There is a reason why Dragon’s Den has become one of the most popular TV programs in Canada, and it’s not just the wisecracks from the judges.
It’s that moment when a budding entrepreneur takes the huge risk of pitching a concept for a product or service which they believe will become wildly popular.
It’s a huge risk because they could be quickly rejected, and the potential for failure keeps the audience hooked. In other words, those contestants are compelling because they are selling ideas, not just “things.” The best professional salespeople understand this, and do it every day. The results of their work help companies grow, save money and improve the way they operate. That’s why we need more young people to recognize the opportunity a career in sales could offer them.
According to Statistics Canada, there has been negligible growth in the number of people aged 25 to 34 entering sales as a career. For those with a university degree, sales hasn’t even ranked in the top 10 in a list of the 25 most popular occupations for men or women since 1991, trailing professions such as computer programmers, financial auditors and secondary school teachers.
This is despite the fact that career openings in sales are on the rise. In a report last year called The State of the Canadian Labour Market published by the federal Department of Finance, for example, sales was among the top 10 occupations which have seen growth of five percent or more since the Canadian economy recovered from the last recession. Many companies are eager to attract and nurture sales talent, which they believe is critical to their long-term success.
Part of the problem may be perceptions about what a career in sales is really like. An article in the Wall Street Journal last month cited common illusions that you have to be a “born” sales professional, and clichéd depictions of sales jobs in plays like Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross. It wouldn’t be surprising that Millennials are turned off at the thought of becoming cutthroat, “type A” personalities who are driven solely by numbers.
The reality is a lot different, particularly in business-to-business or corporate sales. Jamie Scarborough, founder of Toronto-based recruiting firm Sales Talent Agency, explained it brilliantly in a recent appearance on Global News’ The Morning Show.
“In business-to-consumer sales, it’s very emotional. You’re selling something that they may not necessarily need but something they may want,” he said. “Corporations only buy something to make them more money or to be more efficient. So if you’re in corporate sales, it’s a different process. You’re more of a problem solver.”
Today’s sales professionals are also not relying solely on their powers of persuasion but have access to a broad range of tools that give them the information they need to understand their customers and prospects better. With the right technology, sales professionals can not only do a better job of listening, but remembering what they’ve heard and acting on it accordingly.
These are some of the reasons Salesforce Canada recently supported The Great Canadian Sales Competition, which drew hundreds of students vying for a chance to win between $500 to $5,000 based on their ability to sell an idea, as well as a dream job. Businesses in this country need to find as many avenues as possible to educate the next generation of sales professionals about the difference they can make in an organization. Even if you never appear on Dragon’s Den, this is one field where you can always become a star.
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Dave Borrelli is the area vice-president of commercial sales at Salesforce Canada.