Ecosystem Approach to Closing Passive Talent


Jennifer Johnston

Jennifer Johnston is a full lifecycle employee engagement marketer, corporate culture builder, and HR tech geek. For the last ten years, she’s been an integral part of the talent strategy teams of two of the fastest growing and most innovative software companies in the world – first VMware and now Salesforce. Currently, Jennifer runs global employer branding and recruitment marketing for Salesforce and also consults with customers about how the company uses culture plus technology to deeply engage employees. Prior to getting into the HR space, Jennifer was the VP of Marketing for Northwest Media. She holds a B.A. in journalism and political science from Gonzaga University.

Webinar Transcript

Announcer: Jennifer Johnston is head of Global Employer Branding at Salesforce. In this role, she executes on PR, marketing, and advertising strategies to build the company's reputation as a best place to work. She also nurtures relationships with passive prospects and drives candidate pipeline. Jennifer consults with Salesforce customers on how to use Culture +, the company's social and mobile technology to engage employees. Previously Jennifer led global employer branding, recruitment marketing, and internal communications at VMware. Before getting into the HR space, she was VP of Marketing at Northwest Media. Jennifer holds degrees in Journalism and Political Science from Gonzaga University.

Please welcome Jennifer Johnston to Elevate 2015.

Jennifer: Hello, everybody, and welcome to Elevate 2015. Thanks for joining. My name is Jennifer Johnston, and I am head of Global Employer Branding for And I'm thrilled to be here today to talk with you about our ecosystem approach to passive talent.

So I think we all know that in the war for talent today, scarcity is the new reality. And I love this billboard because I think it so rapidly depicts the desperation many of us are feeling when it comes to attracting talent today. The people we want to hire are already employed so we have to spend a lot of time and energy prying them loose. I know a lot of you are feeling that pain out there.

And even when we get someone into our process, there's no guarantee that we're going to be able to close them because power is continuing to shift to the candidate. And as this study shows that shift is rapidly accelerating. The candidate is now firmly in the driver's seat. So I like to say winter is coming. For many of us, it is already here. Is your approach to recruiting ready?

Now, in Salesforce, we certainly do not have it all figured out. Attracting and closing talent in this new candidate-driven market is tough, right? But we are changing up our approach to put ourselves in a better position to hit our numbers. Numbers that for us have been growing rapidly over the last four or five years. And I have to admit, this year when the team got our headcount plan number, there was more than just a little bit of fear and panic. The number was bigger than ever before at 5,000, and we would have hire these people in some of the toughest talent segments in the toughest locations around the world.

Now, the old equation of career site plus applicant tracking system plus recruiter equals hire has not been working for us for some time. So we've been spending our time and energy reorganizing the team, optimizing the team, and adding more research, sourcing, marketing, events, and employee referral program and university recruiting resources. And we've really changed up how we're approaching the people that we want to attract. We call this approach our ecosystem approach to attracting talent.

The foundation for this approach is everyone engaged and enabled to share our employee value proposition across the entire employee lifecycle from lead to prospect, to candidate, to employee, and all the way when that circle completes when someone becomes a referrer.

So there's five steps to what we're doing. The first is targeted lead generation. Then we want to map and qualify those leads, nurture the prequalified prospects. Then, an amazing candidate experience. And of course, an engaging employee experience that turns every employee into a brand advocate, and ultimately, a referrer.

Now, what I'd like to do today is take you through each step and give some of the tips and tactics that we've been using here at Salesforce. And please, I know not everything works for every company so take what works for you, and generously share it with others. And I hope we give you a few tips that will be useful. Okay, let's get started.

So, sorry, trying to move the slide here, there we go. All right. So the first step here is targeted lead generation. This step is all about defining your audience in a targeted way. So we use essentially three core methods here. The first is referrals. The next is advertising. And then we do research. So in the referrals category, this is really our number one source of hire. It's an extremely effective source of hire for us so we put a lot of time and energy into this. It starts with a great app for our employees to submit their referrals and then to be able to track them through the process. And of course, they want to be able to track that all important payout. You know, "When am I getting my money?"

