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Hiring Sales Reps: What’s a Winning Formula?

Hiring Sales Reps

Hiring sales reps this year? While recruiting has reached epic challenges across the board, hiring sales reps has been and continues to be an exceptional hill to climb—for both persisting and new reasons. If you’re in the thick of it, here are some insights and new research that can help:

Why the Shortage?

Finding the right fit is one thing (which we’ll cover next), but why is the pool of candidates so small?

“The struggle to find sales hires predates the pandemic and may have more to do with the types of roles people are comfortable taking these days than it does with a shortage of workers,” The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently reported.

If you’re in or around sales, you know that the used-car salesman or “Mad Men” persona doesn’t represent the field, but the perception is hard to shake. There’s also a fundamental problem with how sales roles are presented (or not) as a career path.

“People don’t go to school and think, ‘I’m going to be in sales,’” Howard Brown, CEO and founder of ringDNA, told WSJ. “It’s the lifeblood of every organization, but talent is limited.” WSJ points out the problem that many of us hiring sales reps are faced with: Few colleges offer sales-specific degree programs. Check out this Entrepreneur article from 2015 if you need a reminder that the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The Need for Digital Skills

Further complicating the shortage are the evolving skills required for sales reps. A recent study conducted by Forrester Consulting on behalf of Outreach Corporation sheds light on these factors. The study’s main conclusion: Looking at digital skills, particularly technology and data fluency, is essential when hiring sales reps.   

“At the beginning of the pandemic, some sales leaders—particularly those in more traditional industries—were so focused on the in-person sales dynamic that they chose to wait out the return to normalcy on the sidelines. More than two years later, it’s clear that a digital-first mindset is essential for success,” the study concluded.

Specifically, Forrester found that:

  • Sales reps need new or updated skills to successfully turn data analytics into insights (55%) and better use existing tools in their sales tech stacks (58%).
  • Sales managers need to consume, analyze, and act on data. However, only 30% of respondents say their managers have mastered this skill.
  • 59% of sales leaders acknowledge that their sales teams need new or updated skills to utilize and maximize sales technology investments fully.

Ignoring the digital evolution of sales can lead to failures on many levels. Forrester points out one in particular: inaccurate forecasting. “In an environment where volatility is the norm rather than the exception, sales leaders will face increased pressure to get their forecasts right,” the study predicts. High-tech data analysis can take damaging guesswork out of forecasting and can help with the visibility necessary to make quick course corrections. But it requires sales teams who know how to wield that technology. “Only one-quarter of respondents said they had the necessary tools to save at-risk deals,” Forrester found.

Soft Skills Are Imperative, Too

Ah, but here’s the rub: Like many other job roles, sales reps need incredible soft skills, too. They need to be likable, trustworthy, collaborative and more.

The good news is that the compensation potential in sales tends to be high. That’s attracting a diverse cross-section of candidates from other areas—candidates who happen to have excellent soft skills. Among them are teachers, the WSJ reports. This adds diversity to the sales field, too, which Forrester found is vital to sales prospects.

“Since sellers are the first point of contact for a company, sales reps must represent the world around them and organizations must commit to DEI or risk losing revenue and talent,” Forrester states, adding that North American sales teams are woefully behind on prioritizing DEI in this way. “If North American sales organizations continue to deprioritize DEI initiatives, they risk losing deals and talent.”

The Bottom Line

So, when hiring sales reps, it’s critical to understand how the makeup of your sales team has evolved (or needs to evolve).

“We know that sales teams are strongly multi-generational, which means that there is a wide range of traditional and emerging sales skills in the mix,” says Dave Benjamin, Practice Director-Professional Services at The HT Group. “That can be great, but you need to know how these skills fit within your sales needs moving into the future.”

“More than ever, you may be looking for hidden traits that don’t show up on applications,” adds Stephanie Grubbs, Regional Managing Director of The HT Group General Staffing Division. “That’s when a knowledgeable recruiting partner becomes essential because we can answer the tough questions: Where are the skill gaps that can be mitigated with training? What soft skills are needed for new hires—attributes that can’t be learned? How can we test the technical and digital aptitude of new hires who don’t necessarily have sales results or technical training on their resumes?”

If you have more questions than answers while hiring sales reps, enlist the help and expertise of recruiters who understand the changing DNA of sales teams at each level, from entry-level staffing through executive search.