Scott Stirrett is founder and executive director of Venture for Canada, a not-for-profit that connects top Canadian university graduates to work at startups.
Supporting, developing and training more Canadians to be great salespeople is an essential and underappreciated component of expanding the Canadian economy. It’s also an area where our country has room for improvement. In recent reports, both the Lazaridis Institute and the Ontario Chamber of Commerce found that Canada lacks expertise in sales.
Indeed, the majority of the Canadian population would benefit from further sales training and support – in almost any role, one must persuade others to buy into a vision, project or initiative. According to a recent Harvard Business Review article, more than 50 per cent of graduates will be in such sales-focused positions at some point in their careers.
With that in mind, sales is particularly important in building companies, with entrepreneurs constantly pressed to sell investors, customers and potential employees. While Canada is great at producing many small startups, we face challenges at scaling companies. To develop more Hootsuites, Shopifys and OpenTexts, we must develop more talented individuals who are skilled at selling. With the provincial and federal governments looking into how we can better scale Canadian companies, it is essential that strategies for developing more sales talent are part of the conversation.
Most postsecondary institutions offer minimal formal education in the field, and so to address that shortage Canada needs to provide more encouragement, training and support for recent graduates to pursue careers in sales. There are some excellent programs and courses available (such as those run by our partners at the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University), but more needs to be done across the country to embed sales into secondary and postsecondary curriculums. All disciplines, including the sciences and humanities, should be thinking about equipping their students with the essential sales skills that are needed in the work force.
Beyond more sales training, we also need to refrain from furthering the negative image of the “used-car salesman,” and instead recognize the importance and value of sales, encouraging more of our most promising youth to become the great salespeople of tomorrow. We need to turn the image of the seedy salesperson on its head, and replace it with one of the change agent working to tackle complex problems through mobilizing and engaging others.
At Venture for Canada, I have seen firsthand the lack of sales skills in the Canadian economy. Nearly 40 per cent of the positions startups ask us to help fill are in sales. We need to do more to give young Canadians the sales training they need to succeed, as well as to promote a culture shift in which being a salesperson is viewed as an honourable, creative and important profession.
As Daniel Pink wrote in his bestseller To Sell Is Human, selling is an essential aspect of the human condition, something we should embrace, rather than stigmatize. We need to be a nation of salespeople, and to be unabashed about promoting our country, products and people all over the world. Providing further training and encouragement for Canadians to refine and develop their sales skills would yield significant benefit for our society, from helping our startups to scale up, to empowering our next generation of social innovators.