Then we also sit with our employees and do what we call referral clinics where we go through their networks with them. And we will do a lot of contests and spiffs that are fun and engaging and keep the program top of mind with our employees. So on the back side of this, it's really important that we have a great relationship between the recruiters and our referrers. They have a service level agreement where they will disposition every single referral either disposition them or get them into the process in a very timely and respectful way. This is the heart of our successful employee referral program. It's really that trust that our employees have that when they refer a friend, a contact, a colleague, we're going to be treating them with white gloves.

Okay. Why do we do all that? Well, we did a little research and we found that it takes just 9 referral leads versus 220 non-referral leads to equal a hire. So again, tremendously effective and efficient program for us.

Okay, moving on to advertising. Now, you're not going to see a Salesforce recruiting billboard out on the highway. Though our recruiters do ask for it all the time. But I've been able to really explain to them that mass marketing just doesn't work for us. What it does is create a lot of noise and a lot of work for them. So instead, we want to really focus our advertising on channels like Glassdoor, LinkedIn, places that allow us to reach just our desired demographics, the industries, the companies, and the talent segments that we know are a fit for Salesforce.

So how do we know that? Well, research is a really important part of our strategy. And if you don't currently have research on your recruiting team, this is an area I would put an investment into because we found research to be incredibly valuable in helping us have a higher level of success. Let me explain a little bit. So we use research to understand where we're drawing talent from and where we're losing talent to. We use it to understand what are the skills, the education, the companies, the types of experience that make for successful employees and the various types of roles we're hiring for. And we also look at our addressable markets to project out and is there going to be the talent in the markets that we're in to meet the demand that we have coming up.

And I want to share a use case here. What you're looking at on the slide is a market map of San Francisco. And this was something we did early on in the year last year to see, "Was there going to be enough sales talent to meet our demand?" And you can see, we were getting pretty saturated in this market. But we had a problem. Our hiring managers had a very firm perception that only people with sales experience would be successful in roles here. And they weren't willing to look at anybody without that core criteria. For them, it was an insurance policy.

So in order to change it up, we needed to do a little research. And in doing so, we looked at our top 100 sales people. And in that exercise, we found that 34 out of the 100 had 0 software sales experience. So that really busted that myth right open. And we still wanted to give them that comfort level, that insurance policy, so we looked at, "Well, if wasn't software sales experience, what does unite this top 100?" And we found three core traits. They were a Salesforce power user and were used to the rhythm of a monthly close cadence and they have some kind of storytelling sales training. This really allowed us to widen that profile out and put us in position to hit our numbers this year. So that's why I'm so passionate about data. I think data is very disruptive. It helps you change perceptions, change your tactics, and ensure a greater level of success.

Okay, moving on to step number two. All right. This step is all about qualifying and mapping. So once you're getting all those leads in, what do you do with them? So we want to look at every lead because we only want to drive interest with people that there's a high probability of hire. So as the leads come in, if you are not a fit for Salesforce, we want to disposition you in a timely and respectful way, again, to protect the brand. So instead of putting you in a talent community or a nurturing campaign, we just want to let you know that it's not a fit so that we respect your time, and also our recruiter's time. Now, if we look at you and you are a fit, we want to make sure that we're doing what we need to do to nurture the relationship with you. So we put you into a nurturing campaign. Or if there's an opportunity today that a great lead is a fit for, we wanted you right into this process and get going. So that's step number two.

Okay, moving on to step number three. This is all about prequalified prospect nurturing. So in this step, I really want to harp on that word prequalified because, again, we're looking to build relationships and spend our time and energy only with people that have a high probability of hire at least on paper. So we're doing that in three different ways. The first way is a fun program we launched about 18 months ago called Snackables. And for this program, our employer brand manager combs through all the media coverage, and the fantastic content that's produced by our corporate marketing, and even content from our own employees, and packages that up in neat, little, consumable bites and pushes it out to our own employees, our hiring managers, and our recruiters to share with their networks. Now, these Snackables also make great tidbits for talking points for conversations between recruiters and their prospects.

