The Great Sales Talent Shortage

On February 27th 2014 Channel Partners hosted its semiannual CP Zone. The topic for this year’s CP Zone: Talent shortage – where do you find and develop staff? Part dialog, part roast, part metrics, part opinions and yes -even arguments rounded out this 45 minute session and left more questions than answers.

Having run marketing and sales training for a mid-size telco ($550 million in annual revenues) for twelve years (and an IT consultancy before that), I know that this is something that all organizations suffer. After all with a sales staff alone of 400, hiring and retaining good talent is a big deal.

And while statistics state that 85% of all employees are open to a new and better opportunity including those not actively on the market, the top sales people are rarely enticed from their anticipated commission check – and the one that follows that – and the one that follows that – and the one that…

To boot, there is a talent shortage. Baby boomers are exiting the talent pool and there aren’t enough skilled salespeople to take their place. And all of the companies famous for groundbreaking sales training are gone or don’t offer training anymore. Meaning that if you aren’t effectively developing your talent, no one else is either.

In the meantime Gerhard Gschwandter of Selling Power Magazine uses some well published Gartner data to predict that by the year 2020 there will only be 4 million salespeople left from the 18 or so million in sales today. That’s 6 years from now folks, and while that also includes sales jobs from all verticals – including retail – you can’t argue that today’s buyers are doing more without sales than they did a decade ago. Not only are our services being commoditized, so are we.

But wait, it gets better. Remember when Tiffani Bova of Gartner told us just last year to fire our existing sales team if we were looking to get into the cloud?

I won’t even mention how panelists and participants at CP Zone had a whole discussion about nature versus nurture… All you entrepreneurs, we get it – you are born salespeople – good for you, but the rest of us have a sales team to hire, develop and retain.

So let’s see, we have a limited talent pool that are born sellers, salespeople are being replaced by technology, we’re supposed to fire everyone and we have to meet our objectives. Oh goodie.

Have I painted a dismal picture of CP Zone (because it was ugly)? Right now, every sales leader should be curled up in the corner, crying.

Okay, well now that I have scared you sufficiently let’s see if we can move beyond our self-pity and look at some opportunities to help you in your time of need.

Great sales teams start with great sales leaders. I have seen great people quit companies under bad management. I have seen good sales people perform poorly under bad management. And I have seen seemingly mediocre sales people excel under great management.

In my experience, companies that have winning sales forces start with excellent managers. Most sales organizations focus considerable energy to build a team of excellent salespeople, yet regrettably, they focus too little attention on building the management team, which is truly “the force behind the sales force.” By building a winning sales management team, you can capitalize on a high-impact, tangible opportunity to drive sales effectiveness and top and bottom line results.

Teach your sales managers how to hire good people. Ongoing recruiting and hiring is a big part of any manager’s job. And I for one believe hiring a salesperson is one of the hardest jobs in the world. Face it, baring some major warning signs, it’s hard not to be sold. And while I have seen some really good managers consistently hire good people, replicating that across your management team is difficult at best. With that in mind, Michael Schmidtmann of 4-Profit, author of the Talent Rules! series, CP Zone roundtable participant and Channel Partners Conference speaker who led a session titled “Sharks, Killers & Rock Stars” shared his Behavioral Guide to Sales Interviews. In it, you will see not only a list of questions to ask your interviewees, but also the responses you want. Helping take some of the guessing out of the hiring process this guide is one of the best I have seen.

New buying behavior demands new sales skills. Today’s buyers are delaying their interactions with sales. With access to online and offline sources customers come to the table armed with more information then ever. That being said, customers don’t want to be sold to, they want to be taught. They want insights that will help them meet their business objectives. As sales leaders we need to arm sales with the insights that will lead customers to our solutions. And we need to train our salespeople how to interact with the modern buyer. However I am not talking about a generically good training experience. Today’s companies need to arm their teams with playbooks, sales messaging and tools that lead with insight and they need to teach sales how to use it.

Consider new sales models. With the buying landscape changing, we should consider new sales models, one that honors the buyer’s new role while optimizing sales performance using the technologies available to us. See Steve W. Martin’s “The Trend That is Changing Sales” in Harvard Business Reviews’ blog for some good insight here. Consider how you would optimize your team to respond to a growing number of RFPs and interactions with procurement. Can you move a couple of your sales headcount into marketing to help you develop and distribute content? How can you optimize your sales force to be more productive?

Employee engagement is important. With more sales jobs on the market and fewer qualified sales people to fill them, employee engagement is important. The threat of employee turnover is high which could have a long-term impact on corporate performance. Employee engagement, or lack thereof, is a critical factor in an organization’s overall financial success. How you treat your people, empower them and develop them is vital to your retention efforts. With the recession behind us, employers need to consider how they engage employees.

I wish I had silver bullets. I don’t. But the good news here is that yes you can hire and develop talent. It’s not easy work, but if you make the commitment to your company and your employees, your business will benefit.

Posted in Uncategorized

Leave a Reply