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Why are sales roles the hardest to fill globally?

Blog Post

Year after year, the Manpower group confirms that sales roles are among the hardest positions to fill successfully for employers globally. We have seen first-hand how that macro analysis is reflected in the sales performance challenges our customers face on a daily basis. Time and time again, the sales skills and behaviours of sales teams and individuals often fail to meet the expectations and needs of the business.

All of which begs the question….why?

The answer is simple: the skill of selling has evolved profoundly in recent years. The competencies required to successfully sell today are radically more sophisticated than even 5 short years ago – never mind 10 or 15 years back. All over the world, employers are struggling to attract and retain colleagues with current, sophisticated and effective sales skills.

So is sales a difficult job?

This problem has been some time coming. Since time immemorial – and despite its critical importance to the health of a business – sales as a career has not been held in high regard or seen as an aspirational career choice. It was the ‘thing’ people did when they couldn’t do anything else; a role that people ‘ended up’ in rather than aspired towards; a ‘job’ rather than a profession. On top of that, traditionally people often just considered sales to be a difficult or undesirable job in the first place.

This perception was hardly helped by the arrival of digital marketing & sales enablement technologies in the early noughties. It went the other way; sales were considered almost unnecessary! I well recall blogs that heralded the end of the sales role: that every lead could be simply nurtured and scored, that there was no need for any real sales skills because the orders would naturally tumble into a friendly, cheery call centre where the primary job role was Order Taker. All are based on the great myth that 67% of B2B purchasers had made up their minds before they called a vendor.

Years later, this has all turned out to be woefully inaccurate.

The proliferation of digital marketing and a more technology-driven sales process has in some ways hindered rather than helped the buyer and it most certainly demands more of the sales professional. The idea of simply being an order taker is gone – eCommerce can handle that and the fulfillment too. So what has happened to sales as a profession in the meantime? It’s gotten even more valuable. As well as the emotional intelligence, negotiation and listening skills associated with traditional sales, high-performing sales people must demonstrate proficiency in digital literacy, virtual selling, a data-driven mindset, be a skilled storyteller and have a mindset of continuous improvement.

While a large percentage of buyers may well have started their research before they engage with the sales person, that doesn’t lessen the role of the salesperson – it heightens it! Better-informed buyers demand a more sophisticated experience. So the interaction between the buyer and the salesperson requires stronger sales skills than ever before. And sales teams need to have the confidence and effective techniques to close sales successfully in highly competitive markets.

Businesses get this. At ESI, we constantly curate sales job specs from all over the world in order to evolve & refine our programmes to meet the needs of the business – head-on.  Yes, employers are looking for the old familiar ‘proven track record’ and ‘good with people’ colleagues. But look closer and you’ll also see requirements like Resilience, Self-Motivation, and Interpretative Listening & Collaboration to name just a few. These are non-trivial skills and employers cannot find enough people with them. That is why sales roles are the hardest to fill.


Develop Internal Sales Skills

Like many ESI customers, one way you can address this challenge is to look at your internal resources and upskill the entire sales team. This may even entail identifying readymade talent in other business functions and converting those into highly skilled sales professionals. In other words, work with the talent that you already have – this ‘thinking outside the box’ approach to backfilling sales vacancies can help you short circuit the energy and time drain of recruitment. As well as being cost-effective, this approach has the added advantage of the ‘new’ sales recruit having a shorter onboarding period through already understanding the company culture and product or service offering.

By introducing a new sales training and skills development programme that the entire team can take – available virtually and self-paced  –  a new, standardised and highly effective approach can be introduced across your organisation. This access to new sales skills will help both drive your business forward and motivate staff.

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