During tough economic times, sales professionals feel pressure from every direction—the pressure to work more hours, dial more calls, discover new leads, close more sales, and make more money…and that's if they're lucky enough to still have a job.
Once considered the "top dog" in the office, sales professionals are among the first to feel the impact of an economic recession. Not only do they become undervalued by employers, but their decreased paycheck quickly starts taking a toll on family life as the economy continues to worsen.
Despite the increased pressure to succeed, it is crucial for sales professionals to maintain a thick skin and do their best not to get discouraged. When it seems like things can't get any worse, a true salesperson shakes it off and makes the conscious decision to increase their work effort, get more creative, and rise above the challenges that a tough economy creates. Those who search for opportunity within the crisis and take a positive approach to their career can emerge from the recession as a true sales professional, one who's attractive to any organization in any economy.
Sales professionals who recently lost their job or are entering the job market for the first time are facing one of the toughest job markets in American history. But while it's true industries across the board—including sales—have fewer job openings than quarters and years past, the sales function is still a business necessity. Despite the recession, the sales industry continued to hire at a steady pace in Q1 2009, ranking as one of the top three industries for jobs in Beyond.com's network of career sites (8.22 percent of all jobs posted).
This statistic would indicate employers are taking advantage of the opportunity to acquire key sales professionals who have the ability to make a strong, positive impact on the business while offering low risk to the company. And with a tremendous amount of qualified talent currently looking for work, this can be a smart time to invest in strengthening the sales force for any company.
Just because employers are still recruiting sales professionals, however, doesn't necessarily mean they're willing to invest heavily in new talent. During these economic conditions, it is common for employers to consider reducing the base pay offered to a recruit, instead increasing the incentive on the commission-based portion of a salary.
In addition, many companies are making the decision to reduce management levels, instead focusing their recruitment efforts on front-line salespeople who can generate revenue while minimizing upfront investment. In Q1, the most desired experience level for sales candidates was less than one year of experience, representing 65.6 percent of all jobs posted to SalesJobs.net (a Beyond.com career community).
With more than two million jobs lost in the first quarter, it's only natural to assume the number of job seekers in the sales industry has increased dramatically. In Q1 2009, SalesJobs.net recognized a 45.6 percent increase in the number of sales professionals searching for a job over the past year. With more candidates competing for fewer jobs, many sales professionals are lowering their salary expectations to make themselves more attractive to potential employers. A 10.88 percent decrease in salary expectations among these job-seekers was noted, compared to salary expectations in Q1 2008.
Although the job market may be suffering as a result of the economy, this is the time for true sales professionals to use creativity and innovation to get noticed by employers. Listed below are several tips job-hunters can use to stand out from the crowd:
Understand motivators. The most successful sales professionals are the ones who truly believe in what they are selling. It takes a special breed of person to continually be rejected and have the motivation to keep pushing forward to land a sale. Sales professionals who identify their motivators early on can position themselves for career success. Every person is motivated by different things; maybe it's a certain industry, or specific product, or possibly a high base salary or uncapped earning potential. Some look for extensive benefits or prefer to find a job with work/life balance.
Before a sales professional starts their job search, they need to understand what type of job and work environment will allow them to thrive and be the most successful in their career. It is important to do their research and understand what industries are still growing, and what types of sales positions are available in this economy.
Take control of the job search. A true salesperson knows leads are not handed to them on a silver platter. Sales professionals who limit themselves to responding only to online job ads could be missing out on many valuable job opportunities. This is the perfect time to put their creative lead sourcing tactics to the test. They should learn who the appropriate hiring contact is within the organization, then use persistence and creativity to capture their attention. Try calling the contact directly or sending a unique package that will make them want to know more. Remember, there are no boundaries to creativity.
Rewrite the rules of the interview. Once a sales professional has their foot in the door with a company, the interview is their time to shine. This is the ultimate sales presentation and the opportunity to show employers what they are worth, which is why it is important to leverage research, ask the right questions, present new ideas for generating revenue and demonstrate value to the potential employer.
It is also critical to practice active listening during an interview. While an interview is the time for sales professionals to demonstrate their skills, the recruiting manager will be watching for signs that the candidate knows how to listen as well as speak. Sales professionals should use the interview to clearly demonstrate why the company can not be without their services and be prepared to present a low-risk plan on how the company can afford to hire one more member of the sales team. The employer doesn't always have to be in control of the interview.
Know when to demonstrate humility. Although possessing confidence is crucial to being a successful sales professional, it is equally as important to know when to demonstrate flexibility—especially when job searching in a down economy. Every company has room for one more good salesperson, but understand job offers during a recession may not be as attractive or high paying as they once were.
Sales professionals should take all job opportunities into consideration and demonstrate a willingness to jump in and make an impact on the business, regardless of whether or not they are overqualified for the position. Employers appreciate workers who are confident in their abilities and are willing to build credibility, earning the right to be promoted when the economy turns around.
When the going gets tough, the tough get going. Although many sales professionals are familiar with this motto, it takes on a whole new meaning during an economic recession. Whether it's closing a sale or landing a job, a true sales professional never lets the economy slow them down and understands that it takes twice as much effort to achieve their goals during a recession.
Those who put their best foot forward and approach this difficult time as a challenging career opportunity will have the best chance of achieving success.
Jim John is the chief operating officer for Beyond.com, a network of niche career communities including SalesJobs.net.