Sales positions consistently rank in the top five positions employers are searching to fill. As the US economy continues to expand, this trend shows no sign of slowing. However, sales has also been ranked among the most difficult positions to fill for the last five consecutive years according to recruiting and workforce development firm Manpower.
The number of job seekers searching for employment in sales occupations has not met demand. This has caused increased competition between employers for the top sales performers. Leading job search engine Indeed found that while almost 9% of jobs posted through their service were related to sales, less than 6% of job seekers were interested in those positions.
Baby Boomers currently make up 40% of the US labor force, and they are beginning to exit the workforce in large numbers. Employers will quickly find senior sales staff in short supply due to a mix of turnover and retirement. For entry level positions, colleges are not producing enough graduates with experience or education in sales, meaning employers will have to either build their own internal pools of sales candidates or recruit from other employers.
In 2015, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics predicted the following for 2024: Sales positions would grow at an average of 5% per year, resulting in about 780,000 new jobs being created. Finance and insurance sales are predicted to have the highest rate of growth, while advertising and travel sales are facing decline.
Strategies for Success
An employee kept is worth more than an employee found. Focusing on retaining your sales professionals can provide you with a competitive edge and leverage when considering new sales talent. A Glassdoor survey of sales professionals found that 68% of salespeople plan to look for a new job this year, while only 19% have no plans to look for a new job.
The most cited reason for leaving was salary and compensation (72%) followed by opportunities for career growth (65%) and company culture (48%). However, 71% are likely to accept less money in order to work for a company with a great culture, and 78% would trade less money for the opportunity to sell something compelling.
Identify issues that may cause retention problems with your sales team. Do they feel valued? Is their compensation competitive? Do you have a company culture that appeals to them?
Are valued team members retiring? Find out if they’re willing to do a gradual phase-out or adopt a part-time mentorship/training role to transfer knowledge and skills to their successors.
If you have the resources to encourage your team to remain loyal, open your wallet. If you don’t have the means to compensate at a top level, strongly focus on what they need culturally to thrive. This could be flex-time, comped meals or drinks, or even just the freedom to dress down during prep time. Ask them what they want; most of it is cheap to provide.
Nurture your college pipeline:
The hard truth is that the shortage of sales talent is only going to get worse, and the pipeline of new graduates from sales programs is not sufficient to fill demand. Get involved with university career offices, host internships, and recruit at college career fairs. There is a limited amount of new graduates available to replace a retiring sales force, so don’t risk getting frozen out by your competitors.
If you can’t name three contacts at your local college or university that has sent you salespeople in the last few years, you don’t have a pipeline. Identify the professors and administrators that are focused on student success after they graduate. Look for advisors that have placed students with your competition recently (LinkedIn is a great tool for this type of operational research.) These are the people that you can meet professionally or during social events. Don’t be shy about letting them know you want to develop top talent and offer valuable internships.
Adapt to Millennial Needs:
Do your job descriptions use the phrase “competitive environment”? Millennials want teamwork based environments and safety nets. The 2008 recession hit the Millennial generation particularly hard, making many young professionals much less eager to pursue positions that are less stable and financially riskier. Build a teamwork based environment that supports entry-level sales staff, provides continuous training, and lays out a clear career path.
Poach from other companies:
Be ruthless, get on Glassdoor, read company reviews, find companies that have culture and compensation problems, and look for their sales team profiles on LinkedIn. Engage them, find out if they’re willing to make a change, and state a compelling reason why they should work for you instead.
Look for salespeople that have recently changed jobs. Both their previous employer and current employer are experiencing change, and you may be able to take advantage. Look for employees that are reaching a yearly anniversary with a company, if their raise wasn’t what they expected, you may have an opportunity to make an offer that they otherwise wouldn’t have considered.
Sales is a high-growth field both in the short and long-term, and the best talent will continue to gravitate towards the highest paying positions. For employers that are competitive on compensation, and have acceptable company culture and work-life balance, hiring top and mid-level sales professionals will continue to be a reasonable challenge.
Employers that are unwilling or unable to compensate at fair levels will find it necessary to invest heavily in training of younger and less experienced people, and they will lose them much more readily to employers with mature sales systems. These employers should focus on retention and cultural advantage in order to outperform their peer and competitor organizations.