Bosses lament: Sales jobs hard to fill
Paul Davidson, USA TODAY6:32 p.m. EDT July 21, 2013
Many firms are struggling to fill sales openings, keeping them from growing revenue or expanding to new products. Sales representative is the second-hardest job to fill behind skilled trades.
The American salesman isn’t dead, but he is getting harder to find.
As the economy picks up, employers are facing a shortage of qualified sales associates and managers that’s hampering revenue growth.
“It’s a missed opportunity,” says Richard Vickers, regional managing director for PageGroup, a global recruiting agency. “You need somebody out there to sell.”
In June, the number of jobs in sales and related occupations jumped a whopping 445,000 to a four-year-high of 15.8 million, Bureau of Labor Statistics figures show. Sales representative is the second-hardest job to fill this year, behind skilled trades, according to Manpower’s talent shortage survey.
Thirty-five percent of sales managers couldn’t find qualified candidates for open positions last month, up from 24% in 2010, according to a survey of sales hiring managers by CareerBuilder, which is owned in part by USA TODAY parent Gannett. Nearly half of those struggling to bring on sales employees said the problem has hurt their businesses, mostly by curtailing revenue growth.
Shortages are especially acute in technical sectors, such as medical devices, logistics and information technology.
During the 2007-09 recession, sales workers were often the first to be laid off as demand plummeted, with employment in the field falling by about 1.6 million. Many switched occupations or moved to other regions, leaving a smaller pool in many areas, says Willis Turner, CEO of Sales & Marketing Executives International.
Meanwhile, sales jobs now require more technical knowledge and analytical skills. Companies that pared staffs in the recession expect sales people to not only sell but also to explain arcane product details — a role that use to be relegated to business development executives, Vickers says.
And more companies are peddling services in addition to or instead of products, placing further demands on sales reps, Turner says. In recent years, Toro, which sells landscaping equipment, has required its sales staff to pitch maintenance contracts and present both lease and purchase options to golf courses and other customers, says Steve Keating, Toro’s sales training director. It takes Toro’s distributors about two months to fill a sales opening, vs. four weeks 18 months ago, Keating says.
Despite the added job requirements, few colleges and business schools offer sales education classes, in part because of the field’s tarnished image, says Dave Stein, CEO of ES Research, which provides data on sales training firms. And since companies slashed sales training budgets in the downturn, they are seeking candidates with a laundry list of skills, he says. While adept sales professionals used to routinely drift among industries, many companies now seek those with experience in their sector, industry officials say.
Further crimping hiring is that many sales executives, still bruised by the recession, are reluctant to leave their current jobs, says Heather Baker of Sales Talent, a recruiting firm.
Signpost, an online marketing company, plans to add 45 sales employees to its current stable of 55 this year, but it’s taking the company three months to fill sales manager openings, says Vice President Chris DePatria. Many candidates, he says, haven’t managed employees or don’t have tech experience.
“If they’re managing people selling water bottles, it’s going to be hard for them to catch up with what we’re doing,” he says.