I won’t flesh out the image of the brash, pushy stereotype that probably pops into your head whenever you read the word ‘sales.’ Rehashing the cliché has become almost as much of a cliché as the cliché itself. Still, it’s fair to say that this quintessentially ‘80s perception – when a sales business probably wouldn’t have been the most productive environment for anyone with an aversion to a work-hard-play-hard lifestyle – has carried through unscathed from Duran Duran to Drake.
But there’s been a calming of the culture. When the global economy took a tumble in 2008, the champagne days were over for many sales businesses, from banking to recruitment. More than almost any other profession, the fortunes of sales are closely tied to those of the wider economy. As a result, companies had to start again, their old school culture eroded by downsizing and their hard-sell softened by hard-up clients. It’s not all Wolf of Wall Street anymore. A new era has emerged.
The outdated sales stereotype has also been altered somewhat by the advance of technology and big data. In this time of information, when the downturn is still fresh enough in the memory to keep businesses cautious, clients want to see potential ROI, market intelligence, and almost a guaranteed outcome before they complete the sale. It’s no longer enough for salespeople just to talk the talk. They need to understand what they’re selling implicitly so they can demonstrate that ROI and their expertise, so the client will choose them over the countless alternatives.
In fact, many salespeople are industry experts with a deep understanding of both their sector and the economy as a whole. Recruiters, for example, are often educated or have worked in the industry for which they recruit and been through a comprehensive training programme, meaning they have an understanding of the roles they’re hiring, how to match those roles with the right people and how to match the right people with the right employers.
This is particularly the case for technology recruiters, and we’re very proud that our team are brighter than the buttons on their keyboards. An estate agent probably can’t build a house. A UX recruiter probably knows their way around a website, and our specialist UX recruiters go one step even further, engaging with their candidates on intricate details of their projects, contributing to meet-ups and attending industry-wide events.
Yes, a recruiter still needs the eye for an opportunity and the determination to pursue it. They still need the self-confidence to view rejection not as a sign that they’re a failure, but as an opportunity for success; the solution often lies within the problem. They need the perseverance and the patience to spend hours on the phone. They need to be adaptable and resilient when the goalposts move. And yes, they do get commission but only if they have achieved a successful outcome for the candidate and the client.
But these days, there’s more to it than the quest for a quick few quid. They need to be able to consult, to advise and to guide. They need to be a relationship builder, a people-person with the sensitivity and empathy to understand their customers’ needs and the versatility to deal with different kinds of characters. And yes, I did use the word ‘sensitivity’ in relation to salespeople.
Sales by its very nature is target-driven, which can mean self-motivation, a sharp eye and long hours when your workload requires it. But sales doesn’t have to equate to exhaustion or mental grit. In fact, with the right support and encouragement – whether that be flexible working to accommodate working parents or fitness fanatics, a strong team ethic or a watertight training and mentoring programme – a career in sales can bring stability and control; not quite the traits you’d associate with an afternoon with Jordan Belfort in the 80’s.
At the risk of reinforcing gender stereotypes, mob masculinity or femininity is often self-perpetuating. Many marketing recruitment companies are predominantly female, just as many financial and technology recruitment businesses are largely male-orientated. Are recruitment consultancies just a reflection of their markets? If this is the case, it’s just an indication of the work that needs to be done. If we can hold the mirror to nature and mobilise our industry to take steps to redress the balance, then we’re certainly doing our bit.
No, it’s not for everyone – in the same way that no job is for everyone. But as recruiters, we need to make sure our industry is at the very least open to everyone. And on that score, there’s certainly a long way to go before we achieve genuine gender equality in recruitment. If you’d like to find out more about our working environment or about the work we’re doing to promote equality in the industry, please speak to one of our consultants. Not that I want to sound pushy...