Overcoming Resistance to a Sales Career

As a person who has spent all of his adult life working in marketing, I am sold on the critical contributions salespeople make to an organization (pun intended). Despite my strong feelings about the value-added impact the sales force makes, this quote from a recent USA Today story still stopped me in my tracks:

"Sales representative is the second-hardest job to fill behind skilled trades."

In an economy that still has not fully recovered from the jolt it felt five years ago, how could such a vital position have an employee shortage? It is not a matter of businesses shrinking their head counts in sales departments. Rather, it is a gap in trained candidates to step into sales roles to help drive business growth.

Why Avoid Sales?
Over the years, I have had many students come to my office to discuss career paths. Many of them were marketing majors, and a surprising number of them quickly announced to me "I want to work in marketing, but I don't want to work in sales." That pronouncement is at the same time eyebrow-raising and troubling to me as a marketing educator. My reaction is that I feel I have failed to persuade students on the merits of sales as a career path. So, what are reasons behind their reluctance to pursue a sales career?

  1. No understanding- Many students misunderstand how salespeople go about their job duties. Images of cold calling or door-to-door selling are just too uncomfortable for some students- they cannot envision themselves in that role. The reality is that B2B selling involves less of these activities and more emphasis on relationship building and problem solving. Once students realize that is what they would do in a sales position they are not as terrified.
  2. No confidence- I sense that many of the students who share with me their aversion to sales is attributable to a lack of self-confidence. They do not see themselves as aggressive or dare I say, pushy, enough to succeed at selling. And, if compensation is going to be tied to how much is sold, lack of confidence can be a huge obstacle to overcome.
  3. No need- Some students look down on selling and salespeople, thinking that is a position beneath them. A no need resistance to a sales career often is a no understanding or no confidence reason in disguise. These students need to be educated on the importance of sales to an organization as well as career paths that can be taken beyond an entry level position.

There is Always Room for One More
When I was a teenager, I had what would be thought of by many people as a weird habit: I read Help Wanted ads in the Sunday newspaper regularly. I could not help but notice that there were more ads for salespeople than any other type of job. I asked my father why this was the case. His response resonates with me to this day: Regardless of what a business does or makes, someone is needed to sell it. That statement guided me toward becoming a marketing major in college. And, it is a piece of wisdom I share with my students.

There is always a place in an organization for someone who can generate revenue (i.e., sell). Employees add value to a firm in different ways: Some help save money by managing processes while others support revenue generators by performing administrative services. But, as companies look to break free from the shackles placed on them by economic conditions in recent years, employees that can connect with clients, build relationships, and close deals are in greater demand than ever before.

USA Today - "Bosses Lament: Sales Jobs Hard to Fill"

Labels: ,