Student Perspectives on Sales Careers: Employee Loyalty

ATTRACTING STUDENTS TO SALES POSITIONS

Students

Green-hand recruitment of sales representatives from universities and colleges are known to be a huge asset for any organization that is wishing to build a strong marketing department. This practice can be mutually beneficial to both the students and for the employers. For organizations, green-hand recruitment is highly considered as it gives the company an opportunity to develop loyal sales employees from young and bright minds. For students that are initially graduating from their post-secondary education, sales positions are very good entry-level jobs to develop the skills and knowledge they need to become future managers. However, attracting students to a potential career in sales can be a daunting task for many organizations. There are many reasons that may cause students to avoid pursuing a career within this field or staying with the sales position that they currently hold.

  1. Negative Assumptions About the Job

A majority of students, particularly those that have not had exposure to sales courses, tend to have either neutral or negative assumptions about the sales job itself. According to Karakaya et al. (2011), approximately 58% of university and college students felt that going into selling would be a complete waste of their education. Studies have shown that this majority perceives sales positions to be a particularly high-risk occupation based on the fact that some compensation plans are either fully commission-based or partially commission based.

Another reason that contributes to the negative assumptions that students have about the sales career is based on how expectations were initially formulated within the mind of the student. In a study conducted by Collins et al (2012), it was illustrated that many of the student expectations of salespeople were formulated a variety of factors. First, a student’s own experiences in dealing with a particular sales representative had greatly contributed to their perspective on the sales job itself. Experiences from other family and friends who work within the retail sales area may have imparted some knowledge to the student in regards to the position of a sales representative. Educator opinions within schools play a major part in developing the framework of the sales job in the mind of the students. Baalbaki et al. (2014) states that thorough education about the sales career from educators play a major role in shaping the perspectives of the students as this information is typically a significant asset in the future careers of business students especially. As previously stated, many entry-level positions for students begin at the sales level. The more relevant the information is to their future, the more of an impact it will have on them.

  1. Communication of Sales Opportunities

In the fast-paced and technologically advanced world we live in today, there have emerged many new outlets of communication between parties that hold information. This change had significantly made its mark in the area of marketing, as well. Collins et al. (2012) states that the two main reasons why there is such a significant negative slant on the perspective of sales are based upon messaging and media.

Message is an important consideration point for students because the jobs that are currently being offered to students align very loosely with what their expectations and preferences are. More detail on student preferences in the sales career will be discussed in the next section; however, the main point is that employers are simply not “selling the job” well enough for students to consider it. Employers will need to develop a better understanding of the role models, reference groups, media, educational experiences, and employment experiences of students to ensure that the goals of both the student and employer are aligned properly.

In terms of media, there now exist many new communication channels than ever before. For example, the internet has opened up a massive base for communication in the area of social media and corporate websites. Other than the typical use of flyers, newspaper job ads, and job fairs, employers will need to leverage the use of social media and corporate websites much more in order to establish connections with applicants or with those who may have referrals to the organization.

  1. In-congruent Focus Points Between Students and Employers

Employers tend to be unaware of what the students are really looking for when they enter into a sales position. Although one can argue that each individual may pursue the same career for varying reasons, the major considerations tend to fluctuate around a common few (Handley and Shanka, n.d.). Based on past studies conducted by Weilbaker and Merritt (1992), employers has a tendency to focus on providing new recruits with proper training programs and information about the company’s reputation within the industry. Although this information may allow the new recruit to get a quick start in their career, students essentially do not judge the fit of the occupation with their personal goals based on this. Aspects of the job that are considered to be of importance to students include extraneous factors such as the cost of living, job stress, freedom of creativity, having clear company missions, and the ethical policies of the organization they associate themselves with.

Negatives assumptions, improper communication, and in-congruent goals are ultimately the factors that cause students to avoid pursuing a sales career, or prevent green-hand, graduate sales recruits to maintain a longer tenure within the occupation they are in.

