There is a sales talent crisis on the horizon and the decisions CSOs make now will determine their ability to navigate it. Sales organizations are already grappling with a talent shortage, with 78% of CSOs indicating that it is difficult or somewhat difficult to attract high-quality sales candidates and 54% reporting regrettable seller attrition above target. On average, there are only three available candidates per open B2B sales job posting, and job postings stay open for an average of over two months.
This shortage will only be exacerbated as skill requirements for sales roles continue to grow in light of digital-first buying, economic uncertainty, and persistent inflation and supply chain issues. Among frontline sellers, digital-first recession buying has necessitated more business acumen, technical knowledge and data literacy from sellers.
Outside the frontline, 86% of sales operations leaders said they were witnessing a broadened mandate for their scope of support, with their remit expanding into adjacent areas including strategic planning, performance analysis and sales technology management. The increasing complexity of sales ops projects means that data science, information management and analytics skills will only increase in importance. Unfortunately for sales leaders, these skills are in high demand in many fields, not just sales.
How then will CSOs be able to find candidates with these skills and backgrounds when they’re already struggling to fill open seats?
First, CSOs need to stop leaving crucial talent out of the pipeline. The sales function has historically been white and male, neglecting to attract qualified candidates from underrepresented groups. The traditional candidate profile for a B2B sales rep relies on sales experience rather than skills, biasing the candidate pool toward those already in the function and that same white male demographic. To break this cycle and attract diverse talent, CSOs need to establish a culture and employee value proposition (EVP) that not only signal a commitment to DEI but also deliver on that promise by valuing and supporting sellers equitably.
At the same time, CSOs should focus on skills over experience and begin building talent pipelines that prioritize those skills. If a STEM-specific degree or an M.B.A. is a good proxy for certain data science or problem solving skills, sales organizations should start building relationships with academic departments and external professional and alumni associations whose members have those backgrounds. Offer to host sessions on how sales operations roles provide STEM and M.B.A. talent with exciting opportunities in areas such as scenario planning, simulation, AI and automation. Internally, identify opportunities to upskill top performers, especially those with skills adjacent to those that you’re seeking.
Finally, if sales leaders are successful at attracting new talent profiles with different backgrounds and skills, they’ll also need to rethink both what and how this new talent will learn. On the one hand, the competencies and experience that this talent of the future brings to the table will be different, meaning the knowledge and skills required to make them effective sellers will also be different. At the same time, this new talent will have their own preferences and expectations for how that learning takes place. Gartner predicts that by 2026, sellers will consume 65% fewer hours of training compared to 2022. Learning trends like microlearning, blended learning, video-powered social learning and adaptive learning are increasingly available to sales enablement organizations and may be better suited to the sellers of tomorrow.
To learn more about these trends, how they’ll shape the future of sales, and how to lead the organization with a sales talent strategy that capitalizes on them, please see Gartner’s Predicts 2023: Surfing the Waves of Change in B2B Sales Talent.
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