Will companies be hiring sales representatives in the uncertain economy and job market of 2012? Absolutely. How many and in what industries? Hard to tell.
“Predicting employment growth in sales is difficult,” says William Even, a labor economist and professor at the Farmer School of Business at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. “If the recovery continues, I would expect more rapid growth in cyclical industries like autos and durable goods.”
The vagaries of economic forecasting aside, what trending factors in sales organizations will separate the successful sales candidates from the rest?
“In most industries, almost regardless of the economy, well-managed companies don’t cut their sales jobs, because salespeople generate revenue,” says Tim White, managing partner and leader of the private wealth-management practice at recruiter Kaye/Bassman International in Dallas. “In fact, bad times are the time to gain market share.”
Still, sales unemployment has been high in recent years, registering 9.4 percent in September 2011, slightly above the average for all occupations. This rate is elevated by certain specialties, says Even, noting that telemarketers, for example, are suffering 30 percent unemployment.
But in almost any economic environment, the best employers look for certain qualities in sale reps, regardless of industry sector.
“We advise clients to look for salespeople who have effective communications skills, exude confidence, know how to build customer loyalty, and have the ability to discover and meet customer expectations,” says Kathi Graham-Leviss, president of XB Consulting, a management consulting firm in Portsmouth, Rhode Island.
Let’s lay out the key factors to a successful campaign for a sales job in 2012. Each of these five angles can give your sales candidacy a significant edge in the job market.
Many Firms Just Look for People Who Know How to Sell
The more unique a company’s product or service, the fewer new sales hires will come with the exact matching experience to sell it. That’s why many sales organizations routinely consider candidates without direct experience in the company’s niche.
“Sales skills are transferable,” says White. “If you’re a leader in sales for floor coverings who knows how to sell, many financial-services companies will hire you and train you in their industry, though you might have to start at the bottom.”
Wanted: Sales Reps Who Understand Their Clients’ Business
In the 2010s, selling in the business-to-business sector is about convincing the client that your company’s offerings dovetail with the client’s business model. So in this job market, you’ve got to convince the employer that you’re eager to roll up your sleeves and learn from the client.
“We’re looking for people with the ability to sit down with a chief marketing officer and talk about their business, so we can build a proposal,” says Kevin Chernett, executive vice president of concert promoter Live Nation Entertainment in Beverly Hills.
Category Experience Counts
Another way of transferring your sales skills is to switch industries but stick with a channel or category of goods or services in which you have experience.
“We favor people with a passion for music, but they need not have been in the industry,” Chernett says. “We’re interested in their category experience, whether in packaged goods, consumer electronics, telecom” or another industry sector where prospective clients for Live Nation’s marketing platform might be found. In 2012, Live Nation will add six to 12 sales jobs to its force of more than 80, Chernett says.
Sell Your Experience in the Employer’s Work Environment
The settings in which salespeople work are likely to grow more diverse than ever in 2012. With companies running leaner all the time, outside sales reps, for example, may go weeks without seeing the home office.
This is one reason “sales organizations consider whether candidates have the right work-environment experience,” says Graham-Leviss. So it’s wise to begin your search with opportunities in a familiar environment where you’ll be most comfortable and productive.
Sales Get Technical
What will be the motto for the sales job market in 2012? “Let’s get technical.” As information systems embed themselves in ever-more American products and services, the people who sell the goods must have the right stuff, technologically speaking.
Of course, some revenue producers have to be more technical than others. “Our salespeople must be knowledgeable about enterprise IT, software development and application life cycles,” says Tammi Pirri, vice president of human resources at Black Duck Software in Waltham, Massachusetts. Black Duck provides products and services for enterprises implementing open-source software.
“We look for people with experience selling suites of products,” Pirri says. To field a sales force accustomed to courting C-level executives, Black Duck has hired from companies like Accenture and SAP. In 2012, the company plans to hire at least a dozen salespeople in positions ranging from presales to inside sales.
Learn more about sales careers.