Understanding Sales Evolution to Fill Vacant Roles

Young people filling sales roles need a new skill set

Understanding Sales Evolution to Fill Vacant Roles

As companies make the move from COVID-19 crisis mode to a strategy of growth and expansion, the demand for salespeople has grown. In fact, according to ZipRecruiter, the number of sales roles advertised is up 65 percent to more than 700,000 open positions across the United States. While it should be noted that the sales industry is not alone in facing a labor shortage, the reasoning behind it may extend far beyond the pandemic.

A recent article from The Wall Street Journal suggests that the large number of sales vacancies may be at least partially due to misconceptions held by younger generations and new talent as to what a sales role actually entails. One misconception, for example, is that salespeople can’t reach the top of the hill because there’s always another (maybe even higher and more strenuous) mountain to climb. While it’s true that some roles come with a high-pressure environment to close deals, the sales industry – and those within it – has dramatically evolved over the past 10 years. Today, working in sales is dynamic and full of opportunities for many different reasons.

3 Ways the Sales Role has Evolved

A new skill set is required to succeed in sales. The type of sales talent that recruiters, managers and teams are looking for has greatly evolved over the years. While a business background is helpful, industry knowledge and interest or pride in what an individual is selling are better indicators of success. One quality that’s more important than ever is an entrepreneurial outlook, where salespeople are independent and able to look for (and create) their own growth opportunities.

Ideal sales candidates have thick skin, can quickly bounce back, and do not let the fear of failure hold them back. Often in the interview process, I hear from young candidates that they aren’t sure they want the pressure of a sales role and are scared of rejection. Yes, this is true: you are going to get turned down far more often than you will receive a yes. However, I consider the ability to learn from rejection and choose resilience as one of the most important building blocks of a successful sales representative – and perhaps for anyone looking to accelerate their career.

Turning the Hard Sell Into a Smart Sell

Many people still associate sales professionals with cold calls, aimlessly dialing for dollars. Thankfully, this inefficient, outdated approach has given way to smarter strategies. And while strong salespeople have historically been driven by human intuition, where natural instinct interprets prospect interests, artificial intelligence (AI) and data are now in the driver’s seat.

The advancement of sales-led technology provides successful teams with data and CRM technology for market insights and a client-specific perspective, resulting in a highly targeted approach. AI can guide sales reps to the right opportunities, at the right time, and with the right offer, improving close ratios and reducing time spent on unsuccessful efforts. Beyond preserving resources, automated intel enables salespeople to reach higher quality prospects who are more likely to be receptive to outreach and willing to invest at a greater level.

Precision Selling, But Not at the Expense of Creativity

Today, the ability to tell a story and create a captivating visual for buyers is a desirable skill set.  Many sales organizations have sought new talent outside of the traditional model, even hiring broadcast journalists to lead business development. With years of experience in weaving and creating a story, experience in journalism and media provides an excellent backdrop for a consultative sale. Sales representatives have often transformed into trusted advisors for their clients, leading to an increased focus on storytelling and conversation.

The pandemic has also shifted in-person meetings to online video calls, resulting in an adjustment of presentation skills. In return, representatives are more succinct with messaging and respond to virtual cues, deliberately honing in on the sale. Personally, the biggest challenge has been training salespeople to turn 20-page presentation decks into two slides that work well for screen sharing.

Beyond the Misconceptions

As is the case with many industries, sales has transformed exponentially over the last decade and the progression will continue to accelerate. The shortage of sales talent is likely due to a lack of awareness of how the role has evolved, including perceptions of how fulfilling and rewarding a role in sales can be. While we can’t necessarily predict what’s to come, the industry will remain attractive for those that are personable, resilient, and eager to be flexible in the creation of their own career path.

Author

  • Al duPont is chief commercial officer at R.R. Donnelley, an integrated marketing communications company.

Get our newsletter and digital magazine

Sales & Marketing Management

Stay current on learning and development trends, best practices, research, new products and technologies, case studies and much more.