Difficulties and communication strategies of attracting sales talent

CEL Lab - Commercial Excellence LAB

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Knowing how to attract and recruit quality sales staff is a fundamental skill that many companies fail to do well. The Sales Talent Barometer research conducted by SDA Bocconi's Commercial Excellence Lab seeks to understand why, starting with the perception of young people regarding the sales profession and analyzing which variables influence their intentions to pursue a career in Sales, in order to turn intentions into viable strategies for attraction.

The problem with talent attraction is a major but certainly not new issue for companies, especially when it comes to sales professionals. Several studies have already highlighted the problem in recent years, but after the pandemic, the increasingly frequent voluntary resignation of young people between 26 added 35 added to the issue. In short, companies increasingly need qualified sales talent, but they are struggling to find, acquire, develop and retain them. And the outlook for the future does not seem to offer a better scenario: forecasts of employment and professional needs in Italy in the medium-term between 2023 and 2027 see a demand for "market relations experts" that is about 1.3 times greater than the supply of graduates in the economic and sales sectors alone. Given this outlook, Paola Caiozzo, Senior Lecturer in Leadership, Organization and Human Resources, and Paolo Guenzi, Associate Professor in the Department of Marketing, of the Commercial Excellence Lab, presented the results of a study conducted on a sample of about 400 Gen Z, predominantly Italians, with an average age of 23, from various universities and from all over the country, aimed at analyzing student perceptions of the sales profession and understanding what variables influence their intention to pursue a career in this field, with the goal of proposing strategies that can foster attraction.

Some questions the researchers asked respondents include what influences the intention to pursue a career in sales, what do young people know about the sales profession, what is their perception of the profession compared to other professions, and what resistance is there in considering a career in Sales. The responses showed that young people often have an awareness of the world of Sales, particularly the career and professional development opportunities but also personal development. This is particularly relevant because 50 percent of respondents said that this is the biggest value that guides their choice of a job. Regarding their perception of jobs in Sales, compared to that in other functions, respondents pointed out that a career in Sales allows one to take pride in one's work and build a good reputation, but they complained of a problem with the organizational recognition of the salesperson's role. The most appreciated aspects of the role are the possibility of interacting with different professional figures, flexibility and the variety of activities and skills. Unfortunately, there are also "fears," such as uncertainty related to results or guidelines to be followed, but above all, the persistence of a stereotype of dishonesty related to this figure that prevents people from pursuing a career in this field. 
As for the intention to choose sales as a career path, there is some good news and some surprises: 32.4 percent of the survey respondents show an intention and 37 percent a propensity but need convincing; when grouping the sample by gender, women were much more assertive than men in considering the option, even though the attractiveness factors are very different.
When looking at these responses, the study suggests a series of actions that companies can take to activate or reinforce their employer branding strategies in attracting sales talent, such as bridging the knowledge gap on career growth path and training opportunities, increasing the job appeal of the profession; enhancing the specific elements of the job, such as skill development, problem solving and customer orientation, which today are not considered as important in influencing intention but could remove ambiguity from the concept of dishonesty; and finally designing content strategies with precise targets. Gender differences have, in fact, demonstrated very different attraction factors.

 

SDA Bocconi School of Management

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