Recently, a candidate was very excited about a career opportunity. They liked the job responsibilities, the pay, and the team they were about to join. The only problem? The job title said “sales” in it.
This anecdote represents a core problem, according to our most recent podcast guest Alan Maguire (co-founder of the Entrepreneurial Sales Institute). Unlike careers like lawyers, doctors, or even software coders, sales is not an aspirational profession. In fact, while you can get a degree in human resources, accounting, or marketing, it is incredibly rare to find a higher-education degree in sales.
In our episode The Global Sales Shortage (and How to Fix It), Alan shares more examples of how by undervaluing sales as a profession, we set ourselves up for an enduring shortage of sales people who have the right skills and a long-term approach to the career.
Listen in for more takeaways, including:
Why Modern Sales Requires a More Sophisticated Skillset than Ever
The modern buyer is more sophisticated, corporate products are more complex, and sales technology removes the mundane tasks, meaning sales people are required to do more than inform about your product. Instead, they have to be skilled enough to pivot from top-of-funnel conversations to price negotiations to customer onboarding, all depending on what their book of business looks like at any given time.
And yet, most organizations only give sales people preliminary training, expecting them to succeed in a short time frame. Unlike other business functions, there is very little room for learning from failures in sales orgs, as many organizations fire sales people for failing to perform.
Why Linear Sales Training Doesn’t Work
Traditional sales training often happens at one point in time, such as onboarding or a yearly team-wide training. While this can impart valuable information, the sheer volume of skills that the modern sales person needs cannot be supported with linear sales training. Different sales people need different training, and every sales person needs to upskill at different times.
That’s why Alan encourages organizations to consider on-demand training, so that sales people can tune into videos, podcasts, or modules at the time they need a refresher, instead of relying on the organization to bring in a trainer a few months later.
How to Reconsider Your Sales Hiring Pipeline
With all this in mind, businesses need to reconsider how they approach their sales hiring pipeline. First of all, reset your expectations for what skills you can expect a candidate to bring to the table and how long it will take for them to develop the skills they don’t have.
Alan suggests investing in transversal skills as well as sales-specific ones, so that as you invest in an employee’s professional development, you cultivate someone who can have a career with your organization. Rather than relying on the old three-pronged sales career (either you were fired, promoted to a higher-level individual contributor sales role, or made a sales manager), make room for your sales people to have careers in other parts of your organization, too.
Finally, Alan says one of the best sources of sales new hires may be from other parts of your organization. Recruit people who already know your company, product, and culture. However, many non-sales professionals have false conceptions about sales, so you’ll want to make sure to de-risk the transition as much as possible.
How to Retain Your Sales Hires
One major challenge to developing sales professionals is the risk that they will leave the organization before you can realize the fruit of your investment. When it comes to retaining talent, Alan recommends focusing again on professional development. The modern sales person is motivated by more than just money. Instead, professionals want an opportunity to learn, whether that is internal training, third-party courses, or even entering them in a mentorship program.