With the exception of the small minority which subscribes to Zimstat’s controversially low bar for employment status, most sources seem to agree that Zimbabwe has a very high unemployment rate. The job market is so competitive that hirers can get away with all kinds of outrageous demands in their job postings, the infamous of which is the five O-level passes requirement for even the simplest of jobs.

It did not take long for smaller companies to also try to use the multitudes of idle youths to boost their bottom line: they started hiring for sales positions. Most of the businesses are shocked by the lukewarm receptions that these job offers get. Instead of dominating the job interviews and asking the hard-hitting questions they are almost reduced to begging as dozens of job hopefuls walk away from their offers. The confused would-be hirers are forced to come up with theories such as the older generations’ timeless fallback: young people are simply lazier and entitled nowadays. This is not necessarily true.

Today we will explore some of the possible reasons and solutions for the failure of small companies to not only recruit but to keep people who can sell their products.

Don’t sound too much like an M.L.M scheme

The widespread use of the internet nowadays means that most multi-level marketing schemes are virtually borderless. This means that over the years there has been an influx of these schemes into the country, most targeted at the jobless youth. The legitimate ones are usually too far and in-between; the majority are thinly veiled pyramid schemes or sellers of questionable medical supplements (the ‘medical’ is usually replaced by ‘herbal’ to avoid attracting unwanted attention from authorities). Few if any of these schemes turn out to be sustainable sources of income so anyone who is familiar with them or the language that they use in their marketing material simply ignores them. Unfortunately, that is the same language that is inadvertently adopted by some of the businesses who are trying to recruit salespeople.

When you post an advertisement you must avoid sounding too vague. Tell your future salespeople what they will be selling and state the full name of your company (preferably a registered one). In the same vein of trying to avoid sounding like an M.L.M operation, resist the temptation to promise your prospective sales team unrealistic levels of income. In short, advertise your posts professionally and like all jobs instead of marketing them the same way you would one of your products.

Don’t overemphasize the commission

A lot of your potential salespeople (the young people) do not consider that working on commission is ‘real’ employment. Some companies appear to believe that payment on commission is one of the most lucrative means of compensation. If the commission is the front and centre of your job advertisement you are effectively declaring that not only can you not afford to hire and pay employees but that your business is so small and rickety that you cannot even afford the additional risk of hiring fulltime employees.

Sell your product to your prospective salespeople

Remember that from your potential hires’ point of view they risk wasting a lot of time and effort in trying to sell a product that is not even in demand. Payment on commission also means they will not be compensated for all this time and effort. It is, therefore, your job to convince your prospective salesmen and saleswomen that there is a sizeable market for your product. If you have already had some success using salespeople before, you can use these previous sales figures and their commissions to convince people to join your team. You can also get one of your current salespeople to offer a testimonial for the benefit of your prospects. Alternatively, you can just share your market research.

Pay allowances where necessary

While commission-based work blurs the line between an employee and a contractor, most businesses prefer treating their sales teams more like the latter since this is cheaper. While these businesses may feel like the commission is the ultimate means of incentivising people to work harder this will instead cause increased yearning for financial security. This will manifest itself in the form of an underperforming sales team because they will increasingly treat the work they do for you as temporary while they devote more of their time to finding ‘better’ jobs. While this may go against the frugal mindsets of most small business owners, giving your salespeople a basic allowance will go a long way in increasing the effectiveness of the commission-based incentives. At a bare minimum, the allowance should cover the cost of any transportation and refreshments that your employees will need on the job.

The first few days are the ones during which new and inexperienced salespeople are most likely to quit. An allowance for them during this period is advisable as this will reduce their fixating on their inevitably low initial sales figures. This will cushion them while they learn their way around and will ensure that they last more than a week in your employment.

Set realistic expectations

In order to manage your own and your sales team’s expectations, you need to develop and set realistic performance benchmarks as soon as possible.  It is only natural for you to assume what amount of sales to expect from your team in a given period. Reality will most probably crush your expectations. It is, therefore, necessary to develop new expectations that are based on reality. This way you can see how well or badly your team is performing without exerting any undue pressure on them.