Sales

Sales Professionalism: Why Does It Matter?

As we’ve seen so far in this series, sales professionals set themselves apart because of what they know, what they care about, and what they do. It’s hard work to reach this level of performance and expectation, and it’s even harder to maintain it consistently, so the obvious question is: why should anyone do it? If you can make a comfortable living without so much exertion why do it? (I know a guy who used to be a very successful fax machine salesman, sale back in the days when they were the hot technology. When his company floated the idea of a four-day workweek, he was against it—he said the job wasn’t worth working an extra day!)

I’ll tell you what’s in it for you, but first let’s see what sales professionalism means to your employer and to your customers. The level of professionalism of its sales force is a key component of any company’s brand. Your company spends millions of dollars to bolster, polish and protect its brand, which is in effect its reputation and a major reason customers do business with it and not the competition. In spite of all the money spent on advertising and image, and in ensuring that the product delivers quality and value, one of the most salient features of the customer experience is their contacts with the salesperson. Trust takes a long time to build and an instant to destroy. The professionalism of the sales force is the most reliable guard to protect a company’s image and its customer base. Surveys across a wide variety of industries indicate that the number one reason that customers drop a supplier is the way they are treated by the salesperson.

Sales management also benefits from professionalism: professionals can be counted on to produce results and do the right thing with very little supervision. They are self-motivated and driven, and as a matter of pride and self-respect can be counted on to make proper and decisions without someone looking over their shoulder. And, when a sales professional is surrounded by others, it raises the level of expectations and performance for everyone and in effect becomes self-policing. Professionalism is also self-motivating. In a previous post, I wrote about the power of identity in driving motivation and performance—it’s stronger than rules, supervision, and even incentive plans. Professionals don’t need frequent Win One for the Gipper speeches to pump them up; they just quietly get on with the job.

What’s in it for the customer? Sales professionals save them time and set their minds at ease. They do a lot of their work for them, because they bring the best information and ideas about how to improve their business within their specialty, they don’t waste their time, and they therefore free up resources to let them concentrate on their own core competencies. I have a very analytic friend who can spend hours researching and poring over product reports for even minor purchases. His billable time is pretty expensive, so I wonder how much better off he would be if he could just call someone he trusts and take their advice!

So, what’s in it for you, as a sales professional? Only two things: profit and pride.

Let’s get the commercial reasons on the table first: True sales professionals are rare in most industries, and quickly become known throughout the industry. Even in tough times, companies hold on to them and other companies seek them out. Professionals are trusted, and trust is a lubricant that reduces friction in transactions and relationships. Because sales professionals have deeper, more trusting relationships with their buyers, they can significantly shorten sales cycles and increase their closing rates. In addition, their professional behavior and approach earns them the right to sell at higher levels, which also shortens sales cycles and gets them more closely involved with their customers’ future plans. As trusted advisors, their customers sing their praises, and referrals come rolling in.

Pride and self-respect. Years ago, a good friend who was an Army officer asked me what salespeople contribute to society. After all, soldiers protect us, doctors keep us healthy, lawyers keep the wheels of justice turning, but what do salespeople do other than push unnecessary products on a materialistic society? I didn’t have a good answer then, and the question nagged at my consciousness for a long time. After working with some top sales professionals for the past fifteen years (and many more who will never aspire to that title), I believe the answer is now very clear to me: sales professionals are the catalysts of a healthy and productive economy.

They spread innovation and improve business in countless ways. Ralph Waldo Emerson was wrong: the world will not beat a path to your door because you invented a better mousetrap; innovations do not contribute to society until customers adopt them, and it usually takes a salesperson to create the path and show the way. In two recent books, Matt Ridley and Steven Johnson tell us that innovation happens when ideas meet and combine to form new ideas; in this regard, salespeople are like bees spreading pollen from one flower to another, as they ceaselessly search for customers to adopt their ideas.

When salespeople act professionally, they improve their customers’ businesses and their lives in some way, and those innumerable small improvements, multiplied many times over by dedicated sales professionals, are what make businesses more competitive, keep the factories busy, the trucks running, and people working. That’s a contribution that anyone can be proud of.

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Finding a Passion for Selling
September 26, 2014

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