Am I a Professional Salesperson? ...and Sales

Posted by Jack Derby, Head Coach on Wed, Mar 26, 2014

Monday morning I was reading what turned out to be a really stupid HBR article about "professionalism".  It actually started with the interesting question of "Do your colleagues think you’re professional?", which got me to thinking about the perceptions that people have regarding salespeople in general. Unfortunately, the article then went on to attempt to tie "professionalism" to the way one decorates their cubicle and then tie that result into gender and race.  Note to HBR:  you really need to do a better job at screening your writers.


salesguy resized 600I was with a new customer last Friday.  Tom's a great guy.  Been with the business for 25 plus years.  He has a very technical product with a relatively small number of customers but each sale, which is highly customized, has a large dollar volume.  While we were walking through his current sales and marketing processes, he corrected me stating that his "salespeople", were actually "not salespeople"; they were "business development people".  Since there actually is a technical difference, I asked him if those BDRs qualified their leads before they handed them off to the salespeople? The answer was as I expected:  "No, our business development reps are what you call salespeople. We just think that our customers don't like the term 'salespeople', since they don't like to think that they are being sold."  

Last week I was working out at my normal 5:00 AM start time at the University Club with a locker room buddy of mine, who is a big shot at a large Boston mutual fund.  Paul asked what was up for the day, and I mentioned to him that I was off to work on a sales process assignment with a long term customer who happened to be another large financial trading company in Boston.  He corrected me to note that I shouldn't use the word "sales", and should substitute "distribution" instead.  Same reason as Tom above-at his company, they don't like to use the word "sales" because of its negative connotations. 

  • Business development?
  • Distribution?
  • Partnerships?

Sorry, but all of these soft words just mask what we, as Sales Professionals, are really trying to do, and that is to market and sell our wonderful products and services to customers who are looking for added value. We are not conducting "business development" other than as a top-of-funnel qualifying step in the process of closing sales orders.

We are not trying to "distribute" anything other than as a selling model in the world of third party transactions where we have already been sold one of our manufacturer's products, and we are working hard to resell it to someone else.  

Partnerships are fine, as long as they lead to selling something.  Other than that, a partnership is just a Barney Hug.   I love you, you love me, but we never actually consumate a sale of anything.

Why these confusing terms?  Why not just "salespeople"?

It's because we carry around in our heads, the image of the sleazy car salesperson or the telemarketer who calls us at home at 6:30 at night.  So, to counteract that image, we mask the reality of what we do with make-believe terms that don't have the actual words, "sales" or "selling" attached to them.  

The other reason is that up until about 10 years ago, "selling" was thought of as an art (not as a science), and was all about the development of relationships.  Matter of fact, there are digital shelves of worthless books written around sales content on "the art of relationships".

Today, Sales 2.0 (Solution Selling) and Sales 3.0 (Sales Enablement) are all about process, integrated tools, technology wrappers and a wide variety of easy-to-use mobile applications that enable Sales Professionals to sell customer value and not products or services.  

What Can We Do to Improve Our Image?

  • First, we can start today to change our vocabulary and talk about "the profession of sales" and describe one another as "Professional Salespeople".
  • Second, we can improve our skills through dedicated training during the balance of the year.  How about signing up for at least one seminar or a course on advanced selling skills between now and the end of June?  At the very least, sign up for the blogs of companies such as Sirius Decisions, CSO Insights, Brainshark and Insight Squared and begin to immerse yourself in the dialog, the data, the vocabulary and the technologies of Sales Enablement.
  • Third, we can seek out, start talking with and sharing ideas with other professional salespeople.  I've always enjoyed talking to Brainshark's Larry DiLoreto and Greg Flynn about their leading edge sales processes.  The same goes with Dan Tyre at Hubspot.  Recently, I've also reached out to Zorian Rotenburg at Insight Squared, to listen to his ideas on the use of data in a very innovative approach to forecasting.
  • Fourth, you can start compiling a Summer Reading List.  I've just immersed myself in a new book co-authored by Marc Benioff, Chairman of Salesforce.  I've also recently added a couple of other books on sales and digital marketing to the summer beach bag now yearning to be carried back to the sand once June rolls around.

Just a few observations about our profession of Sales on yet another stormy Wednesday. Am I off base here or too sensitive about this?  

Good Selling for the next couple of days as you crunch down to the end of the month and the end of the quarter!

 Jack Derby 

No better way to start the process toward professionalizing The Profession of Sales than to attend our upcoming Sales Management Boot Camp, April 6th-8th.  To learn more...

  1. Click on the icon below for an outline of what takes place.  
  2. You can also click HERE for a more detailed agenda
  3. Or just email me at, for a 10 minute call

Sales Management Boot Camp





Tags: Sales Best Practices, sales coach, sales effectiveness, sales enablement, sales management training, sales optomization, sales management boot camp, sales producitivity, sales boot camps