An article on the Harvard Business Review blog today talked about the shortage of good sales talent and the need for more formal sales training programs. My theory is that there's actually a lot of sales talent out there but those people simply don't want sales jobs. Here's the comment I posted.
Great post and an important topic. I believe that in today's business environment you need a variety of skills to be a good salesperson -- it's not about back slapping on the golf course anymore. Sales is much more complex now. You need to have a strong understanding of finance, economics, accounting, marketing, strategy, technology, product and management to understand what makes a good prospect, what problems your prospects have, where markets are going and how your company's products can fit in. These skills are not easy to acquire. In my experience, they come from getting an MBA or working in a client-facing role in a very early stage company where you're forced to wear a lot of hats and figure out how to make your product work or, in a rare case, you've gained these skills on your own by educating yourself. And I've found that people that have that kind of experience under their belt are, for the most part, uninterested in filling a typical "sales" job. They're interested in getting into finance or consulting or strategy. This is because sales has a stigma to it. People with that kind of ambition and experience often don't want to tell their friends and family that they're a "salesperson". Not because sales isn't an admirable job -- it is -- but because there's a stigma attached to it. People that don't understand the complexity of today's sales environment think of the used car salesperson trying to sell them a lemon.
As a result, I believe we need to begin to stop using the word "salesperson" to describe the roles we're trying to fill. And not just for recruiting reasons. Because the word no longer describes what these people are being asked to do. These people aren't selling knives door to door to every house in town. They're not pitching and responding to objections. They're seeking out and understanding business opportunities, carefully selecting the appropriate individuals to connect with, having open, informal business conversations, validating assumptions, iterating those assumptions, refining products and services, participating in internal and external strategic planning, creating mutually beneficial partnerships, negotiating legal & business terms, setting goals for the partnerships and seeing that those goals are met.
I believe that the sooner that companies create roles and job titles around this new skill-set, the sooner we'll see more professionals signing up to fill these jobs.