Many manufacturing sales reps are about to age out of the workforce. That’s because a quarter (26%) of industrial workers were over age 50 in 2022, compared to just 14% in 2002, according to The Manufacturing Millennial. And since talent scarcity is a significant challenge for manufacturing, companies have struggled to attract new talent. “Manufacturing jobs are less attractive than alternatives in technology, healthcare and other sectors, says Mark Grimshaw, Senior Client Partner in the Global Sales and Service Practice at Korn Ferry. “Because we have fewer salespeople interested in manufacturing careers, we have fewer people with the training and education needed to fill jobs.”

With retirement around the bend, industrial manufacturing companies need to find new ways to optimize their talent recruitment and retention. That means rethinking the skills required to excel in those roles and investing in technology.

Rethink the selling skills needed for recruiting

Now is the time to recruit new sales team members so they can learn the ropes from today’s best sellers before the salesforce ages out. Many manufacturing businesses are hiring students with degrees in technical fields like engineering, and master’s degrees in business administration.

But technical knowledge and business acumen are just two pieces of the puzzle. To excel in sales, sellers also need soft skills that will help them engage buyers in conversation, elicit important information about deals and build lasting relationships. And the skills needed can often be more nuanced, as different roles demand different skill sets. For example, direct sellers may require different skills than channel sellers.

Jason Allen, Senior Client Partner at Korn Ferry, explained another common question that organizations ask when deciding who to hire for manufacturing sales jobs: technical experts who need to learn sales skills, or sellers who need to learn the product. “My view is that you hire for sales acumen and have a ‘sales engineering team’ that backs up your sellers. By that, I mean they’re the people who sit behind the salespeople, ready to jump in with an explanation of what the product is and why it matters for the client. Just because someone is technically sound doesn’t mean they know how to hunt for business. Depending on the size of a sales organization, I’d find three good hunters and then recruit a technical expert.”

Instead of taking a wholesale approach to hiring, industrial manufacturing companies need to take a forward-looking approach to recruitment. This is done by creating a desired skills inventory for each selling role and defining what “good” looks like. Instead of looking to past results, companies can study your CRM data to figure out what competencies lead to sales success. This data can help to pinpoint the mix of skills that sellers need to succeed within an organization, whether in an individual contributor role or as a sales manager.

As a next step, predictive assessments will help companies understand how potential candidates measure up against the skills needed for a role, helping to build a more well-rounded salesforce. This also ensures a better fit with the sales organization and its culture, which will encourage sellers to stay.

Sales Effectiveness

Break through to immediate, predictable and sustainable sales effectiveness

Give sellers access to technology that takes the friction out of selling

Technology has become the linchpin for improving manufacturing techniques, and sales teams that are more tech-enabled will have a better chance of attracting the next generation of sellers. Allen explains, “When organizations give sellers access to technology and analytics that help them understand their market and prospects, they get better results. Sales enablement technology that is coordinated with the sales process can send the right content to sellers at the point they need it, improving their ability to deliver perspective to buyers and collaborate on solutions.”

Excelling in today’s complicated industrial market requires sellers to have a complement of business development and relationship-building skills, including social selling, empathy, self-motivation and learning agility. With the right technology, sales organizations can deliver learning that reinforces these skills at the point of work in a format tailored to individual preferences and at the precise time that sellers need it.

Start transforming your sales organization today

According to Grimshaw, a key factor in determining how your sales organization should proceed depends on where it lands on the digital maturity curve. It may make sense to start building a foundation for growth with a formal sales methodology backed by sales technology. Or, if you already have the foundation in place, you may need to strengthen your sales training and coaching or your talent acquisition practices. Manufacturers that reinvent their approach to selling — investing more in their people, processes and technology — can position themselves to stand out in today’s crowded global market.

Our consultants can advise you on the right approach to help your sales organization meet your goals. Contact us today.

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