13 min read

The Recruiters Guide to Generating Sales Leads

Many staffing firms have taken a hit because of the COVID-19 pandemic. With all the changes and millions of people being furloughed, it seems as if the economy has hit the pause button. While it may be difficult to drive revenue right now, it is imperative that staffing firms continue to consistently cultivate sales leads.  When staffing firms struggle to generate enough quality leads for their sales team, they're forced to be perfect at everything else they do because they leave themselves no margin for error.  Specifically, 

  • They must have the perfect candidate or solution
  • They must have perfect salespeople
  • They must have perfect recruiters
  • They must have a perfect sales process

That's a tall order!

Let me begin by defining what a sales lead is and share some very basic parameters to help you segment your leads.  I will then explain why recruiters are (should be) expected to consistently cultivate sales leads and why it is so important to cultivate your own leads organically vs. buying your leads.  From there I will share specific tactics including scrips that recruiters can apply for generating sales leads.  Lastly, I will finish by explaining sales accepted leads (SAL's) and implementing SLA's within your lead generation program.

Sales leads are individual people or businesses that are prospective buyers. Sales leads are typically identified via inbound marketing, advertising, referrals, social media, networking, outbound sales, product trials, trade shows and consultations.  However, many staffing firms lack a full-time, dedicated marketing team and even fewer possess an inbound marketing strategy with a marketing automation platform that is fully The recruiters guide to generating sales leadsintegrated with their ATS or applicant tracking system.  Not surprisingly, research shows that the #1 inhibitor to growth for is lack of qualified sales leads.  It’s common to hear recruiters and salespeople grumble out of frustration that they lack qualified job requirements (to work on).   

For these reasons, it is imperative that recruiters consistently generate high volume and high quality sales leads for their account managers or sales team.   Hence this blog post, the recruiter's guide to generating sales leads.

Before I define what a sales lead is, let me first define what is NOT a sales lead. The key to any good sales lead generation program begins with a mutually agreed upon (sales and recruiting) definition of a sales lead.

What is a Sales Lead?

A sales lead is NOT: 

  • The individual name of a hiring manager 
  • The individual name of a company
  • A job posting on a job board, LinkedIn or a career page 
  • Reference to, or information regarding a company taking on a new project or launching a new product

These are all single, individual elements that make up the entirety of a sales lead. If you share any one of these individual elements with your account manager or sales team without any additional information, they will likely toss it in the garbage.  Not only that, they will assume that you don’t understand sales and that you don’t understand the basic criteria of what meets the generally accepted definition of a sales lead.  

Sales leads can be segmented into three simple levels of qualification:

  1. Hot Sales Leads
  2. Warm Leads
  3. Tips or Market Intelligence: 

Hot Sales Leads
Hot sales leads can be defined as the recruiter acquiring the following information:

  • First and last name of the hiring manager including correct spelling.
  • Correct name and spelling of the company the hiring manager works for including company website address and physical location.
  • Correct direct dial phone number of the hiring manager OR the correct email address of the hiring manager.
  • The recruiter knows for a fact via verifiable information that the hiring manager currently has contractors,/consultants working for them.
  • The recruiter knows for a fact via verifiable information that the hiring manager is actively interviewing candidates.

So what in the hell does "verifiable information" mean?  It means the recruiter acquired the information by physically engaging in a two conversation with the hiring manager. Or the recruiter engaged in a two-ay conversation with a second-hand party such as a friend, colleague or candidate who engaged in a two-way conversation with the hiring manager. It means the information has been verified by the recruiter via a direct conversation or via a trust-worthy second-hand party. It is not based off an assumption or "I heard" or "I heard through the grapevine," or "I heard/read in the news." 

99% of hot sales leads are generated in one of two ways:

  1. Recruiters speaking with and interviewing candidates who are actively interviewing for jobs.  
  2. Recruiters speaking with candidates they previously placed, who are currently on assignment. These are candidates who are being called on by other recruiters for other opportunities.  This is just one good reason why recruiters should stay in consistent and continuous contact with their candidates AFTER they make the placement.

The key with hot sales leads is the recruiter knows for certain that the hiring manager is actively interviewing and hiring candidates.

Warm Leads
Warm sales leads can be defined as the recruiter acquiring the following information:

  • Correct spelling of the first and last name of hiring manager.
  • Correct name and spelling of the company the hiring manager works for including company website address and physical location.
  • Correct direct dial phone number of the hiring manager OR the correct email address of the hiring manager.
  • The recruiter knows for a fact that the hiring manager currently has contractors,/consultants working for them. 
  • The recruiter does NOT KNOW if the hiring manager is actively interviewing and hiring. 

