Recruiting salespeople in France and Germany: 5 steps


Recruiting salespeople in France and Germany - 5 steps

We have previously written about how one should go about attracting sales candidates in the French or German markets, where there are more open positions than available professionals. When looking to hire in Europe, companies can easily be taken aback by the local talent scarcity, and such pacing problems can be hard to catch up on. If you’re trying to figure out if and how you should manage the recruiting process in France, in Germany or in both, here are our five tips.

1. Defining your sales goals in France and Germany

In order to be able to recruit efficiently, you need to work out your qualitative and quantitative objectives beforehand. The main reason is that the challenge will not be the same if the new recruits are taking over an existing market, or if they have to launch a new market in Germany. The candidate must fit the mission.

Your quantitative objectives

Here are the questions you need to ask to set your quantitative goals:

  • How much revenue do you want to achieve?

  • What is the desired evolution over 6, 12 or 24 months?

  • What is the breakdown between new customer acquisition and additional sales?

  • What geographical areas are to be covered?

Regarding this last, important point, there are some things to keep in mind.

Distribution of your salespeople across territories

France is a vast state by European standards. The cultural differences between the northern and southern regions are considerable. The capital is a metropolis, far bigger than Berlin (over 12 million in the greater Paris area, against 3,6 in the state of Berlin). But the other big cities are smaller than in Germany.

What's the best way to cover these complex territories? To contain costs, you should somewhat familiarize yourself with the geography and the transportation systems.

Paris is the center of France and its transportation network. The train system is centered around the capital, leading to detours, and there are few air connections with other cities. If you deploy agents outside of Paris, it will cause longer travel times, both for them to visit clients elsewhere, and for you to visit your representatives. If you have bases both in France and Germany, bear in mind that a trip between Berlin and Brittany (Bretagne), for example, can take up to three days of travel.

If you're in this situation, these shortcuts should prove useful:

  • Think beyond borders. Experienced, bilingual candidates can be found in Alsace and Lorraine. De facto, you may have to settle in these regions even if you want to develop throughout Germany or in other parts of France.

  • The Paris-Bordeaux route is easier than the Lyon-Bordeaux route, although the distance as the crow flies is shorter.

  • The Rhine-Rhône high-speed line is intended to create a link between Lyon and Strasbourg that does not pass through Paris, but it is still under construction.

  • The eastern half of France is more densely populated and therefore better connected than the west. It also benefits from Switzerland's infrastructure, such as the Geneva and Basel airports.

Your qualitative objectives

Here are the questions you need to ask yourself in order to identify what qualities you are looking for:

  • Which profiles will be targeted?

  • What sales cycle is involved?

  • Will there be a section dedicated to managing key accounts?

These elements are essential to identify the skills and temperament of the sales person you need.

Once your goals are set, define the corresponding strategy

The recruitment of your sales force can then be considered in two different ways:

  • The recruitment of a sales manager for the whole French-German territory, in charge of setting up and managing the teams.

  • The one by one recruitment of German and French salespeople, coming from the product / market pair on which they will be working with you.

The ladder allows you to carry out initial market tests in order to ensure the adequacy of the strategy, and to offer career development prospects to the employees involved.

On the other hand, it implies that the parent company takes over the marketing function. This can be done either by hiring a communication agency or by recruiting a marketing assistant who’s highly proficient in the local language.

Franco-German and European recruitment specialists

2. Understanding the education, mindset and functions of French and German salespeople

Currently, younger French /German candidates look for companies in the following order (respectively):

  • large German / French groups

  • French / German SMEs

  • small French / German companies

  • American companies

  • Swiss or Japanese companies

  • ... and only then, companies from Southern Europe & other continents

A foreign company, even if it has bought a local structure, always has a hard time securing the services of recognized professionals. Thriving midsized companies with global reach are rarer in France than in Germany and do not enjoy the same prestige. This means that the right applicants are culturally less interested in a position in a medium-sized company, even more so when it comes to a job far away from a major city.

Being a salesman is uncertain and risky by nature, and thus not particularly attractive to most Germans. There are no business schools with a distinct field orientation, and few business schools in general (ESB Reutlingen, WHU Koblenz, etc.). Even the Diplomkaufmann training aspires more to organizational abilities than to prospecting in the field.

Given the scarcity of salespeople, German companies therefore have to train their’s internally. You may end up asking your product managers or engineers to work in the field, even though that’s not where their expertise lies (i.e. with a specific market or product). They will lack the specific psychological training that a salesperson needs to achieve "open door policies", so to speak.

Consequently, even after a careful recruiting process, consider supporting and coaching the new recruits long enough to ensure their understanding (and acceptance) of the product philosophy and sales pitches, so they may become more confident and independent.

In France, the opposite is the case. A diploma has a higher value in France than in Germany. It forms - often for a very long time - the prerequisite for the type of tasks, the hierarchical position and, of course, the salary. After shorter studies, a technical function or a position in micromanagement awaits the graduate. A career from apprentice to CEO is extremely rare in France. There are roughly three levels among French educational backgrounds in sales:

Baccalaureat +2 years: Diplomas such as the DUT, BTS in sales, etc. are quite common, producing legions of salespeople who’s abilities in prospecting will only be verified after a couple of years of experience. However, young graduates have often already completed a series of internships or even worked in a company parallel to their studies.

