By Steve Jagler Special to Published Mar 30, 2007 at 9:11 AM

Sales representative is the hardest-to-fill job for U.S. employers, according to a new survey unveiled this week by Glendale-based Manpower Inc.

Coincidentally, Small Business Times had instinctively been conducting research on that very premise for the past two weeks. The result is a cover report headlined, “Dearth of a Salesman,” in the new issue of SBT, which hits the newsstands today.

The reasons for the sales rep shortage are many, including: a secondary educational system that does not prepare its students for careers in sales and ignores or is unaware of the realities of this shortage; and unfavorable but often misguided perceptions about sales as a profession.

After all, the new generation entering the workforce today is more accustomed to pointing, clicking and buying, rather than dealing with an actual human being on the other end of the transaction.

The shortage is so severe in the Milwaukee area that some businesses told SBT they often don’t receive any applicants from their classified ads for sales jobs.

Unfortunately for employers, as the baby boomers fade into retirement, to be succeeded by a much smaller generation, the shortage of competent sales reps is likely to become more severe.

Experts say salespeople are divided into two categories: “farmers,” who are capable of selling to existing clients; and “hunters,” who are more skilled and bring in new revenue from new clients.

Naturally, those “hunters” are most in demand by employers. However, “hunters” are seldom found through classified ads. They are often richly rewarded and are thus content to stay at their jobs, or they are recruited away with better offers by clients of their current employers.

And the revolving doors continue, leaving employers exasperated and puzzled. They say that many young people don’t understand that an effective, hard-working sales rep at many companies can quickly work their way to six-figure salaries much sooner than college grads with degrees in business administration who are trying to climb junior executive ladders in large corporations.

Experts say some strategies can help employers attract and retain top sales reps, including cutting down on the paperwork and minutia, providing structure and guidance for new hires, offering creative incentives and, of course, better compensation.

It’s a pure supply-and-demand equation. However, for the foreseeable future, the “hunters” will be the “hunted.”

Steve Jagler Special to

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes in Milwaukee and is past president of the Milwaukee Press Club. BizTimes provides news and operational insight for the owners and managers of privately held companies throughout southeastern Wisconsin.

Steve has won several journalism awards as a reporter, a columnist and an editor. He is a graduate of the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

When he is not pursuing the news, Steve enjoys spending time with his wife, Kristi, and their two sons, Justin and James. Steve can be reached at