Startups must reevaluate how they hire and develop talent

If you’re still thinking of a four-year degree as a requirement for your revenue teams, you’re missing out on a huge talent base.

The reality is that when it comes to sales, the vast majority of the skills and knowledge one needs to be successful are learned on the job. There’s no such thing as a degree in sales, because the formal education system has overlooked this critical area. So why would we think that a diploma is so necessary?

Instead, my biggest recommendation to business leaders seeking to secure top talent is to think differently — look for the personalities and skill sets that are going to work best for your team and focus on upskilling through learning on the job. This will reward you with the strongest, most successful revenue teams in the industry.

The end of the four-year degree precondition

There will always be careers where a degree is necessary. However, hiring managers are increasingly realizing that when it comes to revenue teams, some assets are more valuable than a four-year education.

The educational system for sales learning is broken, and we must fix it.

In fact, more than eight of 10 hiring managers in the U.S. believe that sales professionals are largely trained on the job, according to research by Sales Impact Academy (SIA). Nearly all (95%) wished more sales candidates came to the market with stronger specialized training versus a generic four-year degree.

As talent shortages loom in the wake of the Great Resignation, reconsider your job postings. If you still have a bachelor’s degree as a requirement for sales development rep roles, ask yourself why? Is it because you feel those applicants are better suited to the job? Or is it because this is just the way it has always been?

The educational system for sales learning is broken, and we must fix it.

If you truly feel candidates with a degree come to the table better equipped for the role, then great! You don’t need to change a thing. But if your experience tells you that graduates still require hours and hours of training, then there’s no need to maintain the status quo.

Your talent pool will triple in size when you shift focus away from a degree requirement. In fact, you will see more employees who are excited at the path to a lucrative sales career.

Diversity, equity and inclusion is more important than ever to a business’ success. More than half of consumers would rather buy from a brand that reflects their personality, per research from Forrester, meaning you must have a sales team that reflects all of your customer bases. In addition, over three-fifths of sales leaders felt that diversity within their sales teams contributed to overall success.

When you do away with the four-year degree requirement, you will also create a more diverse group of sales reps who have varied backgrounds and experiences.

The next step?

We know that skills are more valuable than a piece of paper when it comes to a team member who can help drive revenue results. We also know that the scales are tilted deeply in favor of the advantaged.

Everyone deserves equal access to education and the right resources to be successful. Leaders now must focus on finding these employees and setting up an internal structure and learning program that will create the fastest path to success.

Luckily, we now have some incredible philanthropic organizations that are solely focused on creating a baseline of skills for this new workforce and connecting them with the top enterprises out there.

The Salesforce Foundation is one great example. This foundation works to help young people from marginalized backgrounds access workforce development and career readiness programs. And here at SIA, we have the SIA Foundation, which specifically focuses on free access to skills development for people across the U.S. and globally.

If you have ever worked in sales, or have a sales team within your organization, you know what a great career it is. Often, these roles start with a strong base salary and great performers can quickly look forward to six-figure salaries and endless potential for growth. There are millions out there who would love the opportunity to embark on this journey — they just need the right door to open.

With our industry desperate for new skilled talent, it’s time to take another look at the way we hire, what we require and how we equip our sales teams with the skills they need. The companies that embrace this sooner are the ones that will inevitably see the greatest success and growth.