The truth about salespeople – the successful ones

The profession of sales displays the highest order of dignity and professionalism. Its practitioner requires high education to succeed, not degrees, but physical and intellectual development akin to or greater than many other professions. These include medicine, law, education, science, management — you name it!

I can already sense raised eyebrows or sneers, although probably not from most in this audience. That’s OK. Society and culture have conditioned many of us to look at salespeople as unctuous, brash or overly assertive.

The higher education required for sales success may not come from a university. In fact, the “higher education” system does not prepare students for sales careers at all. We in sales need to spend countless hours reading, researching, studying, attending seminars and workshops, staying fit, building character traits and developing new opportunities for the organizations we serve. There is even a spiritual development component to successful selling which is rarely discussed. It has something to do with attitude.

There are bad actors in all professions. Many of us have been hornswoggled by aggressive salesmen out for fast money. We’ve heard the lawyer jokes. Doctors sometimes over-prescribe dangerous drugs with horrible side effects when safer, more effective treatments could prolong good health instead of placate symptoms. Health-care administration professionals, tort lawyers and insurance executives have really streamlined that business, haven’t they? University education costs are keeping pace with real-world economic conditions, right? Public schools are turning out legions of skilled, literate and prepared workers — we would hope. Keep hoping. Hasn’t much of journalism today become more advocacy than fact-finding?

I don’t mean to generalize about any profession. The good news is a majority in all of the above named categories are exemplary professionals and fine citizens.

You might want to closely examine sales, the highest-paying of all the professions. The president of any firm is often the number one salesperson in his or her organization. Most CEOs understand the importance of this function. New business is the lifeblood of any going concern. Leave the number-crunching to the CFO and the management details to the operations chief.

Human relationships

“Business development” is a nice catch phrase for sales. If you have “business development manager” on your business card as opposed to “sales representative,” you’ll tend to get more respect in most circles. It’s only semantics. Today, even sales pros are afraid to wear the “salesman” moniker, even if they’re men!

There is a school of thought out there professing that most sales occupations will vanish over the next decade or two. The rationale seems to be that the Internet has begotten a super-educated consumer who knows what she wants and where to buy it before a salesperson has any chance to guide her to a purchase decision. Only high-end, high-touch products and services will need a real human to assist in the transaction, and that will be a customer service role, not a sales role.

Oh please!

Ask yourself if your own customers, even the most tech-savvy, would prefer you or a machine to relate with. Relationships rule in business development (sales). People will do business with people they like. Why are referrals so powerful for opening doors to new business? Because they are human relationship-based and more trust lubricates the initial interaction.

Indeed, the Internet and e-commerce automation have created bountiful new opportunities and selling channels. It takes an educated and experienced professional, however, to advance the discussions – person to person – that lead to big, lucrative deals. The relationship, often friendship that grows as a result of mutual respect is what enduring fortunes are built on.

In order to succeed and carry his organization forward, the professional salesperson must continually develop and maintain the following: good health, study of markets and product knowledge, excellent communication skills, technology acumen, an understanding of psychology and human nature, high ethical standards, trustworthiness, high energy levels, a strong belief system and persistent hard work. This is a partial list. We should never judge any worker by the role she plays or the title he displays.

We are proud to dedicate this article to the millions of men and women who help keep the wheels of commerce turning. Businesses need them to keep on growing, and in tough times, surviving. No pressure, eh?

Have you hugged your sales team today?

Chuck Sink, executive vice president of Big Hit Media LLC, a Barrington-based digital media and brand communications company, can be reached at