It’s a common complaint – there just aren’t enough good sales reps out there. Or so hiring managers, business owners, and HR departments think. Conversely, even in an economy that’s allegedly strong, there’s still a lot of people struggling to find work, especially the long-term unemployed. One of the biggest problems in the sales world is often a mismatch between the type of sales experience someone has and the kind that an open position is asking for. This creates frustration for both employers and jobseekers. But if more attention is paid to sales type and knowledge, it can help both sides have greater success in the hiring process.
From the Employer’s Perspective
The most common division of sales types and knowledge to consider for rep positions is consultative vs transactional. For other companies and positions, there might well be different factors to take into account – some that might even on the surface appear to violate the consultative/transactional separation axiom. For example, let’s say you’re a major shoe manufacturer that’s looking for a new sales rep to work on landing accounts with university-affiliated athletic programs. On the face of it, you’d probably want a consultatively experienced rep, as university agreements are complex deals involving multiple decision makers.
However, you receive an applicant from someone with shoe store sales experience who knows your products intimately and has a passion for your brand. That type of in-depth product knowledge and advocacy could lead to a shorter onboarding process and a sales rep who is more likely to succeed than a consultative sales rep who isn’t as familiar with your industry or your lines. Thus, you may want to at least interview that applicant to see if they’re coachable from a consultative sales standpoint.
One of the best ways to solve this issue is to be very clear in your job description about the specific knowledge areas and experience you’re looking for. The sales leadership team should have a discussion amongst themselves, HR, and the person responsible for writing the job description about what the important categories are. Divide those areas of sales experience and knowledge in two columns – Required and Preferred. Required will establish the minimum baseline necessary. Preferred will highlight the best suited candidates, but if those areas are lacking (perhaps due to the local labor market), they’re ones that you’re willing to train and/or coach to.
From the Jobseeker’s Perspective
When you’re hunting for a sales job, consider following these sales type and knowledge-related tips to improve your chance at securing employment in the right position for you:
- Take note of the type of sales experience and knowledge areas the job is looking for.
You might have experience as a salesperson working in retail in college, but if the job you’re looking at requires selling liability and loss insurance to businesses, that’s not going to be the best fit – even if you ostensibly meet the requirement of 1-4 years of sales experience.
Let’s say you’re absolutely determined to try and land the job anyway. One thing you can do is look at your retail job and see what transferable skills would apply to that insurance industry. Maybe you worked at an electronics store and sold computers and software to small business owners in the area. You can highlight on your resume under that job listing that you have consultative sales experience with business owners.
Remember, employers want to know that you have both the experience and the knowledge to be successful in a sales position. Sometimes you might not have the exact, formal training or experience, but can find other ways to show in your background that you have the skills and information to do well in that job.
- Customize your resume for each sales position – even within the same vertical or role.
While this may seem obvious, you’d be surprised how many applicants don’t follow this basic step. Once you’ve read the job description and taken notes on it (we suggest doing this literally so you don’t forget anything), tailor your resume and cover letter to match the description as closely as possible, while still accurately representing your background and knowledge.
Why tweak even in the same vertical – say selling software as a service (SaaS)? Because while there will be some similarities, each and every sales rep job description is going to be written to the unique needs and environment of the individual company. Thus, Company A might emphasize an enthusiastic personality, while Company B’s focus might be on organizational skills. Or perhaps one employer is more concerned with product knowledge and another is most interested in relevant sales experience.
- If a particular sales role genuinely doesn’t fit, don’t apply.
There’s a saying in the writing world that you only get two chances with an editor. If you don’t make the grade either time, you’re done. A similar concept applies to the job hunt. If you’re wasting an employer’s time by applying to a job you’re authentically not qualified or suited for, that’s going to ding your credibility and might cause you to lose any chance of ever working there – regardless of position.
It’s a trap that can be surprisingly easy to fall into. Computer algorithms will often recommend sales openings as a good fit just based on keywords like account management or inbound sales, even if the fit isn’t accurate once you take a closer look at your qualifications vs the position’s requirements. And desperation can lead job-hunting reps to apply to any sales position. That translates into a lot of wasted time and energy chasing openings and companies that aren’t really a good match. In job seeking, it’s about quality of applications rather than quantity. Spending more time and care to apply to 20 great fit jobs will yield more fruitful results than applying to 200 with the quick apply options on job boards like LinkedIn and Indeed.
We’ve seen it in our own hiring process – applicants who have applied so often, we recognize them by name due to having seen them so many times. Which brings us to another important point – if you’re applying a second time to a position, be prepared to show how you’ve expanded your skillset, increased your knowledge, or otherwise improved your candidacy. Because let’s be honest – unless you were a Top 3 finalist for a given job, your chances of getting the position on a second application won’t improve unless you’re able to show how you’ve made yourself a stronger candidate.
Navigating the hiring and labor market is never easy. Finding the right fit for both sides can sometimes be a long and arduous process. But by paying more attention to sales types and knowledge areas, employers can better refine their job descriptions to attract more qualified and quality candidates. On the flip side, those looking for sales employment can better their odds through careful attention to job descriptions and tailoring their resumes to the sales experience and knowledge asked for.