We have all been approached by sales people at some point or another. Chances are that you’ve probably also worked with them in a professional capacity. Unfortunately, I don’t think you’ll find a single adult on the planet which hasn’t had a bad experience with a sales person. It could have been a hawker trying to sell you a pirated DVD, telemarketers constantly harassing you, a financial consultant debiting your bank account on an insurance product you haven’t even agreed on, or perhaps a sales executive duping you into buying a product that you don’t actually need. Over the years the sales profession has adopted a bad reputation. As such, I have often wondered what differentiates a good sales person versus a bad one.
In order to try make sense of it, we’ll first go through the typical stereotype of a sales person. We’ll then look at why and how they sales people enter the profession. We’ll then break down the most common types of sales people and also look at the qualities of an ideal sales executive. Lastly I’ll give me take on why I think there’s a gap between the typical sales person and the ideal one.
- Stereotypical sales person: let’s first look at the qualities and flaws that come to mind when most of us think of a stereotypical sales person.
- Qualities: chances are that many of your friends have been sales people throughout your life. The simplest reason is that they do in fact have a number of alluring qualities. They can be in incredibly charming, funny and the life of the party. They also tend to be eternal optimists which can be uplifting and inspiring when you’re having a bad day. I guess being an optimist is a prerequisite to surviving in a career where you’re getting rejected several times a day. Due to them regularly dealing with people and managing conflicts, some of them tend to be quite philosophical, which can certainly make them interesting individuals.
- Flaws: for many people, encounters with sales people can leave a lot to be desired. They can be pushy, refusing to take no for an answer. They can be disrespectful of people’s boundaries and sometimes even downright rude. They can be dishonest about the value of their products and their prices. Worst of all they can be extremely manipulative, playing with our emotions to trick us into signing on the dotted line. They often use the book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” as their bible, which in my opinion would be more accurately titled “How to become a sociopath by being fake and manipulative”. Their massive egos, gung-ho attitude and reckless nature can also serve as a horrible cocktail for creating toxic work environments. As you get older and more mature you start to feel that in order to maintain your sanity you almost have to become a parent to a teenager in every relationship or interaction you have with a sales person i.e. be firm with your personal boundaries, grow eyes at the back of your head and instil structure and discipline. If you’ve had enough of these bad experiences, it’s enough to make you think that they’re the scum of the earth. However, I don’t think it’s as clear cut as that.
- People that end up in sales jobs: clearly the stereotypical sales person described above is not an ideal one. In order to understand the gap between the stereotypical sales person and an ideal one we need to first understand how they end up in these professions in the first place.
- Entrepreneurs: these are your typical hustler types who have always enjoyed coming up with creative ideas and making deals. I can honestly say that these types of people are probably the best you can hope for when hiring sales people. How these people initially end up in sales positions is by virtue of their very nature and aptitude. The problem with these types of people is most of them go on to start their own businesses since they are normally are very independent, have a high tolerance for risk and have greater aspirations than working for a salary and/or commission their entire life.
- Career changers: these types of people end up doing sales by mistake. They typically go and get some tertiary education and begin working in a specific profession. After some time they realise that it’s not for them. This could be for a number of reasons. Maybe they realise that they don’t have the aptitude for it or perhaps they’re not getting paid enough. It could even be that the job or industry they’ve landed in isn’t what they expected. Going back and studying for another few years to change professions isn’t always a viable option. They therefore start looking for alternatives and quickly come to realise that a sales position is one of the few unqualified jobs that actually pays well.
- Those with useless educations: these types of people are similar to the career changers in that they also completed some tertiary education. The only difference being that they never actually worked in their field of study. The reason being that they probably completed some useless degree or diploma in a subject that nobody is willing to pay for e.g. art history, philosophy, fashion design etc. Not being able to put their studies to good use, they end up coming to the same conclusion as the career changers i.e. the easiest and most lucrative way of make a living is to start selling something.
- Shortcut people: these are the lazy kind that go throughout life looking for shortcuts and get-rich-quick schemes. These people have no patience, don’t bother learning any new skills or working hard at anything. They’re in the habit of thinking that their next big score is just around the corner. They never realise that anything worth building will take time and effort. These types of people often only care about the money and are hardly interested in the process of how the money is made. Since becoming a sales person presents the smallest barriers to entry, these kinds of people will naturally gravitate towards the sales profession.
- Types of sales people: there are all kinds of sales people selling all kinds of different products and services. Depending on what they’re selling they will require varying levels of skills. I therefore don’t think it’s fair to put all sales people in the same basket. Here are some common types:
- Hawkers: there are the entry level guys that sell oranges and sunglasses at every corner. Being friendly, resilient and having an innate ability to disrespect people’s boundaries is pretty much all the skills this person needs.
- Sales clerks: these are the people helping in you in the stores, providing information about the products and basically just making your shopping experience a pleasurable one. To be quite honest, I wouldn’t even classify them as real sales people since the majority don’t take part in convincing customers do buy from their store as opposed to other stores.
- Telemarketers: these are the cold calling types that peddle all kinds of insurance products, cell phone contracts and bank loans. They are the worst kinds of sales people with the worst reputations. Due to the very definition of cold calling, these kind of sales people never have customers calling them, but instead they are the ones approaching unsuspecting strangers. For these sales people it’s all a question of probability i.e. the more people they call the higher the chances of convincing someone to buy something. There are several dynamics at play in this telemarketing game. Firstly, 99% percent of the prospects being called are not interested in the products that the sales people are peddling. This could either be because they don’t see any value in the product or perhaps they already have a similar product. The sales people are therefore searching for that 1% of prospects that would be interested. In order to do achieve this, a single telemarketer can make anywhere between ten to a hundred sales calls a day, repeatedly getting rejected. As you may have already experienced yourself, people can receive several of these sales calls a week. After a prolonged period of receiving these calls, most of us reach the end of our straw and unconsciously become rude to these telemarketers. In return, the telemarketers need to grow a thick skin to survive in this gruelling industry and naturally also become rude and obnoxious over time. Even more concerning, is that these telemarketers realise that nobody wants their products and therefore realise that the only method of closing deals is by becoming aggressive and even downright manipulative. They then come up with all sorts of dishonest schemes that either hide information about their products or exaggerate on what the products can actually do. Often times their artificial personas tend to slip into their personal lives, applying the same kind of tactics with their loved ones and colleagues. Is it therefore any wonder that sales people are stereotyped with all the flaws mentioned above?
- Sales executive: these are supposed to be the white collar professionals working in the corporate world. In most cases these sales executives are hired to sell much needed products and services. The products that they sell are normally a lot more complex than a cell phone contract. In the technology sector these can include both hardware and software. Sometime they will be out-of-the-box products while other times they can include custom solutions to be designed and developed. As you can imagine these sales executives are expected to understand and explain how these complex products work. Selling services for custom solutions requires an even higher level of skills since the sales executive is expected to understand the customers’ business requirements as well as make recommendations. Most importantly the relationships with their customers are not finite. Meaning that unlike with telemarketers the relationship with the customer does not end once the deal is closed. Customers in the corporate world look for more than just specific products; they look for long term partnerships with their suppliers. This means that aggressive behaviour and manipulative tactics on the part of a sales executive might help in closing the first deal but will certainly have an adverse effect in maintaining a long term relationship.
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