External forces outside organizational control are challenging sales organizations. New sales and marketing technologies and changes in B2B buyer behavior call for a need to adopt new selling approaches. Consequently, many organizations are facing the need to update the competencies of their salesforce. Nonetheless, talent shortages threaten their ability to adapt.
The talent shortage paradox
It is hard to believe that organizations face a talent shortage when the availability of labor is bigger than ever. Not only are unemployment rates high but we have an expanding working population - estimated to grow to 6 billion by 2050-. Despite a growing pool of workers, organizations still claim to have difficulties filling positions. Common obstacles to filling positions are: 1) candidates do not have the right technical competencies, 2) not enough candidates and 3) lack of necessary skills and experience to perform their jobs. This talent paradox suggest it is time to innovate and find the next wave of talent management thinking. Talent management is creeping up on business leaders' agenda as it was considered the biggest corporate blind spot. Recent research revealed that talent management was business leaders' most significant pain point. All in all, 76% of business leaders said it was important while only 18% claimed to be ready to face the issue.
Sales representatives: among top 10 hardest jobs to fill
While the trend impacts organizations as a whole, it imposes major challenges to sales organizations in particular. ManpowerGroup's latest Talent Shortage Survey concluded that on average 35% of organizations were facing talent shortages. A closer look into the findings revealed that - at a global level - Sales Representatives were the third most difficult job category to recruit for after Skilled Trade Workers and Engineers. In the US, Sales Representatives ranked as the second most difficult job to be filled in 2013. In Sweden, Norway and Finland, Sales Representatives were the first, second and third most challenging job category to recruit for respectively.
The report, however, did not specify what type of sales representatives was the research referring to. Did they mean traditional or complex; inside sales or field sales; hunters or farmers? Which type of sales role are organizations having difficulties filling? Regardless of the role, I can only image the impact that a lack of competent sales representatives can have on businesses. Sales representatives not only contribute to an organization's competitiveness but they directly influence top line results.
Debunking the myth
If we stop to reflect for a moment and ask ourselves: why are sales jobs so difficult to fill? Is it due to low salaries, bad reputation or is it due to changing demographics? I'm sure we could speculate and come up with a long list of alternatives. A disfunctional education system or students' bad career choices are often cited as reasons behind talent gaps. Debunking the popular myth, Peter Cappelli, Professor of Management at the University of Pennsylvania, argues that organizations (employers) are the ones to blame. In his book "Why Good People Can't Get Jobs: The Skills Gap and What Companies Can Do About It" he explains the issues with current organizational hiring and training practices. The following three issues are the ones to blame for the mismatch, according to Cappelli:
- Dependence on faulty software programs to screen out qualified candidates
- Ignorance about the opportunities lost when jobs remain unfilled
- Corporate unwillingness to pay market wages
The bottom line, as stated by Cappelli, is that employers are part of the problem. Organizations have the ability to solve the skills gap if they are willing to rethink their hiring approaches.
From talent takers to talent makers
Regardless of the reasons behind the shortages, sales organizations need to open their eyes and consider shifting their approach. They need to stop being talent takers and become talent makers. In today's rapidly evolving business environment, sales leaders have two options 1) to wait and passively follow the trajectory of changes or 2) choose to act upon changes. We believe the best path for sales organizations is to craft their future by embracing change while being aware of the alternative paths available. Could on-the-job training and development be one path to increase your competitiveness? Have you considered searching outside organizational walls and among a different pool of candidates? The following are 6 ways to ensure a sustainable sales talent pipeline.
6 practices to attract and retain skilled B2B sales talent
1. Shift from hunting talent to developing talent
Companies need to shift their mindset and start taking responsibility for developing skills instead of waiting to find talent with the perfect combination of skills. In essence, organizations should cultivate a culture of on-the-job training and in-the-job development.
2. Consider crowdsourcing and open sourcing models
Consider reaching out to open communities to access specialized knowledge and sales skills. Open source talent pools and crowdsourcing in combination with traditional approaches are reinventing organizational boundaries. Teams made up by a mix of full-time, contract employees, interns, part-timers, freelancers and virtual workers are becoming the norm. This model not only allows for agile changes but it can also provide wider reach to highly specialized competencies. As Sun Microsystems' co-founder - Bill Joy - put it "there are always more smart people outside your company than within it".
3. Leverage your alumni
Make sure to maintain relationships with your salespeople even after they leave your organization. Alumni networks are great places where to source potential clients as well as potential employees. Also known as capitalizing on "boomerang talent", organizations should explore the practice of re-hiring former employees.
4. Structure the organization to accommodate for new work styles
Organizational leaders are beginning to adopt more flexible work structures. Structures best suited to an emerging work style. We are seeing an explosion of virtual workers and part-timers. Moreover, the always connected and networked sales force is attracted by the possibility to have a flexible career that allows for work-life balance. Keep in mind that salespeople can work anytime and anywhere.
5. Build your employer brand
Organizations that possess a strong brand usually have less recruiting issues. Furthermore, they are more likely to attract top talent. To build your brand, start by crafting a unique and relevant employer value proposition. A strong brand will enable you to attract as well as to retain top sales talent.
6. Understand salespeople's motivations
Understanding what people expect to get out of their jobs is paramount to attracting and maintaining the right sales talent. Motivations, attitudes and behaviors must be understood in order to craft a relevant value proposition as well as to manage and retain top performers.
Are you fit for the B2B sales development fight?
As sales organization adapt to changes in their environment, new skills will be required from B2B sales professionals. What combination of skills, competencies and processes are needed to successfully compete in tomorrow's B2B sales marketplace? Are you experiencing a shortage of inside sales or field sales representatives?
Ph.D. Markus Ejenäs, ProSales Institute