Like hot leads, most warm leads are generated by recruiters speaking with and interviewing candidates who are actively interviewing for jobs or by speaking with candidates who they've placed on active assignment.   The difference between a hot lead and a warm lead is with warm leads, we know the hiring manager hires consultants or contractors.  What we don’t know is whether or not the hiring manager is ACTIVELY interviewing and hiring.

Tips or Market Intelligence
A tip or market intelligence can be defined as knowledge acquired by a recruiter through a source including, but not limited to a candidate, friend, family member, colleague or acquaintance or through research such as reading an industry blog or publication and identifying a trigger event.  Examples of tips and market intelligence include:

  • Information indicating a company is launching a new product which may drive the need to hire staff.
  • Information indicating a company is undertaking a new project which may drive the need to hire staff.
  • Information indicating that a company is hiring staff but the name of the hiring manager is unknown.
  • Information indicating a company or hiring manager is evaluating staffing firms or seeking RFP’s for a project.
  • Information indicating a company is opening  or leasing office space near by.

A tip or market intelligence is simply information that indicates a company or a person might be in the market for your service today or at some point in the near future.  

Those are some basic guidelines for defining a sales lead. Naturally your organization can further define what a sales lead is based on your business model, your ideal target customer profile and so forth.

Why Not Just Buy Sales Leads?
Business owners, recruiters, salespeople and sales leaders alike want to fill their sales funnel — and fill it quickly with qualified sales leads.  Hence the temptation to buy sales leads.  

Buying leads, as opposed to organically cultivating them is much easier and takes far less time and effort, despite being far more expensive. However, any leads that you've purchased don't actually know you or your company. Typically, these leads have "opted in" to some other website when signing up for something. But they didn't actually "opt-in" to receiving anything from you or your company. 

When you send out a large "email blast" to your prospects whose email address you have purchased, your message is an unwanted message, and sending unwanted email messages to people who've never been to your website and or 'opted in' to receive email messages from you regarding your services means there's a high chance they will flag your messages as spam. This of course is bad for you!  Even worse, this behavior trains email servers and email providers to filter out your emails so that your prospects don't get your unwanted messages. 

Once enough people and/or email/proxy servers and email provides flag your messages as spam, you go on a "blacklist," which is then shared with other email providers. Once you get on the blacklist, it’s really, really hard to get off. In addition, your email deliverability and IP reputation declines which hurts your entire company. So it's always, always, always better to generate leads organically rather than buy them.

Why Recruiters are Expected to Generate Sales Leads
As a recruiter you might be thinking, why in the heck am I responsible for generating sales leads for my sales team? (If you're not, you should be)  There are a few reasons for this.  First and foremost, before you can source, screen, interview and place a candidate, you need job orders.   Client job orders are the lifeblood of recruiting.  Without job orders there is no work for recruiters.

Second, recruiters “are the market.”  What this means is, recruiters—NOT salespeople—have their pulse on the market.  Because recruiters are speaking with candidates all day, day in and day out, they’re in the best position to understand supply and demand trends regarding skill sets, experience, pay rates and most importantly which companies are interviewing and hiring.  Because recruiters are speaking with candidates everyday about new opportunities and in return hearing from candidates about the opportunities they are considering and interviewing for, they’re in the ideal position to generate sales leads. More to point, generating sales leads should be a natural part of every recruiter-candidate conversation.

Optimal Opportunities for Recruiters To Generate Sales Leads
Within the overall recruitment process there are three optimal times for recruiters to be asking for and generating sales leads.  Here I will examine the context of each of the three optimal opportunities for recruiters to be asking for and generating sales leads. They include:

  1. When qualifying the candidate’s current situation, during the introductory candidate call and phone screen
  2. When conducting reference checks
  3. When nurturing candidates. This includes nurturing candidates who are on assignment and actively billing as well as nurturing passive candidates.  This also includes nurturing candidates who are engaged in an active client interview and hiring process.

Generating Sales Leads When Qualifying the Candidate's Current Situation
Qualifying your candidate’s current situation refers to the recruiter qualifying the candidate’s current employment situation including their availability and what other opportunities they’re considering, when and where they’re interviewing and where each opportunity resides within the interview and hiring process.  For example, to qualify your candidate’s current situation you'll need to determine, among other things:

  1. Are they actively interviewing?
  2. When and where are they interviewing?
  3. Do they have pending interviews with another recruiter?
  4. Do they have pending job offers?

While this scenario is arguably the most difficult time for a recruiter to generate a sales lead from a candidate because the recruiter is likely still building trust, top performers are able to do it on a consistent basis.

Generating Sales Leads off the Candidate Reference Call
Generating a sales lead off the candidate reference call is probably the most common scenario for recruiters to generate sales leads. However, the key to successfully generating a sales lead in this context lies in the recruiters ability to execute the actual reference call.  The point is, if you don’t conduct a genuine reference check in which you take a sincere interest in learning about your candidate, their skills and their work experience, the reference is going to see through your self-serving agenda and know that all you care about is making a sales pitch and not conducting a candidate reference.   

