Where Are All the Sales Professionals?

salespeople shaking hands business

Rant time — I’ve been leading sales teams, directly and indirectly, for close to 15 years now, and I’ve been fortunate to hire a lot of salespeople. I have made many mistakes, learned a ton and I continue to learn more every day.

However, here’s my problem: There are way too many salespeople and way too few sales professionals. In my experience, 99% of all salespeople are just that, salespeople. Not sales professionals. The distinction seems irrelevant; it isn’t, and it’s been giving the profession of sales a bad rap since the beginning of time.

From here forward, I want to coin the term “sales professional” (as I wonder aloud if I can trademark that). What is a sales professional? It’s someone who treats their chosen profession of sales with the same level of rigor and discipline that we associate with other professionals — electricians, doctors, plumbers, astronauts, lawyers, architects, and so on.

Too many have fallen into being salespeople as if the profession wasn’t an aspirational goal for them. It was something they apathetically ended up in, and they treat it as such, souring the reputation of the true sales professionals out there.

When you ask people about their journey into sales, their stories’ theme always ends up in some version of having landed here accidentally. Someone once told them they were outgoing and they would be great in sales. They couldn’t get a job in their degree field out of college, so they took a sales role, and yada-yada here they are 15 years later. My personal favorite: They worked as a tech, designer, installer, programmer and watched enviously for years as the salespeople made “all the money,” and they figured it was so easy that they could do that too.

Here’s my question: Would you go to a doctor who got their degree 40 years ago and hasn’t learned a thing since then? Probably not, and if you did, you’d likely get medical advice along the lines of “a couple of cigarettes a day is good for you.” Would you hire an electrician who got their certification 30 years ago but hasn’t kept abreast of the developments in their chosen profession? Probably not, and if you did, your new house might have aluminum wire installed. Would you hire an architect who still drafted everything with pencil and paper? I think you get my point.

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A sales professional should be committed to and invested in learning about the art and science of sales. It’s incredible how research has informed sales methodologies and how much sales theories have changed just in the past 20 years. Remember when the prevailing theory was sales should be focused on features and benefits? Or when the sales were purely about contact metrics (# of dials = # of meetings = # of quotes = sales)?

One of the questions I ask sales candidates is to tell me what they do every week to become better sales professionals. Here’s what I’m listening for: Do they read? If so, what? What did they take away from it? What did they do to implement it? Do they consume podcasts? Blog posts? Audiobooks? There is a ton of information out there that’s readily available and free. The sad part is that 99% of candidates don’t do anything. Most try to impress me with their AV industry training and certifications. Yes, manufacturer product knowledge training is essential. However, that knowledge isn’t what makes you a sales professional.

On the teams I lead, we instill a culture of commitment to being better; for salespeople, that’s a commitment to becoming sales professionals. Every week, I ask everyone to share with the team what they did to learn and their takeaways from it. The top sales professionals have a knack for making it look easy (a duck appearing still on the water, as they say), and they should be the highest-paid people in the company. To most others, this seems unfair, “what they do is so easy,” they say. It isn’t — the best have a lifetime commitment to the art and science of sales — that’s what makes it look easy and accessible to us outsiders.

If you’re a valid sales professional, congratulations and, please come find me; I want you. If you’re self-aware enough to realize you’re a salesperson right now and you want to become a sales professional, come find me too. Self-awareness is the first step on the path to becoming better. I want a world where sales professionals are held in the same regard as other professionals; they deserve to be.