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Take Pride in the Profession of Selling

By Deb Calvert (1706 words)
Posted in Sales & Business Development on February 12, 2013

There are (7) comments permalink

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By Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions

Ever notice how often professional sellers will express a certain shame or reluctance in admitting their job title? Someone says “so what do you do?” and the seller responds almost apologetically or sheepishly instead of with pride. And when you ask people “why did you choose a career in selling?” the response is almost always that selling was not their first choice.


Let me play back a recent conversation to illustrate what I mean. This was in a corporate office where I was meeting a slew of people from different parts of the organization. I was trying to sort out who’s who, so I asked about role in addition to name each time I met someone new. The 4th or 5th person I met was Catherine. When I asked “what is your role?” she said “I partner internally and externally to support the business.”


So, a little confused and trying to understand if this was marketing or sales or what, I asked “what is your title?”


Catherine was instantly flustered. She didn’t directly answer my question. She said “Well, uh, I guess you could say I’m the face of the company in the marketplace. Actually, it’s basically a, well, sort of a sales job. I’m trying to get into marketing and this seemed like a good start.”


Before you rush to judgment about Catherine, let me give you a few other illustrations of how we try to mask what we do. Take a look at your job title. Fewer and fewer of them are simply “Sales Manager” or “Sales Rep.” Instead I see all sorts of variations on titles like:


  • Account Development Associate
  • Client Services Specialist
  • Consultant
  • Vice President of Customer Planning
  • Customer Solutions Provider
  • Relationship Engineer
  • Major Account Manager


I’ll bet you could add a few to this list. These are all actual titles, and every one of the people wearing these titles had the primary responsibility of good old-fashioned selling.


Who are we trying to fool? And why? Our job is to sell. There is no need to hide that simple fact. No need to mask or minimize it. There is no shame in selling.


Doctors don’t do this. You don’t see a lot of mumbo jumbo when it comes to the titles that accountants, engineers, attorneys, teachers, mechanics, authors, programmers, analysts, bank tellers, chefs, or people in other professions use. Their job titles are straight-forward and self-explanatory. Why aren’t ours?


We also muddy the waters when it comes to posting job openings, writing job descriptions, and training sales personnel.


Here is a list of responsibilities from an actual job posting. The position is headlined “Direct Selling Professional” and the first paragraph says it is 100% commission pay with an aggressive quota. So I’m certain it’s a sales job. But I’m not sure the responsibilities support that. They are:


  • Develop and execute presentations and product demonstrations
  • Identify and qualify new prospects
  • Conduct need/solutions analysis
  • Represent products that require deep domain knowledge or product knowledge
  • Develop and maintain a database of potential and existing account penetration 
  • Prepare timely and accurate client/account activity summaries and sales forecasts 
  • Provide lead generation where warranted 


If this is the emphasis, then it sounds more like a marketing or customer service job. Why not include “reaching sales targets,” “closing new business,” or something that focuses on selling in the list of responsibilities?


And you know what happens next? The new hire goes into sales training and gets a mixed message about the way to sell. They might hear so much about consultative selling and how to be a consultant to their clients that they begin to think more about serving than they do about selling.  


Please don’t misunderstand what I’m saying. I am a strong advocate for consulting with customers about their needs… But not at the expense of selling. Somehow, our true purpose has been overshadowed by all these other responsibilities and mixed messages. And the underlying message is that there is something wrong with just plain selling.


Nothing could be further from the truth. Take a look at some interesting facts about selling jobs:


In the U.S. alone, over 25 million people have jobs that are primarily focused on selling. It’s a challenge to put an exact number on this because of all the souped-up job titles. But those estimates do not include sales managers and executives and support staff – this number, 25 million people, is the number of inside and outside sales reps.


