The Paper-Thin Reason Your Company Is Missing Sales Talent

Rework pic

“My sales have been steadily increasing”, says Rashard Feggins, a 22 year-old entrepreneur and salesman. He’s a candidate with a vocational training program I run called re:work. We teach software sales to people without college degrees, then place them into full-time jobs at tech employers. Rashard owns and runs a Chicago-based clothing line called DXSTRXCT7 but wants to learn and grow in a corporate setting.

Rashard, who doesn’t have a college degree, designs his products, markets them through a website he built, and negotiates manufacturer contracts. He also sells ‘consultatively’, a ubiquitous software sales tactic, by listening to his community’s preference on styles, then offering them a product they’re likely to enjoy. His experience aligns directly with Ben Horowitz’s standard of sales excellence, “Specifically, great salespeople must be courageous, competitive and hungry. They also need enough intelligence to get the job done. That’s the magic formula.”

In other words, Rashard is sales talent personified, but with only a high school degree, he doesn’t qualify for corporate jobs. And he’s not the only one. Over 6 million young people ages 16-24 are out of school, out of work, and out of the economic mainstream.

The irony, though, is that employers say there’s a lack of sales talent, as well as diverse talent, and they’re losing money everyday that positions go unfilled. According to a study by CareerBuilder, “Forgone revenue and profits can be as high as $23,000 per unfilled position”.

College isn’t bad, but it is too expensive.

With the nation in over a trillion dollars in student loan debt, and four-year college graduates averaging $26,000 in debt, it’s becoming more appealing for young adults to earn money, rather than spend it. Meanwhile, universities are scrambling to train actual job skills, such as sales, because recent college graduates are often ill prepared to actually produce when they do enter the workforce. In a test of nearly 32,000 students, four in 10 students “graduate without the complex reasoning skills to manage white-collar work”.

This isn’t a fluke either. I spent two years as an SDR Manager with a software company that faced precisely these challenges. Having hired, trained, and managed recent college graduates for entry-level sales roles, I saw patterns of fear, impatience, and lack of independence, all traits of an unproductive sales person. This mediocrity damages sales organizations in myriad ways, including 34% annual turnover in sales reps and only 67% of reps hitting their quota.

In creating and running DXSTRXCT7, Rashard has developed precisely the sales skills that are lacking in most college graduates, though HR departments overlook him because he doesn’t have a degree.

Who’s to blame? How do we solve it?

The skills gap isn’t news. However, it seems that employers, policymakers, and college administrators continue to finger-point. For instance, “a recent survey of college and university chief academic officers revealed that 96 percent believed that their institutions prepared students effectively for the workforce; in a separate poll only 33 percent of business leaders agreed with that judgment.”

And it’s at this chaotic juncture that we should be looking to revitalize vocational schooling. Specific job training offers an alternative to attending a costly university, or a community college that still leaves graduates unqualified for high paying jobs. But, in order for the stars to really align, classes need to be free to students. There’s no shortage of for-profit coding and sales boot camps, but these programs remain inaccessible to a massive talent pool of youth who can’t afford them.

The beauty of sales is that fundamental sales skills can be taught quickly, and entry-level sales jobs are lucrative. According to Glassdoor, the national average salary for a Sales Development Representative (SDR), an entry-level sales position, is $41,250annually. That average jumps to nearly $48,000/year in Chicago.

This means that non-profits, funded by employers, the government, and private donors, become a viable solution. Non-profit job training and placement connects the dots. Employers are getting the skilled employees they need, when they need them, creating value that they should be more than willing to pay for. The government can leverage these non-profits to employ a demographic whose disconnection from school and work will cost our society $6.31 trillion. And finally, private donors and foundations can contribute to a cause with immediate, tangible impact.

In eight to twelve weeks, a sales skills and placement program can legitimately advance someone from poverty to the middle class. Developing talented people like Rashard is a major opportunity, and new educational models will be critical to facilitate that development.




Harrison Horan is the Founder and CEO of re:work.

The GradsofLifeVoice Forbes team provides thought leadership, research and expert commentary on innovative talent pipelines and related issues such as the skills gap, income inequality, workforce diversity, and the business case for employment pathways. We seek to change employers’ perceptions of young adults with atypical resumes from social liabilities to economic assets. This post was originally featured here.


Education, Skills Gap, Workforce Development,
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