Okay, then moving on to number two here with eblasts. We take the best of the best content, the things that gets the most shares, the most likes, and the most comments, and we package that up into these eblasts that go out to our prequalified prospect nurturing campaigns. And we do this for a couple of reasons. One is we want to keep those prospects warm. And we want to give them more information about us that might move them into the consideration phase. Now, we also get intel when we push these blasts out. So we can see who opened the blast and what they clicked on. That tells us someone might be warm and ready for a conversation and what they might be interested in talking about. Now, if they unsubscribe, well, that's important data point too, right? You got to get to that no so you can move on to a warmer prospect.

Okay, third way we're nurturing our passive prospects is events. So again, you're not going to see Salesforce at a lot of your standard career fairs or job fairs. We tend to do our own events. And they can take a wide variety of formats. But one of our favorite formats is piggybacking on our customer event. Now, every year in San Francisco, we have a little event called Dreamforce, you may have heard of it. A hundred and fifty thousand passionate partners, prospects, and customers in Salesforce converge on San Francisco. And we invite our awesome recruiting prospects and candidates to attend right along with them. They can feel the amazing energy of Salesforce and they attend executive keynotes to learn about our vision strategy, go to our breakout sessions to learn about our products, visit our campground to learn about our partner ecosystem. And we also do some really cool networking experiences, breakfast, lunch, happy hour, and/or Life At Salesforce sessions where our prospects can hear directly from our hiring managers employees about what it's like to work with us.

Now these events have a real win-win to them. The candidate gets this opportunity to experience what it's like to work with us and our people firsthand in a very non-threatening atmosphere and very social and fun atmosphere. And we get to see how they might interact with us and with others and fit into our win as a team culture. Now all of these strategies have one goal in mind. When a prequalified prospect has that day, and we all know that day, that day when you know you no longer want to work for the company you're currently for, they know where they want to go, and they have our number. We built a relationship with them.

So this is a long term play and you have to have that strategy in mind. And one of my favorite examples most recently was a gentleman in the U.K. who reached out to us, responded back to a newsletter that we had sent over three years ago. With basically that message, "I have that day-to-day, Salesforce I am ready." And we were able to very quickly move this high-value sales leader through our process and get him on board with our company. So great payout on that one. We also hear a lot of times during interview process, "Hey, I actually attended your event," even up to a couple of years ago. And now, they're ready to engage, and they have that great experience of us to carry forward into that candidate experience.

Okay, so let's talk about that. Amazing candidate experience. This is part number four. And for us, this is actually one of our weak link spots that we're going to be spending a lot of time and energy going over the next year or so. We really want to make some huge improvements here because we want everybody who interacts with us to have a wow experience. To hire those 5,000 people, we're actually going to need to put about 30,000 to 40,000 thousand people through our candidate experience. That's a lot of people having an experience in Salesforce. And whether they get the job or not, we want them to tell their friends and family that this is an exciting company, a great company, some place that they think would be awesome to work.

So again, you might be sensing a theme here, we're looking at three core areas to make vast improvements in this experience. The first one is Employer Value Proposition Certification. So we want to make sure that everyone that's touching the candidate is telling a consistent and a compelling story about who we are, how we work together, the rewards of working with us. And a really authentic story about who we are so that people can decide for themselves if they feel like they would see themselves here and opt in or out of our process.

The second one is competencies-based interviewing, and I really love this one because I know a lot of people probably rolling their eyes oh god competencies forty different things we have to look at. We've actually boiled it down to just, in most cases, five to eight core things we think someone needs to be successful in a role. And that's based on research of who is successful here. So I think competencies-based interviewing is resulting in a deeper line of questioning that really shows a candidate that, "Hey, we're interested in hiring the right person for the right role for mutual success and benefit."

Now, the final piece of this is candidate journey. And this one, I'm really excited about and I'm going to unpack this one a little bit for you because I think it's a huge game changer. Communicating differently with our candidates. I talked about it at the beginning of the presentation that that is candidate-driven market but many of us are still acting like a candidate should be honored to be showing up at your place of work, and the table has really turned. So I'm working with our recruiting team on a series of awesome interactions to show that Salesforce is a company that recognizes that change. We are upping our game and we want to court that candidate every step of the way.

