Turnover rates for corporate sales and customer service roles were much higher than average even before The Great Resignation started last April. (A recent study reported a 34% turnover rate for sales jobs and the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that CSRs under the age of 34 only stay in a role an average of a year. By comparison, the average annual turnover rate across all industries, according to LinkedIn, is 10.9%.)
As the move to remote work made it easier for corporate sales and CS reps to work from anywhere, the job market has become more competitive, and companies are being challenged to rethink their approaches to sourcing and assessing great sales and CS talent.
One talent pool in particular that often gets overlooked for these roles is retail sales managers looking to transition into a role and industry that offers more work-life balance. And considering that The Great Resignation hit the retail industry especially hard, there are more talented retail sales managers either on the market or itching to leave than ever before.
But unfortunately, hiring teams in a corporate environment often discount the experience of retail sales workers out of hand. They assume someone who’s spent their career on a sales floor instead behind a computer doesn’t have the temperament, skill set, or drive needed to succeed—and focus on candidates who already have BDR, SDR, or CSR on their resume instead.
As successful professionals who’ve made the leap from retail into the corporate world will tell you, however, these assumptions underestimate the existing competencies—and high potential–of many retail sales managers.
In this article, three such professionals share their insights about the challenges involved in moving out of retail and into the corporate world–and the ways that hiring teams can more fairly evaluate the potential of this big and varied talent pool.
Meet our experts:
Founder, Recovering Retailer
Former sales manager at Tiffany & Co.
Chief Customer Officer at Luxlock
Former general manager at Burberry
Quality Assurance Manager at VSP Global
Former sales manager at Cricket and Best Buy
Insight #1: Many corporate hiring teams undervalue retail sales experience because they have a limited (and sometimes biased) perception of it
According to Addison Wissel, who worked in luxury retail sales for more than a decade before moving to corporate sales, corporate hiring teams underestimate the amount of strategy and responsibility involved in retail sales, especially at the manager level. Many picture someone standing at the front of a shop floor, having casual conversations with people who wander in, and stop there.
“Actually, in my role we were constantly building relationships and talking with the people who own the businesses we’re selling to” Wissel said. “It’s building clientele, building events, managing a client book, remembering anniversaries, birthdays, texting just to check in. It’s doing constant outreach, and that’s something I had to explain over and over in job interviews.”
Sheryl Salzberg, CCO at Luxlock and former general manager at a Burberry store, notes that, because so many young people work in retail, many hiring managers who’ve worked exclusively in the corporate sector don’t see retail sales as a legitimate, “grown-up” career.
Salzberg struggled with these misconceptions within her own family when her father initially challenged the idea of his college-educated daughter becoming a “shop girl.” What he—and many others—didn’t understand was how much of what Salzberg calls “micro-business management” is involved in the job—constantly tracking KPIs, understanding the target and how to get there, networking and identifying opportunities, and staying on top of the latest product changes.
Christian Buan, Quality Assurance Manager at VSP Global and a longtime sales manager at Cricket and Best Buy, echoed Salzberg’s take.
“There’s definitely still a feeling in the corporate world that somebody coming out of the retail space is less educated, nine times out of ten,” Buan said. (In fact, 61% of retail sales managers have, at minimum, a bachelor’s degree or greater.)
More importantly, Buan says, even if a candidate doesn’t have a college education, it’s wrong to assume that means they’re somehow less qualified for a sales job than someone who does.
“College is a great barometer to see if you can finish something. But many really talented people I used to work with were in retail when they got out of high school and didn’t necessarily have the time to go back to school to get a four-year degree to hopefully get a job that might have a Monday through Friday schedule.”
Insight #2: People coming from retail may not use the same terminology as corporate sales professionals, but that doesn’t mean they’re not familiar with the concepts behind that terminology
While job seekers bear the responsibility to educate themselves on the industry they seek to join, says Buan, hiring managers should keep in mind that being unfamiliar with industry lingo doesn’t mean a candidate isn’t familiar (and highly experienced) with the skill, concept, or methodologies behind the lingo.
“When you talk about scrum and agile and lean methodologies—it’s stuff that you’re taught in a different language in the retail space. You just don’t know it by the same name.”
This language barrier can also lead qualified retail sales managers to be excluded by many resume screening tools, Buan added.
“If it doesn’t see the right keywords and maybe you’re also dealing with a recruiter who’s not taking the time to look over and see exactly what you’re putting down as your history and what your work experience entails, it’s easy to get passed over.”
Insight #3: Many retail sales managers will be highly motivated to succeed and stick around because corporate sales jobs offer a better work-life balance.
All three former retail managers talked about the toll a retail sales schedule can take. While most people with corporate jobs are resting and relaxing during the winter holidays, retail workers are often putting in overtime and missing out on family gatherings.
“This last Thanksgiving and Christmas was my first outside of retail,” said Wissel. “I didn’t even know what to do with myself. We have Thanksgiving and Black Friday off, and we can take PTO for a longer break. There are no blackout dates for Q4. So, if I want to spend time with my family, I actually can, which is new for me.”
After years of trying to find a Monday through Friday job in retail, Buan realized transitioning to a corporate sales position would be the best chance for a more dependable schedule and workload.
“One of the things that anyone working in retail or sales or with retail background wishes they had, once they get to a certain point in life, is a set schedule,” said Buan.
“I was looking for a Monday through Friday opportunity, just like you see on TV. That was the goal. And finally, I was given the opportunity by a company to transition into more of a corporate position.”
