Why Millennials shun sales careers, and what to do about it

Two entrepreneurs have a plan to sell them on the profession



Sales can be a very lucrative vocation—Scarborough points out that the best salespeople often earn more than most C-suite executives within a business, and that about a fifth of CEOs come from a sales career path. “But these young people don’t know that,” he says.

Pop culture’s presentation of sales has created something of an image problem for the profession. Per Mad Men, sales means closing deals via boozy meals and schmoozing; per Glengarry Glen Ross, it means working for a target-obsessed tyrant like Alec Baldwin’s Blake. Young people don’t want to be associated with the stereotype of the used car salesman trying to hoodwink a naive customer. “There are crooked lawyers and crooked salespeople and crooked everybody,” observes serial entrepreneur Gerry Pond. “But for whatever reason the vast number of people say [of sales], ‘Well that’s not a respectable job.’”

But Scarborough points out that some of the buzziest names in the business world today are sustained by massive sales machines—Apple sells devices, while Google and Facebook sell ads. “Sales is about problem-solving in today’s day and age,” he maintains. Early experience working retail or interacting with a pop-up shop at the mall convinces young people that sales is about pushing things consumers don’t want. “[But in] corporate sales you never sell anything that people don’t need or want,” says Scarborough. “[Businesses] don’t buy passionately, they only buy economically and efficiently. You’re selling things that are either going to make more money for the company or make them more efficient.”

Read: The 5 Cs You’ll Need to Succeed in the New Sales Reality

To generate interest in sales roles amongst young people and help them learn some of the basic skills of the trade, Scarborough’s company organizes The Great Canadian Sales Competition, now in its second year. Post-secondary students can enter any time until January 30, 2016, by filming a 30-second pitch for something they’re already passionate about. In the second round, contestants are introduced to corporate sales via the methodology of one of 25 sponsoring companies (including the likes of Air Canada, Corus, Google, and Scotiabank). For the final round, 25 finalists are flown to Toronto and mentored through a live sales meeting.

Pond’s solution is to integrate sales into the post-secondary situation itself. He likens it to other professional designations like accounting, law and medicine. To work in these professions, people must obtain an academic degree, and then obtain qualifications from an industry association. “The post-secondary degree, along with an association test creates a bona fide practitioner of a particular skill set in our society,” Pond notes.

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