Much like any other experience you might have, doing business with an awesome brand that you love on the consumer side. So there are several things that we're thinking about and that we're working on in various stages of production right now. And I want to share a few of them with you so hopefully you can pick something up and improve your candidate experience. So the first one is the pre-interview team briefing. And what we're solving for here is a change of mindset. We all know how the story goes. You spend a lot of time cultivating an amazing passive prospect. You bring them in, they get in front of the hiring manager, and the hiring manager says, "Why are you here? Why should I hire you?" And the passive prospect is looking at him going, "Dude, you called me. What the heck?" Right? So we want to combat that. And we want to make sure that's not happening.

So with the pre-interview team briefing, we're really going after two goals. One goal is to teach a hiring manager in the team the new role of selling the company, the culture, the rewards, the team, the manager, all the great things that make this a great opportunity for this passive prospect. And we need them to understand this etiquette piece. It's not about grilling. It's about selling. And it's about showing up on time and being prepared. In many cases, this person's taken time away from their job, essentially a job that they love, to come and talk with us to consider us, and so we want to raise that level of etiquette when dealing with our candidates.

Okay, so now we're moving on to the day of the interview. And this is a piece that I like to call quick tips and closers. And what I'm solving for here is that lack of preparation. And I think we all have the absolute best intentions when it comes to doing a great job interviewing people. But we get busy, and someone just plunked a meeting invite on our calendar, or maybe there's just a resume on that meeting invite. And often times, we're putting it off and walking into the interview with a warm resume in our hand, totally unprepared to talk to somebody. So I think it's really unfortunate because, at that point, this candidate has talked probably at length with the recruiter and revealed their killer accomplishments, the things that they're proud of. They've revealed their motivations for why they might be considering a change at this time. And they've likely revealed what would close them, what would move them across the line. But where does that information go? Right? Today, it so rarely makes it in hands of the interview team.

So again, I think we need to package that up into something quick and consumable. Top five things to know walking into this interview with this candidate. The most important of which is obviously, "Is this person passive or did they apply to us?" For us, 90% of the time, it's passive now. So the game has really changed there.

Okay. Next three pieces. What I'm solving for with these three pieces is that awkward phenomenon where you interview with someone and they're super passionate about you and about you joining their team. "It's a great experience. I love that guy. I want to work for him." And then you don't hear anything. Radio silence until you show up in your chair on day one. So could we change that experience and could we change it into more of a courting experience? And so what if my favorite piece is this idea of a preemptive thank you? What if you received a thank you from the hiring team before you even had a chance to ask the recruiter for the emails? Wouldn't that be a totally different experience? And how about an offer? What if that hiring manager actually pinged you and asked for the sale? Novel concept. "Is there anything that I, as the hiring manager, could do to help you move you along in the consideration phase and get you to take this offer?"

Okay. Now, the offer is signed. And as that e-signature comes in. Wouldn't it be cool if it kicks off a card, a thank you card, a welcome card, I'm sorry, a, "Welcome, congrats!" or, "Excited to have you aboard!" to the hiring manager where they can fill in a personalized note and made a one-click easy button that goes right at that candidate? I think this little bit of humanity could go a long way to convince people that you actually really care and that you're excited and thrilled to have them joining your team.

Okay, the last one. Solving for that awkward silence, again, between the time you signed and day one. And really creating a buddy along the first part of your journey and not leaving it to chance. So about a year ago, we started our new hire success email journey. And what this is is a series of emails that kicks off from before you join the company and flows through your entire first year. It is packed with information, resources, and tips, really a culture playbook of how it's done here, to help people feel like a local fast, and really feel welcomed to the company. So when we started this, we thought, "Okay, people are going to open for few weeks, of course. Before they start and the first few weeks are important." And turned off we were hitting 90% open rates.

But what was really cool is a year later, those open rates have stayed consistently high over 90%. But what's been really fun is the anecdotal feedback. One of the new hires replied right back to the alias that these come from, it's new hires success at Salesforce, saying, "I don't know who's sending me these emails, but thank you," in all capital letters, "I FEEL LIKE A HAVE A FRIEND ON THE JOURNEY." So it's just been a really awesome experience getting that rolled out and it really shows a different level of courting of a candidate, courting of a new hire, helping them reaffirm the decision they've made to explore an opportunity with us or take an opportunity with us.

