Why It’s So Hard to Fill Sales Jobs [Feb. 6, 2015]

Submitted on
Friday, February 6, 2015
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Wall Street Journal

By Lauren Weber

As companies become savvier about the products they buy, wheeler-dealers are out, and problem-solvers are in. Sales organizations today are more commonly structured as teams, with lower-ranking members identifying prospects and developing early interest, someone else running through the specs or demos on highly technical products, and field reps negotiating and closing deals, employers say.

Curiously, few employers have realized they need a different sales pitch to attract a younger cohort, said Nick Toman, a managing director who oversees the sales practice at business advisory firm CEB, pointing to sales-job postings that use phrases like “competitive environment,” and “tremendous variable compensation packages.”

“Those things become huge turnoffs to a lot of potential applicants,” he added. “People today want to be part of a team, they want stable pay.”

They also want a clear career path, along with support to work their way up. Business-software giant Oracle Corp. , which has a famously competitive sales culture, began recruiting reps on college campuses a few years ago. Students frequently show a “lack of awareness” about sales roles, said Sharon Prosser, group vice president of Oracle Direct, but their interest is piqued when they learn that the field is well-suited to “continuous learners and that there’s training and career progression built into the program.”

To find job candidates, Acquia Inc., a cloud-based open-source software company in Burlington, Mass., last fall sponsored a sales contest at Bryant University in Rhode Island.

At Bryant, 140 students presented mock sales pitches, and about five recruiters were on hand, said Tim Bertrand, an Acquia sales executive.

“Every candidate that looked really good, we were going up and saying ‘We’d like to interview you now for a June job.’” The company intends to hire seven to nine contest participants.

The contest winner, Tom Keenan, a 21-year-old senior at Bryant, says his mother urged him to enter. Days later, he interviewed for a job as a business development rep at Acquia; he starts in June.

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