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Exploring the Unfilled Sales Roles Crisis of 2021

In March of 2021, a Wall Street Journal article reported that there were 700,000 open sales roles that were unfilled. It continued by stating that these jobs paid better than other jobs and offered greater autonomy. There are two questions worth exploring. First, why so many open jobs in sales? Second, why were so few people interested in pursuing a sales role?

The Attraction and Challenges of a Career in Sales

Over the course of history, many have tried their hand at sales to make more money. When they fail, they go back to some other role, accepting less money and less autonomy.

A lot of people come to sales because they seek money, and many achieve just that. Others find sales because they have a set of traits that allows them to win deals because people have an easy time buying from them.

Generational Shifts Impacting Sales Job Market

In a survey I conducted with 500 respondents, Gen Z accounted for 4 people, and none of them were field sales representatives. From the Wall Street Journal article to studies showing that the most coveted career among Gen Z is as an influencer, there is plenty of evidence that Gen Z is more likely to take a run at being TikTok famous than pursuing careers in sales.

The Difficulty in Hiring Qualified Sales Professionals

The feedback I get from friends, acquaintances, and clients is that it's impossible to hire salespeople. The candidates fall short in several areas with resumes lacking evidence of success in B2B sales. When sales managers are forced to make a hire, the new salespeople don’t last long.

Redefining Sales Roles: The SDR Dilemma

A lot of today’s sales positions are not traditional sales roles. The SDR cannot be considered a sales role, as the person in this role books meetings for the salesperson. No amount of cold calling prepares an SDR to become a full-cycle salesperson. Many people stay too long in these roles and would be better off taking a full-cycle sales job with a company that would develop them. That said, these companies find hiring salespeople challenging.

Increasing Quotas and the Shift to Remote Sales

The SDRs are not alone in their complaints, as salespeople in many companies and industries are being required to have 4X their quota in the pipeline, something that should not be necessary if the sales force was more effective. No one makes money by having a full pipeline. They make money from winning deals, even if it is rare to see leaders who prioritize the sales effectiveness that would have them succeed. A great many salespeople work from home to manage their territory, spending time by themselves, communicating little with their peers. Slack isn’t an effective tool for building relationships.

Transactional Approaches and Consultative Sales Challenges

Looking at the regression to transactional approaches, it’s easy to understand why many consultative salespeople are unhappy in their roles. While sales managers ask them to shorten the sales process and win faster, the reality is that you can never go faster than your client when it comes to making change.

Sales Burnout and the Evolution of Selling Techniques

If the data is correct, a large percentage of salespeople are burned out. Selling today isn’t the same as when sales was something much more fun. A face-to-face meeting is rarer than it should be, and a Zoom meeting can’t match the relationship and the rapport one gains when they walk through their client’s facility, meeting other stakeholders and learning what cannot be acquired over a video meeting.

The Impact of Demographic Shifts on Sales

Looking at the future demand as the Baby Boomers retire and the world abandons globalization as we have known it, you will notice certain trends. First, you will recognize that the Baby Boom generation comprises close to 80,000,000 people or 23 percent of the U.S. population. The Baby Boomers are not a U.S. phenomenon, as the world had a baby boom after WWII.

Our demographics in the United States are not good, even if they are better than most everyone else. We would have had to have had many more children some time ago. The replacement rate is 2.21 babies per woman. That number now is 1.66, close to 25 percent less than what is needed to keep the population stable.

Navigating a Shrinking Market and Protecting Your Sales Role

As the demand plummets over the next decade, we will not need so many players in some industries. You can expect the winners to win, and the losers to give up fighting for a share of a shrinking pie. As these sales organizations exit, you can expect the demand for salespeople to abate. There may not be enough lifeboats for those who are displaced.

Strategies for Sales Professionals in an Evolving Market

As often as I can, I try to remind you that the future may not need so many salespeople. Because there will be less demand, the sales professionals who will continue to sell will be the ones that are highly effective and have some expertise. The reason I badger you about becoming One-Up is that once you attain that status, you will be attractive to the sales organizations that remain, or the ones that are growing.

You have time. Most people have no idea about how much and how fast things will change soon. As people replace humans with artificial intelligence, you will have to move your skill sets and your effectiveness in the areas where only a human will do.

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Post by Anthony Iannarino on February 1, 2024

Written and edited by human brains and human hands.

Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. He is the author of four books on the modern sales approach, one book on sales leadership, and his latest book called The Negativity Fast releases on 10.31.23. Anthony posts daily content here at TheSalesBlog.com.
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