Okay. So now we've got you on board. It's all about delivering and engaging employee experience. We need to focus on building the killer culture that turns every employee into an employer brand advocate, and ultimately that referral. The heart of this is culture. Culture is our greatest asset. It's our core differentiator. If you think about it, an account executive job is largely the same. The role, the responsibilities, even the rewards. What's different is the people that you do it with and the environment that you do it in. So that is culture. That is the beating heart of your organization. We spend a lot of time thinking about how to make our culture story extremely simple and consumable so that everyone in the company can learn it and align on it and evangelize it. And once we've got that in place, it's much easier for us to hire for fit. We know what we're looking for. And then you need to elevate culture fit in your process to be equal with skills and experience. It really is no good to make an awesome hire that washes out on culture. So it needs to be a high consideration during the process of hiring.

Now, when you get people onboard, immersing them quickly is key. Everyone comes from somewhere, and they bring with them a ton of culture baggage, their old habits. And we really want them to check those habits at the door. So we spend a lot of time and energy making sure that they understand what works in our culture and what doesn't, and also their responsibility to keep it awesome. That's key. We really want everyone to feel a part of what we're doing and to understand their ownership of keeping Salesforce an amazing place to work.

Okay, then it's about living it, and evangelizing it, and getting it inside and outside of your company a lot of energy around culture. And this is not about putting culture statements up on your conference room walls. It's infusing it into everything you whether that be performing management, leadership development, or just good old-fashioned team-building and fun. How do you make culture come to life inside the company? And then, we want our employees sharing their work life outside of work with their social networks, because we want to create an awesome picture of what it's like to work here so people can opt into our process if it feels like them, somewhere they think they might thrive, or opt out of our process if it just doesn't seem like something that really resonates with them.

Okay, so that's it. That's our ecosystem approach to recruiting. Again, everyone engaged and enabled to sell our employee value proposition across that full lifecycle. Generating targeted leads, mapping and qualifying those leads. Prospect nurturing for the prequalified leads. And an incredible, wow, amazing candidate experience and engaging employee experience that turns every employee into a referrer.

So how do we measure success? Last piece here. It's important to understand how we'll know if we're there if this approach is working and doing what we want it to do for us. So we do that primarily again in three ways. The first is enthusiastic shares. Are our employees willing to share our content with their networks? So very exciting one of our Salesforce employees is actually a registered social ambassador using our awesome Social Ambassador app to share content with their networks. Of course, people share things that we posted with click to shares and notes so we give them all the time. But it's just great that we have this level of participation of people who really want to help us get our message out there. And they're getting it out there to their networks. The very people that we're often looking to hire. Just building awareness and building our reputation.

The second piece is fair reviews. And as I mentioned, we've had some really crazy growth at Salesforce from 8,000 to 18,000 employees in three years. That puts a tremendous amount of pressure on our culture, on our employee experience. And so we're just thrilled to be trending at a 4.0 on Glassdoor. Our employees giving fair and authentic reviews of what it's like to work here is wonderful for our brand reputation. And I really love this number of 80% would recommend us to a friend. That's such great commentary on the type of experience we're providing for our employees.

And then finally the gold standard, are you willing to refer your best contacts, your best colleagues, people from your network to come and work with us? That is the ultimate and highest compliment. And we are trending at an over 50% of our hires coming through our referral program. So very exciting results there.

All right. But I think everybody, of course, one more metric, loves winning, right? And we are thrilled to be on pace to hit that 5,000 number, that very scary 5,000 number. In fact, we're actually trending above it and hoping to hit more 6,000 hires this year. So we think this ecosystem approach is a huge part of why we're able to year after year accelerate how many hires we have to make and to capitalize and hit those numbers.

So hopefully through this conversation today, I ignited some questions in you. If I have, please feel free to reach out to me either on Twitter or LinkedIn or via my email It's certainly been an incredible pleasure to present for you today and to share our story with you. And so thanks for your time and enjoy the rest of Elevate 2015.