The next few sections will discuss more on what aspects of the sales career are currently of importance to professional sales representatives today. These aspects will then be linked with the major student preferences within the sales career to identify major focus areas that employers should invest resources on. The hopeful result is to ensure that employers can implement changes in their employee packages to nurture long-lasting and effective green-hand recruits to keep the company in a prosperous state.


CURRENT MOTIVATORS FOR SALES REPRESENTATIVES

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Maintaining the loyalty of the employees is one of the company’s key responsibilities. The employees are considered as one of the firm’s key resources due to the intelligence, skills and talents that they have that makes up to the company’s human resources needed in order to properly function. Other than its significance, keeping good employees can have a huge benefit in the company’s financial position. According to the Bruskin study, the average company losses quarter-million dollars annually on account of salesforce turnover. Generally, salesforce turnover is expensive and this can be the result of various reasons; however, it is usually caused by the company’s external environment such as the economic conditions and job security. Salesforce turnover is also a good determination of the employee productivity. This mostly applies to sales because the salesforce expenditure gives an idea if the employee is doing his/her expected tasks and taking good use of the company’s budgeted expenses for servicing the accounts well. Salesforce turnover may be either voluntary or involuntary. Any company would want to reduce its salesforce turnover from the voluntary ones because the employees that voluntarily decide to leave the company are usually the high performing ones because of other opportunities that arise in front of them.

In order to prevent this, companies must establish a sales loyalty program, not only to retain good employees, but to attract potential high performers as well. The following are different suggested approaches that companies can consider in keeping sales loyalty:

  1. Bonuses
  2. Compensation Plans
  3. Length of Sales Training Period
  4. Short Selling Cycle
  5. Offering Salary-Based Pay

The labour economic literature has claimed that bonuses has shown improvement in retention ability of the firm. Throughout studies conducted by Joseph and Kalwani (1992), it was identified that firms with bonus structures closer to the industry average have the highest chance to increase its employees’ length of service.

Compensation is a very common method that companies use to motivate their employees, especially in sales. According to a research study done by the Harvard Business School (n.d.), this plays a significant role in the attraction of high performing sales people as sales occupational demand was shown to have increased significantly due to this. To reiterate, firms that offer labour pay within the industry average helps to encourage high performing employees to maintain or even improve their work ethics and morale.  In regards to the contents of other studies, it was recommended to avoid highly complicated compensation plans with different rules of payments. The main reason for this is because sales representatives usually find ways to manipulate their account sales’ timing and quotas in order to earn a specified reward. In this situation, sales representatives may hinder their potential in reaching the maximum sales performance figures as their focus is fully directed to something other than company performance. Additionally, some organizations have practiced tailoring sales compensation plans to each individual sales representative depending on what motivates them. Some may be inspired to work harder through cash and others through non-cash rewards such as vacation trips or gift cards. Other dimensions of compensation plans revolve around the sales account’s retention or contract term signed, while considering the difficulty of obtaining the project with the respective account.

The length of sales training period also has an effect with employee retention. Sales representatives who are trained well are most likely to stay with the company because they have more confidence with their skills and capabilities. Moreover, a short selling cycle is preferred by most sales representatives because of the quick realization of sale, giving them the satisfaction of accomplishment. When sales realization is done fast, there is a higher chance to service other accounts, and since most sales representatives are paid by commission, they have a chance to earn more money based on this operational system. Many successful sales representatives are motivated by the risk and competition which is why commission based pay has been known as the most effective form of sales labour pay. With that being said however, attention should also be given to salary-based pay as this structure has been identified to have a good correlation with sales representatives’ level of loyalty.


STUDENT PREFERENCES IN SALES POSITIONS

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Studies from various researchers such as Baalbaki et al. (2014), Weilbaker and Merritt (1992), and Handley and Shanka (n.d.) have shown that green-hand student preferences within the sales career revolve around a consistent set of factors such as:

  1. Creativity

Creativity looks at how much the occupation is able to allow the employee to use their own ideas and methods to go about solving a problem. A high level of creativity implies that the job has less rigidity and that the employee is empowered to a certain extent to make their own decisions.

