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According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2014, there were 11.5 million sales jobs in the United States. Of those, about 8 million are in categories (cashiers, travel agents, models, etc.) that I would not consider “true” sales. The remaining 3+ million are professional sales jobs that look and feel more like the sales roles that dominate the technology distribution channel.

For the sake of argument, let’s assume that in the next 10 years, 20 percent of the current sales force will be retiring and that the growth rate is 10 percent. Do the math: this means that there will be a demand for 1 million new sales professionals. Don’t buy into that math? Then divide it in half: you get 500,000. Still don’t buy into that? Divide it again.

It does not matter what the specific number is, the point is that the number is staggering.

Unfortunately, the supply line for new sales people is woefully inadequate. According to the Sales Education Foundation (SEF), there are fewer than 100 universities in the United States that offer a comprehensive sales education program while another 100 universities only offer one class on professional selling. Assuming these 200 universities each graduate 100 students a year who have completed at least one class on professional selling, the resulting number of sales-ready graduates (20,000) shows the gap between supply and demand.

It’s easy to understand why many value added resellers (VARs) complain that when they interview recent college graduates who don’t have any sales education, these potential hires aren’t ready to take even an entry level sales job and, therefore, could be an expensive mistake for the company. Many VARs take that risk because it is still less costly than hiring a sales professional with four to five years of experience.

Regardless of how much professional sales education your new hire has, the truth is that the requisite knowledge and skills are more so developed with experience and practice. Creating an environment that includes structure, mentoring, honesty and ongoing instruction, is the best way for recent graduates to practice and hone their skills for sales success.

Here are a few tips I share with VARs who are fighting the battle of finding great talent to fill entry-level sales positions:

1. Sales education – Look for graduates with some professional sales education on their resumes. If you aren’t getting these resumes, look at the SEF Resources page to find the top universities for sales education or contact the colleges and universities in your area for more information
2. Personality screening – Do you use a profile of a successful sales professional to screen potential employees? If not, start by profiling the most successful sales people in your company. To learn more about the importance of screening, read this post by David McNicholas.
3. Structured training – A common practice has been to have the new sales person “ride shotgun” with a senior sales rep, but you really need to do more than just throw a recent graduate into the mix. For example, you can supplement your in-house new hire training staff with resources such as the Comstor Executive Relevance Selling program, which can help move your sales people from a product sales approach to a high-level business-focused sales approach.
4. Mentor program – Everyone in sales can point to one or two sales people who helped them along the way. Ask each of your senior sales people to find a newer hire on the team to mentor, specifically sharing experiences of success and failure while teaching him or her about products and services, the industry and sales skills.
5. Professionalism –Negative stereotypes about sales people still exist, but all true sales professionals know there is a better and more professional way we commit ourselves to understanding and aspiring. All of us have heard that a sale is all about convincing someone through manipulation, deceit or dishonesty to buy something he/she does not need. We know that is not true, so make sure your senior folks are sharing their pride for the sales profession with your recent hires.

This environment of structure, mentoring, honesty and ongoing instruction will help a VAR of any size create a strong sales force for success today and into the future.

 

Brian Higgins is a sales performance consultant, coach and educator. He is the founder and principal consultant of the Brian Higgins Group, a business development and sales performance consultancy. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University of Colorado-Boulder where he is responsible for developing curricula and teaching classes in sales and sales management.