Finding and Keeping Great AE’s – Your Culture is Your Number 1 Recruiting Tool

I have believed in the importance of culture as a recruiting tool for a long time. You'd believe it, too, if you’d been to as many markets and seen as many great sales operations as I have. Great sales teams inspire me. There’s an energy in those teams that’s exciting to be around.

Those organizations have less difficulty attracting great salespeople than most. A lot less. In fact, their current team members are their best recruiters. And they usually have less need to attract people because fewer people leave them. Why leave when you enjoy coming to work? Unless someone has a life-changing event or decides they hate our business, why would they leave a job that meets a lot of their needs.

I think every leader should ask themselves, “Would media people in the market consider us the absolute best place to work?” If your answer to that question is “No,” you can be sure you’ll likely have more turnover than you should and more difficulty finding new hires. But when your answer is “Yes,” your recruiting and retention challenges become a lot easier.

Culture starts with leadership. The legendary Jack Welch, chair of GE, had four criteria he used to evaluate leaders. He called them the 4 E’s: Energy. Energize, Edge, Execute.

  • Does your leader have high personal ENERGY?
  • Can your leader ENERGIZE others? Do they brighten their associates’ moods? Or, are associates less excited after interacting with them? Can you tell that this alone would eliminate a lot of “the beatings will continue until morale improves” leaders?
  • Do they give you an EDGE? A great teacher once told me that he evaluated AE’s and sales managers by asking himself, “What would I lose if they left?” You want a sales manager who is personally developing business, and who has relationships with clients you’d miss if they left. That’s beyond the technical skills or inventory that might also give you an edge.
  • Do they EXECUTE effectively? Do they get the job done? This might be budget performance - although even great leaders miss budget. But, if I have a leader missing budget who isn’t coming to me with a strategy to fix things, then they may not be as effective at getting results as I need them to be.

You’ll never see a news headline that says, “Plane Crash in Sarasota. Passenger Error.” Leaders make the difference.

But there are so many things to culture besides leadership.

Here are some questions you might ask…

  • Are there clear standards and accountability? Are the standards realistic? I was in a station recently where only one AE had made their new business budget. Before you conclude that’s because of a weak manager, you have to ask if the budget numbers were realistic in the first place, and if they were, then are there consequences for non-achievement?
  • Are people laughing and having fun? Fun and recognition are signs of a healthy sales staff. But caution… if people are having a blast and no one is making budget, you probably don’t have the leader you deserve.
  • Is our turnover low? Every sales staff has turnover. A spouse gets a job offer that requires a move. A salesperson with strong entrepreneurial drive decides to follow their dream. That happens. But pay attention when you see people leave for jobs that offer fewer opportunities than yours. Or, in an exit interview, they tell you they wonder about the future of our business.
  • Is the relationship between the leader and the team collaborative? According to Michelle Prince, Senior Vice President, Talent Management, North America for Randstad USA, “One of the most evident but often overlooked ways to strengthen a company culture is to invite employees into the conversation. So, in that sense, the effort to strengthen the culture becomes obvious, but it also becomes inclusive and two-way vs. just top-down, which is usually more appealing to employees and effective in the long run.”
  • Is our compensation in line not just with other media groups but also with the other jobs our potential hires might be considering? Several of the people in our office have children in their late 20’s in the workplace. My sense is that these hard-working kids are largely making more money than most AE’s would make with a couple of years of experience, and they probably have a lot more flexibility than we’re used to providing.

Your culture is your number one recruiting tool and it’s essential for retaining strong talent. 

As I was writing this, I came across a Blog post from British tech entrepreneur Neil Patel. He wrote, “While the work may be difficult, the culture shouldn’t add to the stress of the work. On the contrary, the culture should be designed to alleviate the work-related stress.

This is why culture matters. Culture sustains employee enthusiasm.”

Enthusiasm. That’s what we need to create in our sales staffs, and that’s what we need to be sustaining day after day, month after month, year after year.

Ask yourself… is our culture doing that?


Do you have Sales Managers who need to get better? I promise, we can help. We’ve designed our Sales Manager’s High Performance Boot Camp around how leaders can create a high-performance culture, recruit and retain superstars, and motivate their teams for extraordinary new business growth. A combination of real-world skills and world-class leadership and culture speakers. January 26-28, 2020 in Tampa. Early sign-up pricing at www.jimdoylebootcamp.com