Baccalaureat +4-5 years: Diplomas from about 150 business schools, mostly private and expensive. Graduates can be found in middle management positions.

Baccalaureat +5-7 years: The Grandes Écoles train managers and top executives. Access to these highly selective colleges requires two years of preparatory study with a very difficult entrance exam. These institutions generally specialize in engineering and business. Almost all heads of major French companies emerge from these colleges, which focus on excellent teaching as much as on cultivating their alumni networks.

3. Understanding application documents

In Germany, there will be quite a lot of paperwork for applicants moving on to a new position (cover letter, CV, diplomas, employment certificats). In addition to the current shortage of candidates, this contributes to the fact that the number of applications received for an open position is generally not very high, which can facilitate pre-selection. Acceptable application files will generally be neat and sober: if the CVs show gaps or a lot of changes, you may want to do some "digging" to understand the reasons for the changes and the blanks in the CV.

Profile analysis in Germany will involve studying work certificates. It should be noted that a work certificate in Germany is supposed to be positive, so that it does not hinder the person in future applications. There is, however, a code of appreciation that allows for the correct interpretation of work certificates, even if the information won’t be quite precise. It will give a general idea of how to evaluate a candidate.

In France, there is no such thing as a reference system. So you have to ask for references from colleagues or superiors in the former company to get an idea of the candidate's work.

We have put together videos both on the topic of understand these particularities of French and German CVs:

Note: You can simply turn on the subtitles and let youtube translate the video automatically in your chosen language.

4. Interviewing candidates

Preparing for interviews and for the selection process

If you meet your candidates face to face in Germany, your invitation counts as a legal engagement to cover your candidate's travel costs.

German candidates generally keep a reserved attitude and do not try to sell themselves as much as the French do, because in their view, their training, their experience and certificates are proof enough, whereas any added subjective opinion can raise suspicion.

They will need to be persuaded that your company's objectives, product range and methods are well defined and consistent. Precise details of the strategy, tactical and operational elements of the position to be filled, the type of clientele to be worked with, the product range, the service policy and the market prospects must necessarily be mentioned.

French candidates on the other hand will try to assess whether the human relationship is solid before looking to learn more about the work itself. As though it were an appointment with a customer, both parties should be able open up during the conversation.

Depending on where you are hiring, whoever you task with interviewing candidates should be well prepared for these differences, to avoid misinterpretations of what can respectively be perceived as a lack or an excess of energy & outspokenness.

"I often recommend that companies approach the candidate as if they were looking for a friend, rather than an employee, in order to assess whether it’s someone they can trust. The French candidate wants the HR manager to see the person behind the role."

Susanne Goniak
HR manager


5. Smooth onboarding

As with the interview, a new french recruit will be grateful if they can feel very welcome in the team and start building friendly relationships with coworkers quickly. Your German hires on the other hand might feel overwhelmed by such a welcome and will keep a professional distance for a longer period. Take the time to learn how to communicate properly with your German colleagues.

It is important to plan the integration phase carefully in order to ensure the sustainability of new German employees as well as their efficiency. This can be done through integration seminars (Workshops) which will focus on the following elements:

  • Objectives and action plan divided into milestones at 1, 3, 6, 12 and 24 months. German salespeople are trained and used to working on a defined product/market pair. If this product/market pairing is different from the one they knew in their previous position, you have to define and agree with them on the sales policy to be followed.

  • Appropriate methods of prospecting, targeting and argumentation: German sales people, and in particular technical sales people, are closer to the product than to marketing, who are efficient in the field of technical support for acquired customers and in the follow-up of business, but are not always very comfortable with the initial prospecting to acquire new accounts.

The German market is one of the most competitive in the world. A German salesperson must be driven by industrial marketing methods including:

  • the determination of a know-how with recent and relevant references,

  • the implementation of the most refined argumentation possible, accompanied by dedicated commercial tools and specific training

  • the elaboration of a qualified ABC prospecting portfolio in order to channel the action of the sales representative

  • commercial support during the first field contacts

Thirdly, in order to ensure the efficiency of the French / German salesforce, it is necessary to focus their work on successive products and markets in as many campaigns as the company has commercial niches, technological applications or others...

For each "campaign", it is necessary to build up a prospecting portfolio that is both exhaustive and qualified. The commercial approach to foreign markets, especially when addressing Germany, requires a particularly informative communication package in German, including:

  • a company profile to show the credibility of the company

  • product / application sheets highlighting the company's specialties

  • a website that is properly referenced on Google using relevant keywords

  • a presence in industrial catalogs and other supplier databases such as Wer liefert was

For your information, at Eurojob-Consulting, we believe in providing guidance not only during search & selection, but also during the entire onboarding period. For any needs you or your candidate may come to have in the time after the successful hiring, we remain present to assure smooth transitions for all parties.

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