The Sales Gap
Many people in sales are “accidental sales people” and did not grow up saying they wanted a career in sales.
This was the case for me. Growing up, I wanted to be a social worker or in a similar line of work where I could help people. Hospitality and travel was a second choice. After completing a co-op in high school at a crisis shelter, I decided this was something I could do on a volunteer basis but too heart wrenching to choose as a career.
So off to college I went where I pursued a 3-year program in Hospitality and Event Management. I wanted to be a meeting planner (or so I thought); however, the first job I interviewed for out of college was a corporate sales manager with Hilton Hotels.
I couldn’t believe I got the job! I was very excited but thought to myself; “What does that even mean? What does a corporate sales manager even do?”
I became an accidental sales person and 27 years later, I am so grateful that I stumbled into this profession. It has allowed me to grow in incredible ways, work with amazing clients and colleagues and best of all, I get to help people.
So how do we get more people to choose sales as a career by choice and not by accident?
In David Priemer’s book (ex VP of Salesforce) “Sell The Way You Buy”, he sums it up perfectly. “Everyone is in sales and they don’t teach it.”
According to Priemer, there are approximately 4000 colleges in the US and less than 100 offer sales programs or sales courses. And of the 170,000 MBA graduates in the US each year, only a small fraction learn about sales.
No wonder we all end up becoming accidental sales people.
And yet, no business has ever succeeded without a sale. A few years ago, The Globe and Mail did an article on the labor shortage and what keeps CEO’s up at night. Finding sales talent was in the top 5 things keeping CEO’s up at night.
So, what is the solution? It is not a quick or easy fix because in addition to lack of awareness and not being taught in schools, there is also a stigma attached to sales people. As David writes in his book “When was the last time you enjoyed talking with a salesperson?”
The solution is a three-pronged approach: Attract, Recruit and Retain
Teach sales in grade schools, high schools and in colleges and universities. And do not just teach sales process or sales fundamentals, but showcase sales careers in various organizations and have established sales professionals speak at career fairs and classes.
Polish the unsavory reputation that is attached to the sales profession. Sales associations such as Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA) or National Association of Sales Professionals (NASP), HSMAI, AHLA should develop a PR and recruitment campaign demonstrating the benefits and rewards of a career in sales. If the Chartered Professional Accountants can make the accounting profession sexy, this should be a successful campaign.
Create standards and certification for all salespeople to take like many other professions to have industry requirements in place and to weed out the others. Organizations need to have proper onboarding programs and coaching to develop their salespeople so they do not “wing” it and create inconsistent experiences for customers.
I feel lucky that I stumbled across a career in sales over two decades ago and often wonder how many people are missing out on such a rewarding career because they do not know what it entails. Until colleges/universities, along with professional associations and organizations come together to attract, recruit, and retain sales talent, this issue will continue to keep CEO’s up at night.