Wanted: A few good salespeople

Just about one year ago, CareerBuilder reported that for 2015, 36% of hiring managers planned to add to their company’s sales force, up from 30% last year. We’re talking full-time, permanent staff here.

Just about six months ago Forrester Research forecast that by 2020, one million B2B salespeople in the U. S. would lose their jobs to self-service websites. So, according to this report, over the next five years, technology will win the hearts of corporate buyers across the nation, and make the salesperson obsolete.

So is one report totally wrong while the other is totally right? Or is there a way to reconcile the two? Maybe the results of yet another survey, the recently released ManpowerGroup Talent Shortage Survey, can shed some light on this issue.

According to this latest survey, sales representatives are a hot commodity. In fact, globally, sales reps rank #2 in the shortage department. Only tradesmen like electricians and mechanics are harder to find. The lack of available salespeople is most acute in Mexico, Guatemala, Hong Kong, Taiwan, and Greece, all of which rank sales reps as their #1 shortage. I found it interesting that although technicians rank #1 in China, sales reps and sales managers fill the #2 and #3 spots respectively.

But it’s not until you dig a little deeper into the survey results that the reason for the shortage starts to become clear.

Overall, these are the top reasons given for the difficulties in finding people to fill job openings:

1) Not enough applicants (35%)

2) Lack of technical competencies—hard skills (34%)

3) Lack of experience (22%)

4) Lack of workplace competencies—soft skills (17%)

5) Looking for more pay than is offered

Let’s take these one at a time, and let’s quickly dispense with #5, since this should not be an issue for commissioned salespeople. Done! Next …

Okay, so we don’t have enough applicants. From the start of the last recession in 2008, until very recently, global corporations did what most corporations do when money is tight. They throw their sales and marketing staff under the bus. The time to be most aggressive and innovative in your sales initiatives is when money is tight, but that’s not how corporations think. So now you have quite a few former salespeople who are reluctant to return to their former careers. You also have a good number who’ve retired in the past seven years and you’ve got newer generations who think selling is evil (even more than past generations) and that technology can solve just about any problem. Therefore, they’d never consider a career in sales. Makes sense so far?

Next, lack of hard skills and soft skills. They’re different, but they tend to overlap to the extent that most people would view all of selling as a soft skill. But I think we can separate the two just enough here. Hard skills might be the ability to gather intelligence, dealing with objections, and going for the close. Soft skills might be your “why” or your vision, your driving force, your emotional state. It’s clear to see why so few candidates can fill these requirements. Few have ever learned sales hard skills in a systematic way and have never been taught to look inside themselves to discover their why.

And finally, we come to lack of experience. And this relates back to why we don’t have enough applicants in the first place. Older generations are retiring from the business (or were forced out) and younger generations are loath to pick up the torch. So few people really know how to sell these days. And that’s a shame, because today, more than ever, EVERYONE needs to know how to sell.

So we know there are plenty of sales jobs available and few people to fill them, because few are qualified to do so. But what about those one million B2B salespeople expected to lose their jobs in the next five years? Here, I think we need to clarify just what “salesperson” means in this context. Most likely the people who will be replaced by technology are the ones who answer the phone and type orders into a computer. They’re not salespeople.

Salespeople are business generators, business builders and closers who understand the need for human interaction and the need to sometimes solve complicated problems. There are some things people can’t figure out on their own or decide on their own and they do need the help of a professional salesperson.

The real problem here is a lack of professionally trained salespeople. The real pros will never be replaced by technology because technology will never understand human nature. If you want to keep your sales job, then stay relevant. Learn to sell better and close more sales.

All the best,

Jordan

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