In Forbes annual list of the best and worst jobs, none of the worst jobs were related to selling. 20% of the best jobs included significant selling responsibilities. Selling is not dangerous, it pays well, it doesn’t require 3rd shift hours or uncomfortable environmental conditions, and it is viewed as white collar work.  Not only that, but it’s one of the few jobs where you get to decide when you get a raise and how often you want to be rewarded because if you sell more, you earn more.


The impact of selling is profound. Selling is the engine of our economy. Selling stimulates product demand. In good times and in bad, sellers connect buyers with products that will meet their needs.


Sure, we get a little annoyed with some sellers and the disruptive approach they take. But consider the alternative. What would happen if there were no people selling anything? No sellers in the stores you visited. No one to answer your questions on a car lot. No food vendors in the stands at baseball games. No one to answer your questions when it came time to upgrade your cell phone. It’s a bleak scenario if you try to imagine doing all the research and gathering all the expertise and doing all the legwork on our own.


The truth is that we need sales people. We like to buy things, and we can’t buy them without sales people. So we need them to be proud of the work they are supposed to be doing.


Fortunately, a lot of people – somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 million -- have sales jobs (no matter what their job titles say). Lucky for them that selling is actually a pretty decent job; one that pays well. And when we pause to think about it, selling is clearly essential to our economy and to individuals who rely heavily on sales people as a course of habit.


When you add it all up, you can begin to see why Sales is a noble profession. It needs to be viewed that way.


Unfortunately, it’s not. Instead, people think of the negative stereotypes when they think about sales people. They duck, dodge and defend themselves against salespeople. They unfairly label sales people with terms like “snake oil salesman,” “shyster,” “con artist,” “shark,” “vulture,” and “fast talker.”


This stigma about selling has some well-founded truths behind it. But we can transcend these perceptions if we sell with integrity. When we balance our customer’s needs with our need to sell, we create high value solutions and honor our profession.


A good starting point, I think, would be to embrace our profession. Of course, many sales professionals take pride in their work and in the career they’ve chosen. But many, many more do not. In an informal survey, I posed the question “Why did you choose a career in selling?” and heard from over 200 sales professionals. Of the responses I received, only 2 – TWO! – said that they deliberately chose this career, that it was their first choice. That’s less than 1% of our peers.


I don’t get it. Why don’t more people choose selling as a profession? Why don’t more colleges have degree programs related to selling? Why don’t high school and post-high school vocational programs teach people how to sell? I cannot think of a single profession that is less represented than selling and yet has 25 million people doing the work!


Here’s a bit of good news. In that same informal survey, nearly 90% of respondents took the opportunity to express the benefits they’ve experienced in the career of selling. They may not have chosen selling, but they’ve come to appreciate it. I hope more of us can do the same and see our noble profession for all that it is.


Can you say something like this about your own experience in selling? If you are focused on the societal stigmas that are attached to selling, you may be missing the nobility of the work you could be doing. If you are in sales because it was forced upon you or it’s a gap job, or you see it only as a stepping stone to something else… perhaps you haven’t given sales a fair chance.


Maybe, just maybe, there’s a lot of upside that you’re taking for granted. Consider shifting your perspective to one that gives credit where it’s due – to the noble profession of selling.


{#/pub/images/DebCalvert.png}Written by Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions

Author of the DISCOVER Questions book series, Deb has worked as a sales productivity specialist and sales researcher since 2000. She is certified as a Master Sales Coach, Master Trainer, and host of CONNECT! an online radio show for selling professionals where listeners ignite their selling power in just an hour.


Do you have a sales question for Deb?  Post it in our Sales Community and she will be happy to help: Ask an Expert


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Here are some related articles you may be interested in:

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ManagingAmericans.com is a community of Business Professionals & Expert Consultants sharing knowledge, success tips and solutions to common job issues.  Our objective is to mentor and develop professionals to be better leaders, managers, team players and individual contributors. Ultimately, helping people succeed in their careers.  


