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Bridging sales-talent gap requires change in mindset

Founder and CEO, Top Hat.

Sponsor, The Great Canadian Sales Competition.

The Canadian ecosystem has grown incredibly over the past five to 10 years, especially in the tech sector, where we're increasingly seeing game-changing innovations and international interest from investors.

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In fact, 2017 was a record year for investment in Canadian tech, with a total amount of funding reaching $2.7-billion and the average deal size spiking by 31 per cent from 2016.

However, we're also experiencing a serious shortage in young sales talent – potentially becoming a significant barrier to long-term growth.

Despite the fact that career openings in sales are on the rise, it continues to be ranked as one of the most difficult jobs to place. According to Manpower Group's annual Talent Shortage Survey, sales ranked in the top-five hardest jobs to fill in Canada in 2016. And among the 10 broad occupational categories, sales and service occupations had the largest number of job vacancies in 2016, according to Workopolis.

Sales positions in technology companies are not being filled, largely because young people either have negative misconceptions, lack of understanding of where a career in sales can lead or both.

Most people think of consumer sales (such as door-to-door, car sales) when they think of sales, but in the corporate world, it's more about educating clients and solving real business problems. Everything falls to sales and it represents one of the most highly respected areas within the business. It also offers great opportunity for growth with fast career progression potential for top performers.

It is clear that there is a gap in the market between the jobs that are in demand and those that are sought after among graduates. To foster change and bridge the gap, we need to start by changing the perception of a career in sales.

Programs such as The Great Canadian Sales Competition are working to do just that.

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It's a unique program that educates students about a profession in sales and connects new graduates with companies looking to hire and invest in young talent. It's all done through a fun and interactive sales pitch competition.

When graduates can learn, network and see first-hand what a career in sales is all about, it eliminates the negative misconceptions that can be associated with the field and opens their eyes to opportunities they may not have previously considered.

In fact, according to The Great Canadian Sales Competition's Annual Perception of Sales Survey, only 11 per cent of students considered a career in sales prior to participating in the program. That number rose to 90 per cent after going through the competition and learning more about the industry from today's leaders.

Beyond career opportunity, to bridge the gap we need to look at sales as a life skill and encourage more universities and colleges to integrate selling into their curriculum.

Selling is core to everything we do in the work force, and it's an important skill for new graduates to have and continue to develop. On a day-to-day basis, whether you are an intern or an executive, we all sell. It's about teaching students the relevant skills that are going to make them job ready when they graduate.

Many companies are taking ownership of this issue internally, setting up in-house training programs to fill the skills gap and help transition new hires. At Top Hat, we're investing in the next generation of tech sales leaders by providing them with the training and opportunities that will not only benefit them in their sales careers, but will also set them up for a career in senior management and leadership roles.

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We're offering a comprehensive two-year sales training program called Top Hat Sales University, which is aimed at new graduates and candidates with 0-2 years of sales experience. This program covers the fundamentals of sales, and training focuses on everything from building rapport and credibility, prospecting and pipeline management, to closing tactics, and negotiation and leadership skills. It also doesn't hurt that, upon completion, graduates will receive a certificate and up to two months of paid leave.

If we can educate students on the opportunity a career in sales affords, we can change the mindset and begin to bridge the gap. By investing in young talent, Canadian companies can start to address this major business challenge.

Executives, educators and human resources experts contribute to the ongoing Leadership Lab series.

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