It’s no secret that the sales function in any business has traditionally had the highest employee turnover. If you’re managing the sales function of a business you are acutely aware of needing to have a continually refreshed talent pipeline.

But it’s not a career that people necessarily choose to go into, it’s one that many fall into, and end up falling in love with. Below we take a look at the profession many people fall into and in love with.

Are Sales professionals the masters of reinvention?   

The sales profession has worked hard to shake the ‘wheeler-dealer’ stereotype.  The ‘sales’ title is not really reflective of the role of the modern day sales executive. If you’re in sales you’re now more likely to have the title of ‘Customer Business Manager’, ‘Head of Business Development’ or ‘National Relationships Manager’ without any mention of the function.

But it’s the actions and activities of sales professionals that are transforming perceptions.  These days, sales professionals are solutions, strategy, and partnership driven.  Sales roles are all about ‘partnering with’ rather than ‘selling to’.

What are the most sought-after skill sets of today’s sales professional?

It goes without saying that as a sales executive you need to excel at building and maintaining relationships, but the most sought after and successful professionals are those that have a deep understanding of areas such as category management, marketing, data analytics, project management, innovation and buyer behaviour.

Are most sales professionals degree qualified?

Ten years ago meeting a sales professional with a degree was a rarity.  Most sales executives these days are degree qualified; marketing and business mostly but there are some roles which require a level of expertise and knowledge that is more specific. In some industries, it’s not uncommon to see graduates in medicine, science, engineering and IT building a successful career in sales-related fields.

Sales is not generally a planned career choice. Many people start out in graduate programs taking on a sales role to get a foot in the door of an organisation, with ambition to transfer into another area of the business at a later stage but that doesn’t eventuate.

Where are the critical talent shortages for sales professionals?

There’s a shortage of exceptional sales talent across the board in both the Sydney and Melbourne markets right now.

Where we see this most is in the FMCG industry. Australian businesses in FMCG are looking to the UK and South Africa to source talent to fill the gap. Both markets are similar to Australia in terms of customer motivators and buying decisions, with the UK ahead when it comes to industry expertise and results which sees candidates do exceptionally well here.

What is the greatest challenge for sales executives?

Managing the sales function of a business has become a talent balancing act.  To find, engage and recruit top sales talent, organisations are exploring every avenue from LinkedIn to employee referral programs to engaging external recruiters. Interestingly, the competition for talent has led to an increase in the number of open talent briefs given to recruiters, with organisations keen on having conversations with like-minded sales executives regardless of whether there is an active assignment or not.

The reasons for higher than average employee turnover as a profession are as vast and varied as the ‘solutions’ being sold. Stability of sales professionals tends to correlate with the industry and specialisation; the more in-depth the required knowledge of a product or service, the more stable the team tends to be.

Turnover does also vary at each layer of an organisation’s sales force. The further up the executive ladder you go into management, the more stable the workforce tends to be.

Is the cut-throat perception of sales still relevant?

There’s no denying working in sales is competitive, but increasingly no different to the expectations set by any other industry.  Every executive role is more or less performance-based.  KPIs and stretch targets are common across almost all professions, it just happens to be front and center for sales roles.

What does remuneration look like for the modern sales executive?

Every organisation and industry differ when it comes to remuneration. Some organisations are still very bonus driven with slightly lower bases where you can earn up 30-40 percent based on performance.  Others pay a larger base with a flat 10 percent bonus.

There are certain types of people that will naturally fare better in one environment or the other, but it’s the companies that strike the balance between the salary and commission component of a package – paying relatively well with the potential to earn a 15-20 percent base – that tend to do particularly well in attracting and retaining employees.

Does EVP trump salary for sales professionals?

Remuneration has always been key to any career discussion, particularly when it comes to sales roles, but what candidates are taking more of an interest in is an organisation’s Employee Value Proposition as a whole; from the work environment, leadership and career progression through to working arrangements (especially extending the flexibility common to on the road roles to office-based sales roles). It is the sum of an organisation’s EVP that candidates are comparing when presented with more than one career option.

How are organisations attracting the next generation of sales professionals?

There are very few people that choose sales as a career from the outset.  Where businesses are engaging the next generation of professionals is through the resurgence of graduate programs, particularly in the banking and FMCG sectors, where graduates gain exposure to every face of a business, including sales.