A Professional Paradox: Sales Careers are Fulfilling, but Sales Jobs Go Unfilled

Diverse businesspeople discussing sales strategy for new sales reps

Sales jobs are the lifeblood of most organizations. Without sales, there is no revenue. Without revenue, there can be no profits. And without profits, the company will cease to function. So, why do so many businesses today struggle to fill sales jobs, despite the many rewards – personal, professional, and financial – of a sales career? The reasons are daunting, some old and some new, but there are bright sides and opportunities for organizations in need of sales talent.

Sales Jobs Have an Image Problem (and More)

According to online job platform ZipRecruiter, posted U.S. sales job openings have risen to more than 700,000. This is an increase of nearly 300,000 jobs over the number in January of 2021. While a portion of this significant rise could be due to the job market heating up after massive layoffs during the COVID-19 Pandemic, recruiters say job seekers are increasingly resistant to considering sales as a career option.

Why? It seems that sales has an image problem, one that has existed for decades, but becomes amplified in a tight labor market when workers have a world of alternatives. Perhaps we can fault the media – TV, movies, books, etc. – for painting a persistent and indelible picture of the salesperson as a pushy, heavy-handed, hard-selling nuisance. You know the type, this high-pressure glad-handing sales rep whose success is measured in deals converted – right or wrong – rather than solutions achieved or long-term partnerships forged.

With this as the top-of-mind impression, recruiting candidates into the realm of sales can be, well, a tough sell. This is especially true for young workers who resist old norms and want to make their marks in fields which allow them more autonomy and freedom – such as working where they want and when they want. The pandemic made remote work the new normal, and college grads entering the job market simply don’t gravitate toward jobs requiring lots of travel and time away from family and friends.

There ARE Bright Sides – for Hiring Organizations and Job Seekers

Indeed, the pandemic changed the rules of the American workplace and how work is conducted. For sales professionals, this meant making more connections online and using video calling platforms to get “face to face” with prospects and customers. Much of this new paradigm remains and should appeal to job seekers – IF they can get past the preconceived time-worn notions of that “other” kind of salesperson.

That is the challenge – and the opportunity – for hiring organizations. It is imperative to change the narrative and help workers understand that today’s sales reps (in most cases) do not have to spend most of their time on the road and in hotels and airports. They no longer have to work the phones and do endless cold-calling (thanks to customers self-qualifying via internet leads). Nor are they commonly tasked with racking up sales at any cost to make ends meet via commission-only rewards. Rather, today’s employers have learned that qualified leads make it easier for sales reps to use “soft skills” and build longer-term relationships built on partnering for success. Quoted in the Wall Street Journal, Keith Wolf, managing director of Murray Resources, a Houston-based recruiting firm, said “It’s much more problem-solving and working with clients now. Most college-educated sales roles have become much more consultative.”

Employers must also learn to compensate creatively. Commission-only salaries, especially for the newcomer, are distasteful and not worth the risk for most. More palatable is a strategic mix of salary plus commission plus perks that speak to what they really want most (such as flexible work hours, remote work options, extra vacation time, and career development opportunities).

The Opportunity

For job seekers who dare to look beyond the worn-out sales stereotypes, sales careers can often provide remarkable opportunities to make a difference not only for their employers but for the end consumer as well. Sales careers can be financially rewarding, too, of course, with some sales leaders even earning more than their company’s CEOs after commissions and performance bonuses are factored in. For many who venture into sales, however, it’s the sense of accomplishment and fulfillment that offer the greatest rewards. It’s all possible with this career path that is in high demand – if workers are willing to look beyond the sales profession’s bad and (mostly) inaccurate reputation.

The challenge remains for employers to rewrite the narrative and meet sales job candidates on their own terms – using modern media channels to reach this new generation of sales professionals. For many organizations, using a sales recruiting firm can increase their chances of success.

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