The key to converting a candidate reference check into quality sales leads is rooted in the quality of your reference check. You must conduct a genuine, in-depth reference check before you try to pivot the conversation to discuss how you might conduct business with the reference.  

Generating Sales Leads off the Candidate Reference Call
Here is an example of a recruiter effectively pivoting the reference check call into generating a sales lead. You can find the script below the video.


Recruiter: “Mr. Customer, I really appreciate your time today and you sharing all of the information regarding <insert candidate name> and your experience working together. It sounds like he/she will do a wonderful job for my client and will be a great addition to their project team. Thank you again.”

Customer/Reference: "Not a problem, happy to help."

Recruiter: "Mr. Customer, would you mind if I made a slight pivot in our conversation and  I asked you a research oriented question?“ 

Customer/Reference: “Sure, what is it?”

Recruiter: “Clearly you’re in a role in which you hire and manage a team of contractors and full-time employees. We work with leaders just like yourself and so I’m wondering, what would my company need to do to position itself as a provider of staffing and professional services for you and your organization?”

Customer/Reference: “That is a good question, but I don’t have any needs today.”

Recruiter: “I appreciate that and thanks for setting my expectations. Could I just ask you a few quick questions to see if we would even be fit to work together?”

Customer/Reference: “Sure, but I only have a minute and then I need to run.”

Questions to ask to determine if the manager is a tip, warm lead or hot lead.

  1. As the <insert reference’s job title>, how do you go about hiring consultants/contractors?
  2. Suppose hypothetically you or your firm wanted to work with me and my firm, what steps would you have to take internally to make that happen?
  3. Who makes those decisions?
  4. Would it be ok if one of my account managers reached out and introduced themselves to you?

The key to getting the manager or reference to open up and answer your questions is all in HOW YOU ASK your questions.  It’s all about your delivery, so your tonality is critical. You want to be as disarming as possible and sound as non-threatening and non-salesy as possible.  Remember, you're simply asking some research oriented questions.

Generating Sales Leads from Candidate Nurturing
Candidate nurturing is the proactive and purposeful process of identifying, qualifying and continuously engaging candidates throughout the candidate journey toward an eventual hire. Candidate nurturing refers to recruiters consistently engaging in candidate outreach via phone calls, text messages, email and social media toward an eventual hire.   Here are three different examples of how recruiters can and should be generating sales leads during their candidate nurturing activities.

1.) Nurturing Passive Candidates:  Nurturing passive candidates refers to calling and emailing candidates who are passively looking for their next opportunity.  These candidates may or may not be actively employed. Your job is to reach out to them every 30 to 45 or 60 days.  When you make your reach out phone calls to these candidates you can and should be asking them the following:
    1. "What has changed since we last spoke?"
    2. “What new opportunities have surfaced for you?"
    3. “With which companies have you had an interview?”
      1. “Who did you interview with?”

Asking these questions is simple and most importantly, they’re questions that any candidate would expect from their recruiter. They’re a natural part of the recruiter-candidate conversation. The goal is to capture as much detailed information as possible from the candidate regarding the other opportunities being presented to them and considered.  Simply share this information with your sales team.

Again, this conversation should already be a part of every recruiters daily routine. This conversation is not an "in addition to" all of your other recruiting activities. This is something all recruiters should be doing every single day.

2.) Nurturing Active Candidates:  These are candidates that you’re actively pipelining and nurturing because you know these candidates are ACTIVELY INTERVIEWING AND SEEKING A NEW OPPORTUNITY.  As with passive candidates, your job is to reach out to these candidates on a consistent basis. With active candidates however, the cadence of your reach out should be more frequent, such as once per week or every other week. When you make your reach out phone calls to these candidates you can and should be asking them the following:
    1. "What has changed since we last spoke?"
    2. “What new opportunities have surfaced for you?"
    3. “With which companies have you had an interview?”
      1. “Who did you interview with?”

With active candidates, the likelihood for churning up new sales leads is greater because these candidates are actively interviewing.  Your job is to uncover when, where and with whom they are interviewing and what other opportunities they're entertaining. Again, the goal is to get as much detailed information as possible.

3.) Nurturing Candidates You Placed on Active Assignment:  Nurturing candidates that you placed who are actively billing on assignment for you is a fantastic sales lead generation tactic. These are candidates who are actively working for you and your company whom you should be calling and nurturing 1-2 times per month to ensure assignment satisfaction including the work they’re performing as well as satisfaction with their co-workers and supervisor.  This group of candidates is by far the easiest group of candidates for recruiters to generate sales leads from. There are two reasons for this:

  1. You already have a pre-existing relationship with these candidates. They know you and trust you. Not only that, you’ve done something for them; you got them their current job.  They naturally expect to hear from you!
  2. These candidates are receiving calls everyday from your competition; Recruiters who work for other staffing firms and corporate recruiters. They’re trying to recruit your candidates out of their current job and into their opportunity.  This means that this group of candidates has intimate knowledge of which companies are actively interviewing and hiring today.

