Which drivers of change will affect their skills?
Technology is expected to be the key driver of change regarding job tasks and affect sales persons’ skills profiles in various directions. On top of that, the deskilling process5 is recognised as one of the main threats in trade and sale industries.6
The rapid and significant rise in online sales created new job opportunities and enriched the list of skills: skills in line with e- and m-commerce7
will become necessary in some markets, as well as skills relevant to Internet customer support, as an ever-growing part of retail moves to the Internet. At the same time, several jobs in retailing are considered of high risk of automation8
Technology also impacts traditional retailing. Some form of new technology is present in almost every conventional shop. This requires sales workers to gain mastery of a range of technologies and tools, such as food preparation machines; scales; credit card readers; security cameras or self-checkout machines. Additionally, as technology is increasingly present in every facet of the supply chain (browse, order, payment, delivery), sales staff will have to develop or improve their ICT skills, upgrade their informatics literacy, and have better understanding of online channels of distribution, electronic stock records, online product comparison, online retail, electronic payments and product tracking.9
The loss of market share of traditional retailing to e-shopping can be expected to lead to job cuts, especially for shop salespersons, cashiers and ticket clerks. However, face-to-face sales will continue to be important. More than half of UK retailers recognise their workforce’s gaps in customer handling skills.10
Communication skills, problem solving, customer handling, cultural awareness, courtesy, trustworthiness and work ethic are all pivotal in making a difference to customers, and so offer the company a competitive edge, especially in relation to online sales and growing international competition. The growing ageing European population11
will demand that skills such as communication and customer handling are also adjusted to the needs of these consumers, where relevant.
Important changes in consumer demand (such as increasing consumer sophistication) coupled with high competition in online sales also have a toll on skills: sales workforce needs to have adequate facilitation and service skills for customers who are increasingly aware of market possibilities (e.g. in retail trade of ICT goods)12
; or for a particular customer cohort (e.g. older customers with low ICT skills). Sales workers in some online retail companies may need to have enhanced knowledge on product specificities, keep abreast of trends in their product markets that may increasingly cover several regions or countries; and of regulations on consumer protection in different countries. 13
International commerce, both among different companies and within them, and market globalisation continue to grow. Therefore, foreign language capabilities, at least basic knowledge of English, will be pivotal for most sales workers, especially those working in the accommodation and catering subsector.
Growing competition among retailers (online and traditional) is believed to boost employers’ demands for greater productivity of their employees. Research identifies the increased multi-skilling capability demanded among sales workers, as they take on a broader range of roles, from warehousing to sales administration.14 15
Such developments will subsequently amend the respective skill profile.
“Stock up on Strong Communication Technologies. The technologies your sales team implements dictate everything from how accurate their lead information is to how immediately they can follow-up with a prospect. Consider communication tools like advanced voicemail-to-email, which will ensure follow-ups are always in near-real-time. Or, presence and geo-location tools that enable remote, traveling and at-home salespeople to work as efficiently as your in-house players.”
Source: 7 Best Practices of Top-Performing Salespeople, hoovers.com16
Risk of automation: As a part of its Digitalisation and future of work project
, Cedefop estimates the risks of automation
for occupations. The most exposed occupations are those with significant share of tasks that can be automated – operation of specialised technical equipment, routine or non-autonomous tasks – and those with a small reliance on communication, collaboration, critical thinking and customer-serving skills. The risk of automation is further accentuated in occupations where employees report little access to professional training that could help them to cope with labour market changes. Sales workers are reportedly an occupation with low risk of automation.