I want to be professional". I'd have a decent sized pot of cash if I'd received a pound for every time a salesperson has said this to me.
"I want to be professional".
What do they mean by this? Is there such a thing as a professional salesperson? Does it matter anyway? And how can you become a professional salesperson?
It always intrigues me every time a salesperson says that they want to be professional. Do they mean that they want to act professionally or do they want to be seen as more professional by their peers or something entirely different?
Certainly, many salespeople do not see their chosen career as a professional one, that's for sure...
Take the case of a young salesman I spoke to recently. He's earning decent money, he has good promotional prospects and he is well thought of by his company, his peers and in his industry... Yet he is thinking of doing something else. He's considering something "more professional", something with a structured career in place. Perhaps going back and studying again.
Whilst I think it is important that people follow their dreams it would be wrong to change jobs simply because selling might not be "professional". Particularly in the UK people sneer at sales as a profession anyway. Maybe this is because you don't need a degree to get into sales, perhaps it's because there aren't any recognized qualifications, exams or governing bodies or maybe it's just tradition. Is it because of the old class system, old school ties or maybe just because the people who run the country aren't very good at it?
Dictionary.com defines "profession" as:
So let's knock this one straight on the head right here and right now... Selling is a profession.
A vocation requiring knowledge of some department of learning or science - selling then. Any vocation or business - err, selling then. The body of persons engaged in an occupation or calling - and , ummm, selling again! So selling is most definitely a profession then. What's more, selling as a profession has a lot to say for itself:
Money! From a monetary point of view people entering sales can earn good money. With commissions, bonuses and other benefits , very good money. I know salespeople with only a couple of years worth of experience earning more than lawyers with the same amount of experience (and they've done years worth of training).
Opportunity. Selling provides huge promotional opportunity. Every company needs sales and people who can sell well wield a lot of power. Rapid promotional prospects are often available to them. These paths to the top are often a lot quicker than more structured and traditional professions and paths where the path is laid out for you.
Fun. Selling is a varied and interesting job in which you meet people, can travel and where every day can bring a new task.
Challenge. Selling is challenging. In sales we deal with people and people always provide challenges. Learning to be flexible and dealing with different people in different situations, from different backgrounds and with different levels of experience is very rewarding.
But I don't think that the reality is really the problem here. The problem is usually the salesperson's perception. The issue is that they don't see sales as professional therefore they don't see themselves as professional...
And this often means that they don't act as a professional!
Many salespeople do not do a professional job. Think of a few personal experiences and you will immediately know what I am saying. Because of the low barriers to entry many salespeople will behave unprofessionally and do an unprofessional job. That's just the way it is.But you're not one of them!
There are unprofessional lawyers but that doesn't make all lawyers unprofessional. There are unprofessional accountants but that doesn't make all accountants unprofessional. There are unprofessional surveyors but that doesn't make all surveyors unprofessional. Far from it, in fact.
Just because there are unprofessional salespeople does not stop you from being a professional salesperson! And if you want to get on in sales this is exactly what you need to be.
Unfortunately, many salespeople don't take action. They don't do what is necessary. They mistake low barriers to entry for low effort being required to succeed. Turning up at 9, leaving at 5 and doing the bare minimum is not the way to behave as a professional. Taking the easy route is not the path to professionalism. Ultimately, professionalism is not where you came from, which school you went to or which career you picked - professionalism is what you do consistently.
If you want to be a professional, if you want to be treated like a professional, if you want to feel like a professional then you need to take consistent action.
Here are my top 5 tips for acting like a professional
- Know Your Industry Inside Out
Professional salespeople know their industries inside out. They're the ones who always have the information to hand. They're well prepared, well read and knowledgeable. They know how they fit into the industry, who the main players are and who their competition is.
- Know How to Add Value
Professional salespeople understand their products and how they add value for their clients. They study case studies and know how they can apply them for their clients. They understand the differences between their and their competitors' offerings. They care about their clients and help them to make the right buying decisions. They know when to stick and when to fold. They know how to add value before, during and after the sale.
- Study Top Performers
All professional people have role models. This can be someone you know or someone you read about. It must be someone who you consider to be a consummate professional. Choose carefully and choose wisely. This does not have to be a formal process but that does not make it any the less important. Studying top performers, understanding how they behave and why, is essential if you want to be a professional. Modelling top performers can accelerate your learning and improve your skills rapidly.
- Create a Study Program for Yourself
When did you last read a book on selling? Or listen to an audio? Or watch a DVD? Or attend a training program? Or a seminar? Now ask yourself the same question but add in "off your own bat" i.e. not sent or given by your boss. For many salespeople the answer is never! All accountants, lawyers, doctors etc have self development plans. They have to complete a certain amount of study to remain up to date. Some salespeople tell me that they have never read even one book on sales. How can you claim to be professional if you don't study?
- Look Sound and Act like a Professional
To be a professional you need to look, sound and act like a professional. Take a look around your office now. Who would you view as professional? Who wouldn't you?! Now rate them all on a scale of 1 to 10 and think about why you made those choices (I'm not recommending you tell them though!). It will be because of their actions. What they wear, how they talk, the kinds of questions they ask, how intently they listen, how focused they are...
So the answer to the question, "Is there such a thing as a professional salesperson?" is a resounding yes! And, of course, yes, we do care! So the only question worth considering is, "What are you going to do to attain and maintain your status as a professional salesperson?"