A guest article by Lauren Dowell
The sales industry: cut-throat, fiercely competitive and plagued with arrogant, self-centred sales people chasing glory. Dastardly Del Boys making quick money. It’s true that society’s perceptions of the industry are not improved by the representation of ‘sales professionals’ in the media. The het-up candidates that star on the BBC’s Apprentice certainly don’t endear themselves to the public and brash, painful statements such as ‘making a sale is better than sex’ help to tar all sales people with the same slimy brush.
The ‘poisonous’ culture associated with the sales industry is having a negative impact in terms of attracting top talent. According to a survey carried out by Pareto, almost 30% of 18-24 year olds claim that they would not even consider working in a sales environment, with 25% openly admitting that they have negative views of the industry.
The stigma of working in sales runs so deep that many graduates who find themselves struggling to land a role in their chosen career would rather work part-time jobs in café’s, pubs, clubs and shops. It would seem that although nearly 21% of 18-24 year olds think graduates should be more open-minded about the careers they should try, not many of them practise what they preach.
If employers are looking to recruit graduate talent into their sales teams, they need to address the underlying pessimism that is scaring off candidates. This can be done through challenging the stereotype linked to sales professionals and placing more prominence on the benefits that a sales career can offer; benefits that often get overlooked.
When recruiters advertise sales roles within their business they often paint a clear image of the type of person they are looking for. Many use words such as ‘tenacious,’ ‘confident,’ and ‘career hungry.’ Whilst these are certainly not bad traits to have, the language is aggressive and is partly responsible for creating the ‘cut-throat’ image associated with sales. Employers should consider focusing on skills that are centred on building relationships. If an advertisement asks for candidates who are ‘personable,’ ‘skilled at negotiation’ and ‘strong communicators,’ it suggests that the sales industry is driven by people and the way they communicate.
Unlike many other graduate schemes, graduate sales roles rarely require a particular degree subject or classification. Employers looking to grow their sales team should be reaching out to those graduates with non-vocational degrees that didn’t achieve the standardised 2:1 which apparently certifies that a graduate will succeed in a workplace environment. By no means am I suggesting that recruiters should ravenously prey on victims with a 2:2 in David Beckham studies. I am merely alluding to the fact that sales roles are skills-based and therefore open to all graduates. Employers should be using this as a big selling point as they are likely to attract perfectly capable candidates who perhaps need to consider a different career path.
A recent study carried out by Ernst & Young revealed that graduates no longer put salary at the top of their list when it comes to finding their first graduate job. Although this may seem like a bit of a kick in the teeth for the sales industry where the average earnings is £30,000, they can actually offer graduates what they desire the most; learning , development and progression.
Sales recruiters can offer a learning experience that will give graduates many credentials to add to their CV. Interpersonal skills, time management, negotiation skills and persistence are but a few of the skills that graduates can develop in a sales position: skills that certainly do not mirror the stereotypical arrogant and self-centred personas that frequently ‘wing’ a sale. Skills such as these are sought-after abilities that can be applied to any future job roles. Most companies who are recruiting for sales positions don’t even require candidates with direct experience because they develop and mould new employees through training, ensuring that those candidates are in step with their way of working. Employers in the industry need to shout louder about the training and the level of progression they can offer graduates. Ironically, they do not sell their offerings effectively to the graduate market.
A study by McKinsey& Company found that those who had done a stint in sales had a better understanding of managing profit and loss, which is essential experience for those who aspire to C-suite positions. Employers should be emphasising to graduates that they shouldn’t sniff at graduate sales roles on offer; essentially, they are being given the opportunity to fast-track their career and could be working at management or director level by the time they’re 25. Therefore it should be a clear-cut decision for graduates: take a graduate sales job and storm up the ranks of seniority, or take a menial part time job with the risk of remaining in that same menial part time job in two years time. Sales recruiters win this round hands down.
In order to claw back the talented graduates that have got lost behind the bar at Wetherspoons and Costa Coffee, employers in the sales industry need to fix the graduate perception of what a sales role actually entails. 27% of graduates believe that all sales roles involve heavy amounts of cold calling and pushing people into doing something that don’t want to do. Recruiters need to be aware that any mention of cold calling tends to scare away graduates. Instead, employers need to promote the many different types of roles available within the sales industry, from Account Management to Business Development. Whilst most roles do entail some level of cold calling, a majority of calls will be made off the back of ‘warm leads’ and referrals, meaning that the potential client has actually shown interest in the company’s products or services.
With a sales team incapable of implementing strategy, developing knowledge or building client relationships the ‘distorted’ sales industry is at risk of becoming reality. Some employers may argue that the distortion of the sales industry lies with closed-minded graduates and are convinced that it is not their problem. However the fact remains that the industry, which is vital to the success of any business, is losing out on top talent that could make an immeasurable difference to their organisation. If the sales professionals of today are not willing to sell the benefits of their own profession to top graduates, they are likely to end up surrounded by talentless ‘rent-a-gobs,’ who are devoid of any relationship building skills; those who have an ego and nothing to back it up with.
About the author: Written by Lauren Dowell; Lauren is part of the Pareto Law Candidate Marketing Team. A dedicated and experienced writer, she helps to promote the UK's leading graduate sales recruitment and sales development organisation by contributing to a variety of blogs, mini campaigns and sourcing future leaders in the world of sales.
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