The Sales Industry’s New Attitude

Today’s sales job often comes with good money and great benefits, but nobody’s interested. Actually, that’s not entirely true. It’s the younger generation of workers, gun-shy from the recent financial crisis and fearful of being judged competitively, who are avoiding what has historically been viewed as a shark-eat-shark world. As an aside, watch the movie Glengarry Glen Ross for a dramatically charged take on the life of a salesman. On second thought, don’t watch it. You’ll be eternally fearful of sales. What has changed in the sales world and why are companies having such trouble filling high-paying jobs?

Part of the trouble with turning the younger working generation onto the profit potential in sales is the problem the industry has always had, namely the public perception that sales practitioners are an obnoxious, amoral, cutthroat lot. Since most of us don’t want to be described like that or consort with those that are, sales is automatically eliminated by a big chunk of recent graduates. Can the reputation be changed? Maybe. If so, it will take a long time and require a concerted effort on the part of sales recruiters.

The Problem
So why is it so hard to fill jobs that averaged almost $75,000 in 2012, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics? Technical and scientific products offer the highest paying and most difficult sales jobs to fill. A study by Harvard concluded hiring managers spend 41 days trying to fill tech sales jobs compared to 33 days for all jobs. A company then devotes 12-18 months to bring a new sales hire up to speed, a stark reality that isn’t good news to companies or employees.

No More Wheeler-Dealers?
Some companies have realized that the hard-charging, promise-anything-to-close-the-deal sales rep is no longer considered to be the most effective representative. Realizing that they must change to appeal to new graduates, forward-thinking companies have put more emphasis on problem solvers. In the business-to-business environment, a pushy attitude and fast talking gets you nowhere.

A real sticking point for the risk-averse has always been the commission structure inherent in the sales industry. Guaranteed base pay is usually only a fraction of what a good rep can earn in salary. Still, flying without a safety net scares potential new hires. Some companies have begun offering a 50/50 split to entry level sales jobs, then reducing the guaranteed part as the employee gains experience.

The bottom line is a recent graduate shouldn’t be surprised to see a new effort to make themselves visible on campus from companies who need sales reps and even the occasional headhunter looking for a client that will be easy to place. It just might be time to reconsider the “lowly” sales career.

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