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The Sales Professional

10 requirements for becoming a master

Consider the urgency when needing a “professional” for a medical emergency, legal help if you are sued or a tax wizard in April. What about a professional who can grow market share, build and maintain relationships with customers, get results and protect your margins for your material handling company? Help! Is there a sales professional in the house?

The profession of selling is a high calling—I think higher than even that of a doctor! There is so much to know and so much skill required in the profession of selling. Salespeople must help clients see and accept their pain and then get them to pay to fix it—without the luxury of a third-party insurance company to pay the bill.

Yes, we urgently need sales professionals. Red Motley said, “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.” Sun Tzu, in his ancient manuscript The Art of War, gives us a glimpse of how serious this is. He states, “This is war. It is the most important profession in the nation. It is the basis of life and death. It is the philosophy of survival or destruction. You must know it well.” Your company’s future is in the hands of your front-line salespeople!

We can talk about sales and market share growth, but where it happens is all day, every day, by each sales professional out there on the front lines doing what they do as a profession. This will take more than just salespeople with talent, desire or even experience. Each front-line salesperson must be trained and practiced in the skills needed to win sales. I have dedicated my career to developing The Sales Professional. I believe in this, I live it and wear it on my sleeve.

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines profession as “a calling requiring specialized knowledge and often long and intensive academic preparation.” To become The Sales Professional, we must know what that looks like. I have identified 10 requirements for this profession.

Requirement 1: Knowledge
The Sales Professional knows product and application and creates and orchestrates solutions. This is a must. Today it is essential to possess product and application expertise. Customers want problems solved and needs met. We are solutions providers! Sales professionals must continually study and learn product. They must learn about their customer’s business as well. Armed with this knowledge, they must think and be creative.

Requirement 2: Partnership
The Sales Professional is a consultative partner and builds long-term relationships. This is a logical outgrowth of product/application knowledge, partnered with people skills. Solutions are created and effectively communicated or “sold.” People buy from people they like and trust. The sales profession is all about people. People skills (such as communication, listening, style adaptation, courtesy, trust, etc.) must be trained and practiced in order for distributor salespeople to truly be effective.

Requirement 3: Teamwork
Team selling is here to stay. The Sales Professional works with management, inside sales, installation, manufacturing and the entire selling team. With the implementation of CRM and other customer relationship management tools, the salesperson must be a team player who can utilize all tools available to do this effectively.

Requirement 4: Differentiation
The Sales Professional is skillful at selling distributor value and can justify and sell a win/win premium price. We don’t just sell product anymore. Product and brand will not sell itself. We have to “sell the house.” The competition does not have your differentiator! Why should customers choose to do business with you? Why you? Ever had a customer ask that? If the salesperson does not know that answer, then who does? Sell yourself, sell your service, and sell your company. Sell the house!

Requirement 5: Benefit Selling
The Sales Professional has mastered benefit selling. Ever heard of features and benefits? Ever heard of blocking and tackling? They are similar fundamentals. Even in the Super Bowl, if you want to win, you must block and tackle. The same is true with selling. If you want to get sales, you must help the customer see how they will benefit. Great salespeople know that in order to get the desired action, they must tap into the buying motives. People buy for their own goofy reasons. Find out what makes them tick and find out what ticks them off. Unfortunately, most salespeople are weak here. Benefit selling is a skill that must be mastered.

Requirement 6: Ownership
The Sales Professional takes ownership of territory and results. This really comes down to each sales professional aggressively selling and getting the growth in his or her realm of responsibility. My nephew is just getting into sales and asked me for advice. I told him to “get scared early.” The demands of the company’s planned growth and required sales performance should haunt the salesperson every day—that comes with the territory. Salespeople must take ownership of their accounts and territory. They are the quarterbacks. They are well-positioned to know and manage the market, customer and internal resources. Sales management can’t hold their hands; a sales position is a leadership position. Salespeople must take ownership.

Requirement 7: Strategy
The Sales Professional does account strategic planning. Stepping back and looking at each account to prioritize and assess profitability, potential and competitive situation is a critical activity. Then, developing long-term strategies to win and keep accounts is essential. Salespeople are often entangled by activities (putting out fires) that may not be goal-oriented or profitable. Salespeople must invest thought and research into the status and direction of each account. They must step back, look at the big picture and take control. The discipline of strategic account planning is the only effective way to secure major key accounts. The “big ones” will not just land in your lap. They must be won with careful planning and hard work. This will not happen by accident. It must be done on purpose.

Requirement 8: Planning
The Sales Professional does pre-call preparation and planning. Each time a salesperson has one of those precious face-to-face interactions with the customer, that is where selling really takes place. We do not want salespeople to “show up and throw up.” Salespeople must prepare and execute brilliantly. Every call is different and every call counts. Louis Pasteur said, “Chance favors the prepared mind.” Pre-call planning is imperative. The days of winging it are over. As Albert Grey, a commandant in the Marine Corps in the 1990s, said, “The common denominator of all success lies in forming the habit of doing things that failures don’t like to do.” Pre-call planning is one of the most important disciplines of the sales professional. As a sales trainer, I spend a significant time teaching and equipping salespeople to build this into their daily regimen.

Requirement 9: Negotiation
The Sales Professional is an effective sales negotiator. Negotiation is a part of everyday interactions with customers. Today there is no fixed price. Agree? We hear, “Congratulations! We have selected you and two other vendors as qualified sources. Now let’s get your price and terms in line.” Or, we hear, “We’ve picked this product. Three distributors have it, all good stores. Let’s get the price resolved and you can get this huge piece of business.”

Before we know it, we are thrown into negotiation. Price, terms, service levels, salesperson involvement, schedules, training, additional services, price locks/guarantees and contract length are all open game. What do these cost you? Are we leaving money on the table? Are we too easy? Are we surprised, scared or nervous? Do we have bad habits or faulty habitual responses? (“Where do we need to be?”, “Let me ask,” and “I’ll see what I can do” are examples.)

Many buyers are trained, savvy and experienced. Salespeople are under fire. They must be able to respond instinctively under pressure. They must be comfortable with the uncomfortable. They need top gun training! Proper response to the tactics and ploys of trained and savvy buyers is a learned and practiced skill that must be done in the simulators first. And that reinforces our final requirement.

Requirement 10: Practice
The Sales Professional is highly trained and well-practiced. Winners execute fundamentals skillfully by habit. Today every call counts, every customer interaction counts. And during that precious face-to-face or phone time, sales professionals must execute brilliantly. Knowledge, experience and even talent, untrained and unpracticed, will fall short. Just like professional athletes, each must be ready for each play both strategically and tactically. Vince Lombardi stated, “Truly, I have never known a really successful man who deep in his heart did not understand the grind, the discipline it takes to win.” And so the choice is yours.

Coach Lombardi also said, “I would say that the quality of each man’s life is the full measure of that man’s personal commitment to excellence and victory—whether it be football, whether it be business, whether it be politics or government.” I would add “or sales.”

I challenge each material handling sales leader to raise the bar, to teach and expect the fundamental disciplines, to practice and perfect these skills. May each salesperson become The Sales Professional!

Material Handling Equipment Distributors Association
Don Buttrey Meet the Author
Don Buttrey is president of Sales Professional Training Inc., located in Dayton, Ohio, and on the Web at www.salesprofessionaltraining.com.

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