Qualified sales people are in short supply. In a July 22nd article in the USA Today (Sales Rep Wanted: Inquire Anyplace), Paul Davidson wrote that “As the economy picks up, employers are facing a shortage of qualified sales associates and managers that’s hampering revenue growth.” According to Manpower’s annual talent shortage survey, ‘sales representative’ will be the second-hardest job to fill this year. It has been in the top ten since 2006 (which is as far back as their publicly posted data is available).
Sales representative is admittedly a broad title. It could include someone working at a cart at the mall or a highly trained account manager at a high tech firm. The turnover rates associated with the range of included positions vary widely, and this could account for the reported recruiting difficulties. But the topic is being addressed by sources that suggest a cause beyond raw labor statistics. Both the Harvard Business Review and Forrester have addressed sales talent shortages, and they are quick to mention the changing expectations of supply management relationships.
In the realm of selling, it’s the buyer who is newly empowered. Customers no longer need a salesperson to learn about a company’s offering, much less to place an order. As a result, sales has become more about helping customers define the problem they are trying to solve and assemble a complete solution.
— HBR Blog Network, Solving the Sales Talent Shortage: 8 August 2012
Adding to this complexity on the vendor side, sales leaders, sales enablement professionals, sales managers, and sales reps must clearly define the behaviors required to communicate value in a world where more and more buyers are demanding outcomes, not solutions.
— Brian Lambert’s Blog (Forrester), Are We Facing A World-Wide Sales Talent Shortage? 13 May 2011
Sales organizations are not the only ones with a talent issue on their hands. Talent management is always listed among the top concerns of CPOs, including recruiting, retention, and skills development. In a recent Supply Chain Brain article, we read notes from an interview with Mickey North-Rizza, VP of Advisory Services at BravoSolution and a former Research Director at Gartner. “Companies today are looking for individuals who are geared toward building relationships with partners across the supply chain. ‘It’s an advanced leadership style that’s really missing,’ says Rizza, adding that ‘new-product introduction [expertise] is nowhere to be found.’”
It is interesting that the trend towards more collaborative, outcome-based relationships has not created an advantage for either sales or procurement. Both sides seem to be going through an identity adjustment, as success is no longer defined by one’s ability to best the other guy. Top performers in sales and procurement are now expected to be able to create mutual, lasting value for their own organization as well as for their supply partners – particularly in challenging economic conditions.
In a recent study of CPOs, ISM’s Institute for Business Value found that how companies handled the global economic downturn that took place between 2008 and 2012 was tied to their ability to become top performers. “CPOs whose organizations rose to the challenge of the downturn were often provided the opportunity to further contribute to even more strategic corporate issues, such as brand development and new product/service introduction” (2013 CPO Study: p. 7)
Sales reps were also affected by the downturn in the economy. According to Willis Turner, CEO of Sales & Marketing Executives International, who was quoted in the previously cited article in the USA Today, “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.”
As sales and procurement organizations rebuild their teams with an eye to the future, managers are considering a new combination of skill sets and a broad range of backgrounds when looking to fill open positions. Expectations of prior experience are changing, but so are attitudes about risk, power, information-sharing, and the ability to generate creative solutions to the problems that arise. Some of these can be taught, but others require a different professional profile altogether: enough of a change that some current team members may move on to other companies or positions and an alternate pool of talent may usher in a new way of managing the same spend categories and contracted relationships.
The changes taking place on both sides of the supply management relationship will create career opportunities for professionals that are willing to emphasize innovation through collaboration, regardless of their background or training. Fresh perspectives and objective approaches will shake up teams of seasoned professionals, and as long as they are open to new ideas, the results should outstrip anything that was possible in the past.