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As the sales world becomes more disciplined and data-based, the scientific side of selling is growing rapidly, in terms of both importance and the number of people working in the field. When it comes to recruiting STEM grads for sales roles, the best advice for HR teams is to start now. By investing today in the talent that will drive tomorrow’s performance, you can keep your organization ahead of the curve.

US employers are struggling to fill an estimated 2.5 million job openings in STEM and STEM-related occupations, according to the Department of Labor. Earning an average salary of $85,000 per year, graduates with STEM degrees are entering the workforce at a time of peak demand.

With millions of job opportunities in software development, information management, and cybersecurity, why are more and more STEM grads going into sales? And more importantly, what does this mean for HR professionals who need to staff sales teams with the right talent?

Selling: An Art or a Science?

The nature of sales is changing. In the past, industry insiders thought of sales as more art than science. Now, the scales are tipping in the other direction: More and more companies are recognizing that successful selling requires a greater emphasis on the scientific side of the profession

What’s behind this change? Much of it relates to the level of innovation we’re seeing around sales enablement, a cross-functional discipline that improves the effectiveness and efficiency of the sales funnel. When functioning properly, enablement leverages data to develop insights that translate into improved sales performance.

Technology also plays a greater role in sales than ever before. As solution selling evolves, asking good questions is no longer enough. Instead, buyers expect sellers to provide insights and perspectives that help them achieve their most important goals. By converting information into practical, actionable insights, data analytics technology enables sellers to satisfy buyers’ needs and move the needle on deals.

Ultimately, sales is both an art and a science, but going forward, the increasing importance of sales enablement and data-based insights will force sales organizations to reevaluate their priorities and create new opportunities for sellers who embrace the science of sales.

Tomorrow’s Sales Reps Need New Skills

Entering sales is a no-brainer for many STEM grads. According to LinkedIn, data scientists and sales development reps are the second- and third-fastest growing jobs in the US, respectively. For STEM grads, the sales industry offers a strong job market and job security.

While professionals in many fields still worry that advanced technologies will replace them, sales professionals have by and large abandoned that fear. They recognize that technology is rapidly changing their roles in their organizations, and that they will need to manage and utilize data more effectively if they are to succeed in a technology-rich sales environment.

For a long time, sellers relied on emotional intelligence (EQ) to power their performance. Some sales professionals continue to proudly tout EQ as a differentiator, as if it were the only skill needed to succeed today.

Being overly dependent on EQ is a costly mistake, and it will become even more costly in the future. EQ still matters, but sellers now need to rely heavily on cognitive intelligence (IQ) to process data, develop insights, and bundle information to meet buyer needs. Savvy sales organizations recognize this shift and are reshaping sales roles to emphasize IQ skill sets in response. These new roles leverage STEM grads’ expertise and create opportunities for scientific professionals to put their training to good use in a potentially lucrative field.

For HR teams, the shift from EQ to IQ represents a major hurdle in recruiting and retaining a world-class sales team. If the organization can’t secure a sales team fluent in the use of data and technology, it is unlikely that it will be able to achieve peak effectiveness and efficiency. Just as importantly, EQ-heavy sales organizations will find themselves quickly outpaced by competitors that understand the need for STEM skill sets in the sales process.

Byron Matthews is CEO of Miller Heiman Group.



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