Over the last few years the phrase ‘Sales Professional’ has become more and more familiar within sales. As a profession we have not been unaware of the problems we have faced in terms of reputation, perception and ability, but until now a strategic and ‘consented’ approach to the solution has never really been agreed.
As the rise of the ‘Sales Profession’ continues, providers like the ISMM and SLA are making more noise from an Association point of view, new magazines such as Sales Initiative joining ModernSelling.com and SalesPro as publications for the profession and the rise of the SalesExpo and new Sales Director Live shows creating forums. There seems to be more recognition than ever.
Pareto Law have also been leading this drive towards professionalism, and with their new white paper ‘From Sharp Practices to Sharp Talent: Creating a Culture for Success’ the leading sales training and recruitment business has certainly highlighted the change in thought process for many UK sales organisations.
From Sharp Practices to Sharp Talent: Creating a Culture for Success
The traditional role of the sales person has evolved. In the wake of extensive advancements in technology, the ever-growing expansion of the internet and an increasingly competitive marketplace, the days when fabricating a creative sales spin on product or service features would suffice as the sole orientation for sales have long gone. An increasingly informed and astute buyer is calling for a more consultative, value-adding approach to selling and the requirement for a tailored skill set is becoming paramount for top salespeople to stay ahead of the game.
However, there now lays ahead a considerable task for business. We must instrument this period of change, ensuring that our future sales force can meet the increasing challenges of a rapidly evolving world. Recognising, developing and retaining sharp sales talent should form the foundation for shaping that future. The question is: how do we get there?
It’s a well known phrase: to get to where you want to go, sometimes you need to look first at where you’ve been. It’s a true fact for sales. The sales industry and professionals working in the sector have traditionally suffered at the hands of a somewhat unflattering public perception, particularly in the B2C sector where the likes of mis-sold PPI or multibillion-dollar fines after exploitation at the hands of pharmaceutical companies destroy the reputation of sales.
Research shows that the word ‘sales’ will immediately conjure the image of product pushers exploiting sharp tactics and the gift of the gab in order to manipulate potential customers to their own advantage: even if the product in question is something they may not necessarily need or want.
The first step will always lie with the recruitment of sales talent. If you start with the correct foundations, the rest of the process will have a stronger standing from which to develop. There has been a long-standing belief held by traditionalist senior sales people that killer sales acumen is something an individual either possesses or not: and that the trained eye can identify this nature without the need for in-depth assessment.
It’s true many personality attributes have traditionally leaned towards the sales profession: however, as the nature of sales evolves, the candidates who can satisfy those requirements have shifted also.
A competency-based assessment that explores the potential of a candidate should provide the answer, offering insight that goes beyond certain recognised personality types and identifies true talent.
However, it remains the case that within business, there is a lack of adequate support and training to support a movement towards consultative, content-focused selling, and a consistent failure to fully utilise this intelligence to optimise sales performance.
Professor Deva Rangarajan, examining the concept of professionalising sales to ensure the survival of the industry, reports high levels of employee frustration at a lack of clear structure to selling practice, limited company support and a lack of sales development. Each aspect combines with a lack of raw sales talent, aggravated by poor industry perception, to create inadequate business strategies and ultimately, poor sales.
The vision and goal for the industry is clear: a movement towards professionalisation, recognition across both the B2B and B2C sectors and a consistent code of practice with measurable standards to which the industry can aspire, thus retaining high levels of performance. If we can realign sales practice to the changing expectations and developments in the market, we can change the face of sales from an external perspective: and change the future of the profession. Ultimately, it’s time public and industry perceptions of sales came in line.
For existing sales teams, taking steps to audit and assess current sales competency levels can provide a foundation from which we can implement the necessary changes required to bring skill levels in line. Using an assessment process can identify both gaps and strengths, reveal hidden potential and real skill levels, and measure the capability of sales leaders.
Professional bodies (like the ISMM) are now also increasingly offering sales accreditation programmes, which provide professionals with the opportunity to develop real sales skills in a structured manner, and receive formal acknowledgement of their skills and expertise.
The process not only supports a high performance culture, but also offers additional incentive to sales staff by embracing talent development initiatives. Given the opportunity to learn and following a structured development programme, sales people can progress quicker, are motivated and demonstrate higher levels of morale and focus, will stay ahead of the game in an ever-changing environment, and deliver real results.
Implementing a progressive development framework will also help businesses retain the talent they have invested in: this, in turn, will support their succession planning for the future prosperity of the business. This increased professionalisation, once filtered through the UK business marketplace, will directly impact public perception: and drive forward the change the industry so desperately needs.
Hand in hand with accreditation comes the sales training process. Even if you aren’t striving towards a formal qualification or assessment of skill levels, providing appropriate training and support to ensure each individual sales person is equipped with the desirable skills to meet new demands of the industry is paramount to breeding that mythical culture of sales success.
Aligning each stage of the sales development process to business strategic aims can bring the process together in a linear fashion, and ensure that all measures are delivering the results you are looking for.
From the establishment of corporate goals and milestones to re-establishing role definitions, competencies and measures: performance management procedures can create a focus upon longlasting, continual success, developing and maintaining a healthy sales culture from the ground up.
The process of restructuring the sales industry is already showing signs of implementation across the UK, and delivering tangible results. With the ultimate goal of not only achieving sales excellence but also establishing sales as a recognised and celebrated career choice and profession, businesses understand the value of investment in training and development for their sales teams.
Combining the individual elements of recruitment, assessment, accreditation, training and more can successfully implement the revolution of the sales professional, bringing the sales industry into a new era.