Question : What do Lawyers, Pilots, Physiotherapists and Doctors all have in common?
Answer : They all undertake significant training and development to become professionals in their chosen field.
The same generally applies to joiners, plumbers, electricians, astro-physicists and just about any other area of expertise.
So what about Sales people?
Most of the Sales people I know are self-made (myself included). They start on the phones, or as a Sales junior. They work their way through into an area they choose to be in, whether that’s
- in a call centre or inbound sales
- a customer facing role
- becoming a Sales Manager or even Director
And during all that time, they will be doing most of their learning on the job, on their own. Because generally, the selection process in any Sales role has nothing to do with your skills and qualifications, and everything to do with whether you can “talk the talk”.
I say this is a very bad way to select your Sales people.
Because what it says to everyone involved is that Sales isn’t a viable career option, and it isn’t a vocation: it’s something you “just fall into”.
I believe Sales is a career option, and it is a vocation. That’s why I always aim to make my teams feel proud of what they do, and to behave like the professionals they are.
What separates a Sales Professional From the Rest?
Let’s use Sport as our analogy. What separates a professional Sports person from an amateur?
In essence, a professional Sports person gets paid to do what they do, as opposed to doing it as a hobby/just for fun.
But dig a little deeper, and you find that a professional Sportsperson is paid because they are the best at what they do. This means they invest their time in practice, coaching and training. They receive ongoing development to make them continually better at their game or event. They are invested in, because they are an asset to the club or team that pays them.
A footballer may spend literally days on a training pitch in front of the goal, ensuring their muscle memory is correct when taking a particular free kick, penalty or shot. The same should be true in Sales.
You should spend your time developing and working on your pitch, researching your client, improving your telephone manner.
I continually go on training courses and read good quality resources, to constantly hone my skills. To use a phrase from Covey’s “7 Habits of Highly Effective People” I sharpen the saw.
And I am lucky to work for a company that really believes in training.
- I have received genuinely high-level negotiation training
- I have heard talks from some of the world’s most inspiring people
- I have a monthly mentoring session with our International Training Director.
- The company values me, and my development, and all of these things continue to improve me
Then there is my wife at home. I know what you might be thinking: “What has Mrs Secret Sales Director got to do with your work?” Well, everything actually. Some of the most important lessons you can learn are ones outside the workplace. My wife helps me see situations through a totally different lens. And that broader perspective helps me be a more rounded human being, a better leader, father, husband, mentor and Sales Director.
- I now deliver better pitches and presentations than I ever have done – because I have been trained to do so
- I am better at strategy implementation than ever before – because I read up on the best implementations and use that in real life
- And I have the perspective to see that there are many ways to approach and solve a problem
The company, and I, have consciously invested in my development. That is the very essence of being a Sales Professional.
When are you Going to Start Being a Professional?
My challenge to anyone and everyone in Sales is this: Get out of bed tomorrow, and choose to become that Sales Professional. Self motivation will get you so far, but by reading, training and learning, you can quickly set yourself ahead of your peer group. Your pitch will be sharper and more focused, your strategy will have a cutting edge, and your team will follow you into battle, whether you are the line manager or not.
You will become that leader, because you are learning and training to be that leader.
You will seal the big deal because you have trained and honed your skills – so you know what to do when the big deal comes up.
Your clients will soon start to notice the difference of working with a Sales Professional. And if they are any good, so will your employer.
When are Employers Going to Employ Sales Professionals?
My next challenge goes down to employers: Choose Sales people who are going to be the Sales Professionals of the future.
If you are like most, you probably currently select Sales people because they talk a lot, have a bubbly personality, or “look the part”. Perhaps they dress sharply. Perhaps they have industry contacts, which you think will get you revenue quickly.
All of these, in my opinion, are the wrong way to go.
When I select people for Sales roles, I want fresh ideas, not more of the same.
One of my most successful Business Development Managers is Phil (not his real name). Phil came to us having sold gloves. My company doesn’t sell gloves – so Phil had no industry contacts he could bring us, and he knew little to nothing about our product. We were going to have to give Phil a lot of training on products and services, before he could even secure his first order. So why did I choose Phil?
I chose Phil, because Phil was ready to become a Sales Professional.
I could see that Phil had integrity. When I asked him about previous career decisions on his CV, he was honest about failures. He was passionate about what he wanted to do and where he wanted to go. He was a blank canvas for me to mentor and develop into something really special. 3 years on, my mentoring of Phil is almost complete. He has eagerly taken all the leadership courses the company offers. He has learned and developed from everything I have been able to show him. At nearly 15 years my junior, he is becoming a shining star within the company. Phil has become a true Sales Professional.
So employers, stop picking from the same small gene pool, and start looking at people with a fresh approach and fresh ideas.
Stop picking Sales people because they are well connected.
And especially stop picking Sales people “because they can talk”.
Start picking your Sales people because they will be exceptional at the job. That may require training, investment and leadership from you – but that should be an expected norm. No-one is the finished article; people should always expect and deserve to grow and be developed in their role.
The same must become true of Professional Sales people.
What do you think about the art of being a Sales Professional? Please leave your Comments below.