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The Future of Sales: Expect Sales Jobs to Return, but with New Ways of Working

Expect sales employment to increase in 2021 and 2022 in the US and Canada as vaccinations increase and immunization spreads. Like most job roles, sales hiring declined sharply during the pandemic. However, selling is a vital role for all organizations and, as growth strengthens over the quarters ahead, expect sales employment growth to strengthen as well. But, be aware, selling will very likely change in important ways with less travel, less face-to-face engagement, and more skill improvement and training required.

At the end of February 2021, job posts from Burning Glass Technologies for open sales roles in the US were almost 17% lower than the year earlier, and 38% lower in Canada. Selling has not been any more victimized than any other job role or profession. In the US, job posts across the entire work force were down 14% over the past year and down 25% in Canada.

Sales Roles Return but with New Ways of Working

While millions of US and Canadian jobs have been wiped out by the pandemic, only some have returned, and others might never return. In the US, for example, 20 million jobs were lost last spring at the onset of the pandemic. Over the second half of the year, the employment gap was cut in half as 10 million jobs returned. However, work is shifting as the restaurant, hospitality, travel, and other industries will very likely shrink for a sustained period. Many who lost work will need to find opportunities in new roles. In a recent Pew Research Center study, 67% of those without jobs said that have seriously considering changing occupations or industries.

By contrast, sales roles continue to be vital to business success. As growth returns, the need for sellers will increase in lockstep. However, sellers will want to be prepared to watch for opportunities in new and different industries as demand shifts and economies transform. New growth areas are likely to emerge.

In addition, new ways of working are expected. Microsoft founder and philanthropist Bill Gates has suggested that 50% of business travel and 30% of “days in the office” would go away forever. In a report last month, the McKinsey Global Institute found that 20% of business travel will not come back and about 20% of workers could end up working from home indefinitely. However, most workers prefer a hybrid model, spending some time working from home and sometime in the office. In the case of the selling profession, some time will also be spent on the road.

Automation Also Changes Sales Roles

While automation is accelerating in the pandemic, few sales jobs will be eliminated, especially in a business-to-business context. In the retail setting, the outlook for sales employment is much less positive. However, in financial services, insurance, technology, manufacturing, healthcare, and other service industries demand for sellers will continue to be strong. Despite the positive outlook, new tasks will be required and, thus, new skills needed.

Automation tools to structure sales territories, set quotas, access opportunity health, and predict opportunity outcomes are rapidly improving. In addition, in the period ahead, both customers and sellers will be able to track engagement from sales lead all the way through to delivery. Such innovations will reduce the administrative burden on sellers but place a premium on the ability to build client relationships, deepen industry knowledge, and importantly learn how to gain benefit and insight from sophisticated analytic tools.

After a very tough and painful for year for many, the outlook for employment, health, and safety looks much better for 2021 and beyond. However, as health returns, expect a new way of working and a new and transformed world.

This is the second blog in my “The Future of” series, which leverages data from Burning Glass Technologies. Be sure to read the first blog in the series, “The Future of Sales: How Selling Is Changing and What to Do About It.”