Insight #4: Skilled retail sales managers are very likely to already possess the core competencies needed to succeed in a corporate sales or CS role
One way to understand the competencies associated with a job role is to review the job profiles for these roles in O*NET, a database created by the U.S. Department of Labor. (At Wonderlic, we use O*NET data, along with data from millions of LinkedIn and Indeed user profiles, to create our own unique job profiles).
When comparing the top six competencies listed on a retail salesperson job profile and the profiles that align most closely with a corporate sales or customer service representative role, two details are worth noting:
1) All three job profiles share three of the same top four competencies: dependability, cooperation, and integrity. This illustrates how similar the competencies are across these differing roles.
Job requires being reliable, responsible, and dependable, and fulfilling obligations.
Job requires being pleasant with others on the job and displaying a good-natured, cooperative attitude.
Job requires being honest and ethical.
2) The competencies listed as high importance for corporate sales and customer service roles that aren’t listed as high priority for retail sales roles are initiative, stress tolerance, concern for others, and persistence—traits that speak to the higher stakes and more involved prospect or customer interactions often associated with those roles.
Job requires a willingness to take on responsibilities and challenges.
Job requires accepting criticism and dealing calmly and effectively with high-stress situations.
Concern for Others
Job requires being sensitive to others’ needs and feelings and being understanding and helpful on the job.
Job requires persistence in the face of obstacles.
According to our experts, however, though a retail sales representative job profile might not rank these traits as highly, a talented retail sales manager is very likely to have them in abundance.
Initiative in retail sales
Demonstrating initiative can mean many things: being willing to take on new challenges and responsibilities, learn new skills, and anticipate problems before they happen. This trait, says Wissel, is critical to success in retail sales:
“The job requires a drive to constantly learn. In one of the last luxury retail stores I worked at, we had 16 different watch brands. If I wanted to be successful, I needed to find out everything about every watch. That’s knowing how to set every watch that comes in, knowing when the next ones are coming out, the history of each company, the warranty situation in each company, the materials used in the pieces themselves.”
Comparatively, working in corporate sales proved less demanding on that front, Wissel said. “We’re talking about one brand, one history, one goal. Even if we have 50 or 60 different product offerings, that’s it. There’s one thing to learn and two or three direct competitors to learn about. The ability to learn not only translated from retail sales, but my life got a lot easier.”
“The ability to learn not only translated from retail sales, but my life got a lot easier.”
Stress tolerance in retail sales
People with retail experience don’t get enough credit when you talk about handling tough challenges or leading a team, Buan said.
“You have to have the ability to motivate a team of individuals while you have a line of customers yelling at you, screaming at you, people in your face. All of that makes what we deal with most of the time in the corporate world a piece of cake.”
Concern for others in retail sales
Skilled retail sales managers understand how to navigate emotionally charged situations and do so while representing their employer’s brand appropriately, says Salzberg.
“When you work in retail, you deal with so many different emotions, from the customer, from your colleagues, from your managers. Being nimble with your emotions and being able to meet every challenge with grace is something that you learn on the sales floor. You learn to be grounded and deal with objections and you can meet it with grace and with the language of the brand.”
“In retail, you learn to be grounded and deal with objections and you can meet it with grace and with the language of the brand.”
Persistence in retail sales
The resilience people build while working in retail sales is particularly valuable in corporate sales. Wissel explains:
“In a BDR role, you get told ‘no’ all the time on the phone. How are you going to handle that? I’d argue that being told no on the phone is much easier than being told no to your face. If I was told no nine out of 10 times throughout the day to my face in retail, that was a good day. It means I sold something.”
The ability to stay on task and not give up is also a necessary trait for success in retail sales because, at times, you’re working far more than 40 hours a week.
“Anyone who has been through a Christmas in retail knows what it takes,” said Wissel. “I often worked 28-29 days out of 31 in December just to make quota. When managing retail, I was putting in 65-70 hours a week to keep my store above goal. Retail workers are some of the hardest workers I’ve ever encountered.”
Insight #5: Assessing candidates based more on their competencies than their experience is crucial
Wissel and Buan both talked about how difficult it was to make the leap, and how frustrated they felt at not being taken seriously, when they knew they had the skill set to be successful outside of retail.
What it ultimately took was a talent professional willing to weigh their competencies more than their experience and push them through, and a hiring manager who allowed them to make their case during their interview.
“I knew that if I could just get in the room with somebody that I could explain my qualifications,” said Wissel. “Because I had a referral, I did get the opportunity to have an actual interview.”
Also, because of his retail background Buan said he’s definitely more attuned to the high potential of retail sales veterans—a perspective that’s paid big dividends as he’s built out his own teams.
“In my role as a hiring manager, if I get passed a resume that has retail management or retail experience, I’d tell you that about 80% of those who get an interview with me sell me even more on their experience once I get a chance to talk to them,” Buan said.
“If somebody has retail management experience, regardless of whether it’s a big box like Best Buy or a smaller mom-and-pop retail space, once they get in front of somebody they can speak to what they do on a daily basis. And if they’re a good leader, you’ll want to hire them.”
“In my role as a hiring manager, if I get past a resume that has retail management or retail experience, I’d tell you that about 80% of those who get an interview with me sell me even more on their experience once I get a chance to talk to them.”
The corporate sales leaders we spoke with who cut their teeth in the retail space represent a vast, untapped talent market for corporate hiring teams.
Considering the record number of employees leaving retail and service jobs, and the constant need to backfill corporate sales and CS roles, employers should seriously consider prioritizing competencies over experience so they can take full advantage of the talents of candidates coming out of retail who they usually might not give a second look.
To learn more about how to more effectively evaluate candidates for sales and customer support roles (and all your other roles) with pre-employment assessments, sign up for a demo with one of our talent experts today.