Sales Director Recruitment Agencies vs. Headhunters: Understanding the Difference

hybrid working and a work from home set up
Examining the Benefits of Hybrid Working in the Modern Workplace
May 18, 2022
Headhunters Vs Recruiters - Best For Jobs
Hiring for Non-Executive Director Jobs – A Guide for Employers
June 6, 2022

Sales Director Recruitment Agencies vs. Headhunters: Understanding the Difference

A sales director occupies a pivotal role in an organisation. They work in a high-pressured environment, and largely drive the success of the business. As such, it’s essential that businesses are confident that they can recruit skilled and experienced candidates to the role. The first hurdle is deciding between sales director recruitment agencies and dedicated headhunters.

Here we look at why the sales director role requires a unique and strategic approach to recruitment. We specifically look at what sales director recruitment agencies do and how this compares with the process of a dedicated headhunter. Lastly, we address which are best for getting the best candidate into the role efficiently and committed to making business success in the future.

Why is the sales director role tricky to hire for?

The sales director role, like all board level roles, is strategically important. The individual in this role is responsible for driving sales for the business. Being on the ‘front line’ of the business, with also an important placing on the board, it takes a diverse blend of skills, acumen and experience.

The best sales director is both energised and enthusiastic, a natural networker, but also a planner and a strategist. They need to thrive under high pressure and manage and motivate their salesforce in a high-pressured environment of targets and profit margins. They need to be as skilled at bringing out the best in individual sales staff as they are with reporting, estimating profits and working with price margins. They need to bridge the salesforce with the rest of the organisation, for the purpose of market expansion.

We explain more about the sales director role in our comprehensive sales director job description guide.

As such, it’s a very complex role to recruit the right candidate for. They need relevant experience and skills, but they also need to be the ‘right fit’ for the business and the balance of the board.

What do sales director recruitment agencies do?

A sales director recruitment agency can be contacted by an employer with a newly emerged sales director vacancy. Likely to be one recruitment agency competing with others, and only getting paid if they are the ones to present the successful candidate, they work quickly to access a pool of candidates. They do this by advertising the role on relevant job boards.

Active candidates who are scouring job boards then self-select to send their CV to the sales director recruitment agency, with a view to being considered for the role. The recruitment agency quickly scans CVs for potential suitability, sending over any that are roughly suitable to the employer.

The employer must then work through the CVs to determine which candidates they would like to invite for interview. They interview candidates and make their selection. There isn’t usually much support from the recruitment agency during this process as they’ve done the matching; it’s now up to the employer.

If the successful candidate came through the sales director recruitment agency, they charge a percentage of the successful candidate’s starting salary as a fee. There is rarely any come back if the person in post proves unsuccessful.

How does this differ from a headhunter?

A headhunter takes a different approach when helping an organisation recruit a new sales director.

Usually, the employer has an exclusive relationship with the headhunter. This is called retained search. The organisation pays for the services of the headhunter, and as such, the headhunter is dedicated to finding the best fit candidate for the role. They will still work fast and efficiently, but because they aren’t competing with other sales director recruitment agencies, it’s about excellence, not speed.

A headhunter may use job boards, or their own existing database of suitable candidates, to some degree. However, where they really excel and can make a difference with high level recruitment is that they don’t just target active candidates.

Headhunters work best by learning more about your specific sales director role, the existing composition of the board, and what the organisation really needs within their marketplace. They then look far beyond active candidates, to competitors and other organisations, to see which passive candidates are already doing what you need (albeit elsewhere). These candidates are preferable because they are already proving their worth, on the ground. They are also not just after any job, at any cost, they will only consider roles where they truly believe they can make a valuable contribution as they are already satisfied where they are.

The headhunter then works carefully to lure the passive candidate into being interested in your specific role. Knowing your business well, they advocate for your business and position the individual as a potential and interested applicant.

The headhunter fully supports the employer and hiring team through the process of interviews and onboarding, removing much of the legwork and navigating the pitfalls of standard recruitment.

Which is better for business success? Sales director recruitment agencies or headhunters?

Sales director recruitment agencies have their limitations. They only look at active candidates, meaning your recruitment process entirely overlooks the smaller, but likely better, pool of best candidates. They will present you with many options, but they are unlikely to be the best.

Recruitment agencies also work fast but without the laser accuracy of a headhunter. They can be pressuring with their speed, because they know that they are in competition with other sales director recruitment agencies to be the first to present the successful candidate. They don’t want to give you thinking space! They only get paid if it’s them to present the CV of the winning candidate.

Furthermore, recruitment agencies offer minimal support to the organisation through the recruitment process. They won’t, for example, help you understand the diversity of your board and the overall dynamics of the board, and how the individual sales director fits into that.

Conversely, a headhunter will work harder and in a more dedicated manner for you. They learn about your organisation and your specific needs, uncovering weaknesses and opportunities that you won’t even have been aware of. They use their exceptional networks for your benefit, to find the right candidate, even when that candidate is currently employed elsewhere. They support you throughout the recruitment process from shortlisting to onboarding, and they care about the long term success of the candidate in the role.

For all senior board level roles, a dedicated headhunter always offers the best solution for ensuring you don’t just get a candidate capable of doing the job, but that you get the candidate helping to drive the success of the business in the future.

For support with your sales director recruitment, get in touch.