The dearth of the salesmen: A career failing to sell itself

There are 20,000 posts advertised a month, but the job can't shake off its negative image

Cold-calling sales assistants have fast become the bane of many households; many feel that only bankers and politicians outrank them in Britain's "most detested" stakes.

Yet, despite the above-average salary, the high number of vacancies and television shows such as The Apprentice and The Call Centre which often show the occupation's more glamorous side, sales remains an unpopular job choice.

Research released from the business information service Companybook this month showed that nationally there were 17 applicants per sales job in 2013, compared with 23 applicants per job across all other industries. In London, there were even fewer, with an average of 14 applicants per sales job; the average was 24 across other sectors.

The industry remains one of the biggest sectors in the UK with roughly 20,000 posts advertised each month, placing it below only engineering, manufacturing and utilities in the number of vacancies advertised. Sales jobs are also relatively well paid, with an average salary of £27,000.

Despite this, the industry is failing to shake off its negative image. One survey, conducted by the pollsters Gallup in the United States last year, found that car salespeople were one of the least trusted groups. Only 8 per cent of respondents said they felt they were "very trustworthy".

"There is still an enigma around sales," said Ben Turner, director at the Institute of Sales and Marketing Management. "The negative press around the mis-selling of payment protection insurance and energy products makes people think that all sales jobs are of a poor nature. This is of course not the case – a career in sales is one of the most important in an organisation, the most enjoyable and the most lucrative."

Most people's experiences of salespeople involve pushy cold callers, and it is this negative perception that may be preventing people applying for jobs. Sales expert and Sales Trainer of the Year Andy Bounds said: "If you say to someone you are in sales, people are less likely to respond positively because it has negative connotations … we've all been sold things in a way that we haven't liked. But when sales is done well it's a wonderful experience for both parties."

It also seems that career progression, or the lack of it, could be a deterrent. Mr Bounds added: "If you go into accountancy you know how the career will progress. In sales it is not quite as clear. They could market it more as a career than a job 'for now'."

Those in the industry have also complained that the occupation is not valued by the education system, with both secondary and business schools putting little time into teaching the skills and knowledge needed. "In the current A level in business studies, there are over 20 mentions of HR, 25 mentions of marketing and only one of sales," said Mr Turner. "You don't need an HR department if your business doesn't sell anything."

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