincing leaders and employees to do something different than what they have in the past, to buy a new way of doing things. We want them to adopt a new performance appraisal or participate in a new wellness program. Whether or not the “buy” into this new program has a lot to do with their relationship with HR. Do they know you? Do they trust you? If the answer to both questions is yes, your new program has a significantly higher probability of success.

Sales is strategic. Sales people know that in order to make a big sale, several people have to say yes and only one person has to say no to stop it. If the sale is big enough, people from several departments and levels of responsibility will have to sign off on it. A sales professional knows this and maps out this process in advance. The sales pro knows who has to say yes, who has the power to say no, and what each person will want to know to make the “buy” decision. HR is no different. Let’s use a new HR software purchase as an example. To make the purchase, you may need the approval of your head of HR (if that’s not you), the CFO, the IT department, purchasing, legal, etc. A savvy HR pro will lay all of these approvals out on paper and outline what each approver is likely to be looking for. If this HR pro is really good, she probably has established relationships with each of the approvers so she can go to them early in the process to find out what questions each might have. By knowing ahead of time who needs what information to say yes, it’s much more likely to get the approval when it’s crunch time.

The list goes on. These are two of the biggest reasons I’ve found how HR pros with sales skills get ahead. You started off in sales like I did, have you found the same to be true?


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