  1. Conformity

Conformity refers to the degree to which a person is willing to adhere to policies. Although students tend to seek out freedom and creativity, they still prefer to have a certain level of consistency within their workplace in order to know what it is they need to do.

  1. Continuous Learning

Continuous learning is an important characteristic that is considered as this allows room for continuous self-improvement on the job. Essentially, learning is a mechanism that allows the employee to attain a sense of achievement, thus feeling fulfilled after working in their occupation.

  1. Materialism 

Materialism refers to the ability to attain personal materialistic needs through hard work. One of the main motivators for sales representatives lies within their compensation plans. Everyone should have the right to be rewarded if they had worked hard and succeeded in the task that they are given.

  1. Self-Confidence

Self-confidence refers to the ability to work independently of constant supervision. This is particularly important because it goes back to the whole idea of empowering employees and allowing them to make important decisions on their own. Taking ownership of a potential issue and working hard to solve it on your own brings a feeling of satisfaction that money cannot buy.

  1. Autonomy

Autonomy refers to the degree in which the job allows the employee to travel and be free from the usual office environment. Most professional sales representatives agree that travelling is a huge part of why they decided to pursue a sales career. The new experiences from travelling and the constant interaction with people provide a sense of excitement to the job compared to working at a desk every day.

Other motivators for a career in sales based off of the views of students can be seen in the table listed below. These findings were derived from the studies of Handley and Shanka (n.d.). It is important to note that these preferences and their respective weightings are not static. Preferences can change over time depending on a person’s life experiences, thus recruiters need to learn to be flexible in their approach to managing these attributes.

Component Matrix


CLOSING THOUGHTS

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Recruiting potential sales representatives from universities and colleges has many advantages to it, with the most prominent being that these recruits will have been trained to have good work ethics, good organizational skills, and be educated enough in the world of business to make feasible decisions on their own if needed. However, it is imperative that managers develop a better understanding of the role models, reference groups, media, educational experience, and employment experiences that these students have been through. The reason for this is because student preferences and attributes tend to change over time, along with their respective importance ratings. Much like that of showing interest in a customer’s needs, recruiters must show an interest in the needs of the student. It is recommended that interviews be flexible so that these fluctuating needs can be consistently met by the recruiter, thus adding more value and motivation to the sales occupation.


References

Baalbaki, S., Black, G., Lee, J., & Sherwood, S. (2014). Attitudes, Opinions, and Characteristics: Creating a Profile of Sales Students. American Journal of Business and Management.

Buckingham, M., & Goodall, A. (2015, April 1). Reinventing Performance Management. Retrieved April 1, 2015.

Chung, D. (2015, April 1). How to Really Motivate Salespeople. Retrieved April 1, 2015.

Coleman. Lynn G. (1989). “Salesforce Turnover Has Managers Wondering Why.” Marketing News 6 (December) 21.

Collins, M., Newberry, R., & Tyler, L. (2012). Recruiting Recent Graduates For Entry Level Sales Positions: Aligning Message And Media With Student Expectations. Journal of Business and Behavioral Sciences, 24(3), 148-160.

Cook, R., & Hartman, T. (1986). Female College Student Interest in a Sales Career: A Comparison. Journal of Personal Selling & Sales Management, 29-34.

Handley, B., & Shanka, T. (n.d.). Motivators for a Career in Sales: Higher Education Australasian Students’ Views.

Honeycutt, E., Ford, J., Swenson, M., & Swinyard, W. (n.d.). Student Preferences for Sales Careers Around the Pacific Rim. Industrial Marketing Management, 27-36.

Joseph, K., & Kalwani, M. (1992). Do Bonus Payments Help Enhance Employee Retention? Kluwer Academic Publishers, 3(4), 331-341.

Karakaya, F., Quigley, C., & Bingham, F. (2011). A Cross-National Investigation of Student Intentions to Pursue a Sales Career. Journal of Marketing Education, 18-27.

Kurland, N. (n.d.). Trust, Accountability, and Sales Agents’ Dueling Loyalties. Business Ethics Quarterly, 289-289.

Roberge, M. (2015, April 1). The Right Way to Use Compensation. Retrieved April 1, 2015.

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