Comments (7)

John Anderson posted on: February 13, 2013

I might have an answer to your question," why are more people not in sales?". I believe because it is hard. Selling takes hard work, humility, perserverance, and some thought, when done right. Most people are not willing to do this because they don't want to get out of thier comfort zone.

Selling is the best job in the world. We have all of the upside and none of the downside, as compared to business owners, investors, or employees. It is like being a business partner with no capital investment. We even get lunch, a car, travel and BONUSES.

I chose this career because I did career day with with my mom, in a laboratory. No thank you. I went to work with my dad, and by 10:30 we had met with 4 people, visited the plant and grabbed breakfast. No office, no cubicals, no overbearing supervision.

I conclude my comments with a similar question "why not be in sales"? I have spent every day since I graduated college selling something and love every minute of it.

John Anderson

John Anderson

Chris Golis posted on: February 17, 2013

In 1972 I was halfway through completing an MBA course at the London Business School. Professor Charles Handy was my tutor. I had just been offered a position with McKinseys in New York. When I told Charles about the offer (certainly the dream job of every MBA student at that time) he advised me to reject it! Instead he suggested I start my post MBA career as a salesperson!!

His reasoning was as follows:

1. Success in business occurs in the one-on-one meetings. That is when you close the deal, get the financing, hire someone, fire someone.
2. MBAs teach you about analysis and decision making, but not how to deal with people one-on-one.
3. The best way learn how to deal with people one-on-one is to become a salesperson.
4. If you do not become good at dealing with people, you do not eat so the incentive to learn is compelling.

I took his advice and believe that it was critical to my later success. When ever asked what to do I tell people this story.

benny tan posted on: February 22, 2013

Nicely done. Interesting that we share similar sentiments Deb. I'm with you on this. Can't help drawing the similarity between this and the blog I wrote in Dec 2012 (http://www.bennyonselling.com/?p=19)

Brian MacIver posted on: April 4, 2013

Great article, and a charming story from Christopher.

Sarah Holcombe posted on: April 4, 2013

I love this article, thanks so much for sharing! Here at Competitive Edge we specialise in getting young people into their first sales role through the Government backed Apprenticeship in Sales. When we undertook some local PR last summer you would not believe some of the comments which came from the public, summing up the negative perception that exists around sales careers in general. We try to combat this every day by communicating our own passion for sales careers and are lucky enough to find some really exceptional young people with all the necessary drive and commitment.

Brian MacIver posted on: April 4, 2013

Sarah you raise a great point 'Criticism about Selling'. I ask "what is it you don't like?" from critics and again and again I uncover what they don't like, is also dysfunctional selling skills.
For example "Snappy" Closers or "Overcoming" Objections in fact their criticism, their justifiable criticism, is that many Salespeople behave in an unprofessional manner.

Would you agree?

On reflection on this, I have concluded, that unprofessional Salespeople are poorly trained. They are not uninformed about Selling they have been misinformed about Selling!
Unprofessional Salespeople have been trained in dysfunctional Selling skills.

It is the big Sales Training Companies, the self-appointed Sales Gurus and Sales Experts who write about, and train, in dysfunctional selling skills who are causing unprofessionalism and attracting criticism about Sales jobs.

What do you think?

Sarah Holcombe posted on: April 4, 2013

Hi Brian,

After receiving your message I revisited the feedback we received and it appears that much of the negativity is based on experience of "low paid door-to-door canvassing or telesales, usually cold calling to promote products very few people want or need".

You are right, of course, that training organisations have a crucial part to play in creating the right "type" of salesperson, but from experience there are many organisations that never even let a sales trainer through their door as their team are "naturals" and don't need training. So sales training organisations can't be entirely to blame surely?!

Whilst I'm sure there are some training organisations out there who don't put the necessary care and attention into their programmes and inadvertantly end up causing unprofessionalism and attracting criticism, I'm pretty confident we - and many others like us - are going to some lengths to promote professionalism and ethical selling.

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