For example, you might say: "<state candidate’s first name>, I know with your background and level of experience that you’re in high demand and that your phone must be ringing off the hook with recruiters wanting to present new opportunities for you.  Part of my role as a recruiter is to try to cultivate leads for our sales team.  Would it be O.K. for me to ask you a few questions regarding the recruiters who are calling and pitching you opportunities?”

Questions you want to ask include but are not limited to:

  • "What companies have contacted you this week about full-time opportunities? Contract opportunities?"
  • "Which companies/employers are they representing?"
  • "What did they tell you about the opportunity/project?"
  • "What did they tell you about the employer?"
  • "How many people are they looking to hire?"

I also encourage you to encourage your candidates to get as much information from the recruiters as possible so that they can share that information with you.  For example, you might say, "<insert candidate first name>, next time a recruiter calls to pitch you an opportunity would you mind  just sort of pretending like you’re interested and ask the recruiter questions about the employer and the opportunity?  The reason I ask is this information is invaluable to me and my organization. In fact, I might even be able to offer you a commission or an incentive for your time and help." The information I’m interested in includes:

  • Name of employer
  • Name of hiring manager
  • Name of role/position
  • Pay rate range
  • Start date
  • Project details

By asking these very simple and straight-forward questions recruiters can easily generate a handful or more of new qualified sales leads each week. 

Sales Accepted Leads (SAL's) and Service Level Agreements
Sales Accepted Leads (SAL's) are leads that have met certain agreed-upon criteria (between sales, recruiting and leadership) and are passed along to the sales team where they will be acted upon within a predetermined timeframe. SAL's are leads in which the salesperson has accepted the lead and is acknowledging that the lead they’ve received and accepted meets the agreed-upon criteria in the SLA. 

All leads, whether it be a hot lead, warm lead or tip/market intelligence must meet the criteria for it to be a sales-accepted lead. For example, if a salesperson receives a hot lead but determines the lead does not meet the hot lead criteria the lead should be rejected and rerouted as either a warm lead or tip/market intelligence, depending on what criteria the lead meets.  Or, the lead should be further cultivated before being passed back to sales.

A service-level agreement (SLA) should be created between sales and recruiting that specifies the characteristics of a sales-accepted lead and the resulting steps that sales must take within a specific timeframe. The steps and timeframe should very depending on whether or not the lead is a hot lead, warm lead or tip/market intelligence.

A formal lead acceptance process and SLA is important for staffing firms for five reasons:

  1. Drive Accountability. The SLA holds recruiters accountable to driving new leads and the salespeople to follow up on accordingly on each lead
  2. Avoiding Abyss. The acceptance process allows sales and recruiting to confirm that sales are acting on all delivered leads. No leads fall into the abyss.
  3. Quickly Identify Sales Lead Bottlenecks. The rates of sales lead acceptance and rejection reveal lead follow-up and lead quality problems that can be quickly addressed. Staffing firms should strive for sales lead acceptance rates that are 90 percent or better. Lower rates typically indicate a breakdown between recruiting and sales and/or poor qualification.
  4. SLA's Starts the Clock on Sales Follow-up. With Sales Accepted Leads and SLA's, sales is obligated to follow up with the lead in a specified timeframe (ideally no more than 72 business hours, 24 hours is a best practice).
  5. Reduce Poor, Unqualified Leads. Rejected leads should be automatically rerouted back to recruiting, (or marketing or the BDR) for further attention and resubmission if necessary.

Over the years I’ve heard dozens and dozens of staffing owners tell me their recruiters don't generate or sales leads for the sales team.  When probed to understand why, owners have told me:

  1. “Our salespeople never follow up on the leads”  
  2. “Our recruiters never hear back from our salespeople on what happened”
  3. "Our salespeople complain the leads are unqualified"

This is a management issue and why having an SLA in place is so important. You need to have closed loop feedback with your lead generation program.  Recruiters need to know that the leads they're generating are being followed up on and making a difference.  Sales needs to know that recruiters understand the definition of a qualified lead.  SAL's and SLA's help facilitate this and drive closed-loop feedback.

So there you have it folks. Now that you know more about how to generate leads for your business, try implementing some of the ideas I shared with you and let me know how it goes.  After all, who wouldn't benefit from a few more sales leads?

To learn more about how to effectively interview and screen candidates download our eBook, Executing the Candidate Interview; Five Pillars to Candidate Qualification.

Executing Candidate Interviews for Effective Qualification

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