A few decades ago, a career in sales was a much sought-after career by young graduates entering the workforce. College seniors would clamor to get on the interview list of on-campus recruiters representing blue-chip companies like IBM and Xerox who were hungry for top sales talent.
Today, it’s much harder to sell young people on a career in sales. And yet it’s vital for successful organizations both large and small to overcome this barrier if they want to grow their sales force and their profits—not to mention their market appeal to this giant demographic group.
In this two-part article, Talent Maximizer® Roberta Matuson of Matuson Consulting looks at why sales gets a bad rap from millennials, and sales strategist Colleen Francis of Engage Selling Solutions explores what you can do to reverse that trend.
Identifying the problem is key, says Matuson.
“Finding ways to make top talent stick with you is one of the biggest challenges that businesses face today,” says Roberta Matuson. “Nowhere is this challenge more acute than with this new generation of bright, young people moving into the professional workforce. More than just retaining them, you need to make a convincing case that a career in sales is a noble profession where they can really make a difference.”
Matuson, who helps world-class companies like General Motors, Best Buy and New Balance attract, engage and retain top talent offers the following examples to show how businesses are tackling this problem.
Repackaging the appeal of sales.
John Geist, VP of Sales for the Boston Beer Company, believes the business of selling has an image problem. “When young people think of sales, they conjure up an image of a guy in a plaid jacket going out to sell a product. At Boston Beer, we are professional, yet casual. Ties for men are no longer required for daily wear, although reps are expected to have one available in case the situation calls for it.”
Steve Richard, Founder and President of VorsightBP, believes that colleges and universities do little to promote the field of sales to their students. “You don’t see sales courses in colleges and universities,” says Richard. “There is a lack of exposure to the positive and productive sales roles that are out there. Instead, many times the only exposure a student has to sales is a poor one, when they go with their parents to purchase a car.”
Richards is on a mission to change the way young people view sales. He is passing the college placement offices. Instead, he’s building relationships directly with the professors and the undergraduate business fraternities. “We put on programs and seminars for the kids,” says Richards. “We host lunch and learns. We buy them pizza and soda or healthy drinks and we talk about sales and provide advice on their job search.”
Getting young people excited about sales is crucial, according to Richards. He makes it a point of staying in touch with them through marketing automation tools like Hubspot. “We put them in the nurture stream, so we can be front and center in their minds.”
Besting the competition.
Technology companies have had a huge impact on the ability of sales leaders to attract millennial talent. According to Geist, “The creativeness and freedom they offer is appealing, whereas sales requires discipline that many people don’t have today.”
In other words: tech is hot, sales is not.
Ted Kennedy, VP of Sales and Marketing at William B. Meyer, Inc. is preparing for the fight of his life. Working in what he describes as an old-line industry, he explains “we are not glamorous nor are we sexy,” but that the opportunities for young recruits with his firm are nevertheless considerable. Despite this, they struggle. “I have 20 people in sales,” says Kennedy. “Our average age is high 40s to low 50s. We cannot attract a millennial into our organization.”
Kennedy acknowledges that as his sales force ages, he has to have new people to replace them. His company is thinking about starting an apprentice program for the children of some of their best employees, who can be groomed for these jobs. Kennedy admits that they’ve been thinking about ways to attract new talent to the sales organization for the past three or four years.
However, reality is now hitting him in the face and he understands he must take decisive action, rather than merely thinking about things.
Nurturing and retaining new talent.
Back at Boston Beer, the focus is on retention. “The big challenge for us is holding onto our sales people past the two-year mark,” says Geist. Promotions at Boston Beer often require relocation, which young people agree to, yet resist when the time comes to make a move.
Be sure to come back and read Part II, where Sales Guru, Colleen Francis will offer ground-breaking ideas on how you can solve the millennial challenge.
© Matuson Consulting and Engage Selling Solutions, 2015. All Rights Reserved.
Roberta Matuson is the Talent Maximizer® and president of Matuson Consulting. Her latest book is Talent Magnetism: How to Build a Workplace That Attracts and Keeps the Best.
Colleen Francis is The Sales Leader ™, founder of Engage Selling Solutions and author of Nonstop Sales Boom: Powerful Strategies to Drive Consistent Growth Year After Year, among other titles.