Friday, February 13, 2015

How to attract graduates to sales positions


Recently, I came across two interesting articles: Does generation Y hate sales jobs? and Gen Y most likely to hold low-paying jobs in retail. Both written back in 2012 and related to the US. I simplify, but this is the conclusion: On the one hand college grads run away from a B2B sales job, on the other hand they end up as order-takers at a retailer.

Sounds familiar? In recent years, stories about college grads working as cashiers made headlines across Germany, and Poland as well. Neither German nor Polish colleges train students in sales. The colleges undervalue sales and overrate marketing. Sales requires soft skills and these are harder to convey in the classroom than best practices in marketing. Business studies are B2C driven requiring brand and marketing strategies. In addition, some college profs favor trainee programs over direct sales success, e.g. Peter Winkelmann, professor at the Department of Marketing and Sales at the University of Applied Sciences Landshut, believes the key to obtaining sales experience is a trainee programs. "By participating in a trainee program, graduates should develop a connection to the market and customers". In his opinion, graduates should not be salespersons with a degree. 

A majority of students would probably agree with this. It is rare that students/graduates have the desire to master duties such as cold-calling and customer service.
They very often assume that strategic planning and marketing communication are the key to a successful career. Graduates of business schools primary want to analyse, analyse, analyse and subsequently devise strategies; be Key Account Managers on long-term accounts, and of course Sales Managers and Directors; be farmers, not hunters. 

But is this really just an obstacle of Generation Y?
I believe that college graduates have never been heavily oriented towards sales. Actually, irrespective of time and educational background, "the selling profession isn't most folks’ first choice for a profession, many will fall into a sales career after college and just survive rather than thrive".

Graduates are not interested in sales for many reasons:
1. They have student loans to pay off and need a steady income.
2. As accidental salespersons, they have had bad experiences in sales. One of the Fines Department Stores used to hire students as hostesses for one or two days. As students turned up for work, they were asked to convince clients to sign up for a loyalty card.
3. They have had bad experiences with sales as customers.
4. They hold on to stereotypes about sales, incl. having to sell stuff that nobody needs, manipulation, etc.
5. They do not want to have to struggle at work, swallow rejections or keep up with performance expectations.
6. They want to be paid for their work, not just their success.  

Big companies know how to sweeten the deal. According to the Compensation Consulting Firm Personalmarkt, the highest starting salaries in Germany are paid in the construction, chemical and pharmaceutical industries with an average of around EUR 47K
gross salary per year. Across the industries, sales people within the first 2 years of experience earn around EUR 38K. Professionals working in sales for more than 5 years earn more then 70K on average.

In Berlin, many businesses assume a EUR 21K basic salary for their sales professionals. Before Germany's first nationwide minimum wage was introduced in January 2015, there were also companies that had sales professionals in their books earning as little as EUR 14K base. Only after nobody wanted to be hired for that, a EUR 19K was offered. Although a top salesperson is able to double it through top performance, for the majority of sales consultants, it does remain a "so so" basic salary with "bonus potential". With 3-month chunk rates at 20-30%, the time one has to prove one’s abilities is short. This causes stress – a huge amount of stress – that prevents one from focusing on priorities.

So what can companies do to attract graduates to sales positions?
A few ideas:
- increase the average starting salaries;
- do not burn talent;
- support sales talent with really good marketing and communication campaigns, try new services, eg. vendisys.com;
- give them time to succeed, one or even two years;
 - provide them with training and know-how that colleges do not teach, e.g: the further south in Germany you are, the more time you will need to spend with the customer in order to seal the deal;
- inspire people to a career in sales through initiatives similar to Geek Girls Carrots, make use of gamification approaches;
- improve image of sales (emphasize partnering with the client, solving problems as integral components of the roles etc.);
- reassure that students understand that the most promising way to get to C-Suite is via sales department;
- outline benefits of a career in sales (crisis-resistant, universal across sectors, earning potential, performance satisfaction, working with people);
- let them be a co-owner of your business. A vast majority (99%) of the job-seeking public have zero interest in jobs without a base salary or with a very little pay, unless it is in their own company.

What students can do to develop interest in sales?
- practice "show and tell" exercises;
- polish communication, presentation, story-telling skills;
- join the closeby section of Toastmaster's Club
- organize a garage sale/jumble sale;
- join a flea market as a seller;
- work a part-time or holiday job in retail or telesales.

 Do you have any other ideas?

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