The world and beyond – Surviving in the economic jungle

Advice, tips and tricks on how to engage with the UK jobs market and commercial environment, from a female executive's perspective

Can sales people really be professional?

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Over the past few years, I have increasingly developed a resistance to the word “sales”.

 I know this seems a bit odd, given that I am a Specialist Sales Recruiter and for the past few years have made a living from this very vibrant industry.

 However, it irks me that the word has gained so many negative connotations and that there are so many paradigms associated with it.

As soon as you mention that you are involved in sales, the immediate assumption is always that old stereotype of the fast talking, money hungry salesman who will sell his own mother if it meant that there was a profit involved. And dare I say that TV shows like The Apprentice and Only Fools and Horses (Delboy being the quintessential stereotype!) don’t do much to improve that view.

The problem is that we have a very limited range of words in the English language to specifically describe exactly what KIND of sales we are involved in. In fact, it is the product and route to market that defines the HOW and WHY of the sales process involved to bring any product to market. This is what particularly defines the role of the sales person.

And there’s the rub: “Sales” can describe anything from the simple yet annoying door knocking tactics of the energy companies to the very complex process of commercially developing and delivering an aircraft turbine engine, and everything beyond that.

Clearly, a Door Knocker is going to have a different skill set and remuneration package to an Aircraft Turbine Sales Engineer. But because the Door Knocker is visible interrupting meal times and disturbing peaceful  evenings, that is where the paradigm sticks. Because not many people have to deal with buying or selling aircraft components so they lack the frame of reference to change their opinion.

Not that I have anything against Door Knockers – In fact, they perform a highly important commercial role in that they give us choice, and a convenient one at that, on our own front door step. Indeed, this is true for the entire sales profession: It’s about providing choice and solutions to customers, thereby generating profitable turnover. In turn, this keeps the wheels of the economy turning.

With the increasing departure of manufacturing to lower cost countries, the UK remains a highly desirable component of the world’s distribution network. A lot of manufacturing has now gone, but the need for services, equipment and distribution of consumables and products, whether technical or otherwise, has remained the same. This demands a particular commercial presence in-country to facilitate the commercial management of these relationships: Sales and the Supply Chain is still here and going as strongly as ever, regardless of the credit crunch or other factors. Because, in order to survive recessions and other economic challenges, companies have to continue selling what they have to offer in order to remain liquid and profitable.

So without sales people who make the all important first contact with potential buyers, and then facilitate the buying process to a successful conclusion, no organisation will continue to exist. Those that survived the recession, I’m confident to guess, would be the ones who had sound sales strategies in place and teams committed to deliver those strategies.

In my book, this makes sales a crucial and non-negotiable component in any business. And as customer expectations and buying patterns become increasingly sophisticated, the demand for highly qualified, talented and dynamic sales people will keep increasing. Because companies who want to be the best have to employ the best in order to achieve this objective.

The one thing that has remained consistent throughout is the definition of the successful sales person: Well educated, a specialist in his/her product field, he/she has a high degree of emotional intelligence and balances this with an equal measure of interpersonal ability and communication skills. They display exceptional listening and facilitation skills, a high degree of empathy and the ability to formulate solutions to problems very quickly and simply. They are financially competent and commercially aware, understanding the need for profitability whilst retaining trust and loyalty. They also possess a high degree of ethics, respect and stewardship. In some industries, all these skills sit alongside a high degree of technical or engineering ability, depending on the particular product or service on offer.

Not all sales people are professional – There are many who do not rise to the challenge, disappoint their clients and employers, become over-involved in competition and lose sight of their own true value. But those who do step up, take ownership and deliver for both their employer and clients enjoy success and achievement.

There might not be a recognized qualification in existence labeled “Professional Sales Person”. But then, since when did gaining a qualification actually define professionalism? Even in those professions where there are defined parameters (E.g Finance or Legal) gaining the qualification does not guarantee success nor professionalism in the true sense of the word.

I know a very large number of highly successful and well-respected people who have made it to the top of their sales career through hard work, integrity, objective decision making and service excellence. And if that isn’t professionalism, then I don’t know what is!


Written by Cathy Richardson

June 17, 2011 at 11:18 am

Posted in Recruitment

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