Sales jobs once were ideal for new college graduates trying to get a foot in the door, or even for young people without a degree. But according to a Harvard Business Review report, sales jobs — especially those in the tech sector — are becoming harder to fill. With 1.9 million job postings, sales was the single largest occupation group in terms of job postings in 2013.
That’s bad news for companies, where no sales means no revenue.
Talent acquisition specialist Beth Wolfe is recruiting for two sales jobs at software company Daxko* in Birmingham, Alabama. At her desk, she pulls out a small stack of resumes with notes scribbled all over them. Filling these positions is very much on the front burner, Wolfe says.
“We consider our sales and our tech roles right now to be our highest priority in terms of like filling, because obviously without those sales, we’re not going to stay afloat,” she says.
The challenge: You’ve got your sales people and your tech people. But finding that person who’s both? “I mean, there are fantastic sales people out there who just have a hard time picking up on the tech,” Wolfe says.
Brent Thomson, managing partner with Peak Sales Recruiting, says the tech sector is especially hungry for top talent. Part of that’s because technology is constantly changing, but sales isn’t what it used to be, either.
“There’s still some people who think it’s somebody who tells cheesy jokes, and walks in with coffee and donuts, but I think the world has evolved,” Thomson says.
Now, he says buyers are a lot more educated, and they want more substance, less dog-and-pony show. But stereotypes die hard, and that’s keeping a lot of would-be salespeople out of the profession.
The University of Alabama at Birmingham’s Center for Sales Leadership is where students learn to sell. John Hansen, director of the program, tells students how to handle rejection, what to do when a buyer says, “I don’t have time to think about it right now,” and how to move in for the close without seeming … pushy. The students laugh because “pushy” is exactly what comes to mind when they think about sales people.
But also, Hansen says, a lot of students see sales jobs as way too much pressure.
“The majority of students we have in the program, even though they’ve chosen sales, they’re still a bit nervous about the fact that a large percentage of their compensation may be tied to how they perform,” Hansen says.
Jeremy Barnes, a senior at UAB, is majoring in industrial distribution with a minor in mechanical engineering. He used to sell home security products, but says it wasn’t for him.
“Even though I believe I’d be great at it, the pressure of it, and I think there’s other skills I think that can help me in other ways,” Barnes says.
For one thing, he says he didn’t like pushing people into buying stuff so he could have more money in his pocket. And, he says, these jobs — especially the entry-level ones —seem like revolving doors.
“I’m more looking for security, I really am. Long-term security,” Barnes says.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of software company Daxko. The text has been corrected.
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