Death of a salesman…..or not ?

Just whispering the word ‘salesman’ will send many rushing for shelter, either through fear of being sold something they don’t want, can’t afford or just being bored to death by an unrelenting sales pitch. Trust me, I know , I have been one for most of my working life.

Throughout modern commercial  history , say the last one hundred years, going from one extreme, second car sales, double glazing through to Charles Ponzi and Bernie Madoff, salesmen have not always garnered much respect within society.

In my experience the salesperson, no …’salesman’ , as even today the vast majority of those in sales are men, the ‘profession’ has gone through various cycles. The thirties through to the sixties, they  were commercial travellers. In the U.K. these were often grey striped, black coated, bowler hatted ‘gents’ with a sample case. Often travelling by van or train. Mid sixties through to the late eighties were the ‘sales representatives’, sharp suits and Ford Cortinas.  The gold standard often came from food and confectionery companies such Mars. Their training was extensive and intensive, yet when released into the field they were little more than order takers as their brands were so strong.

From the mid nineties onwards, technological developments, increasing pressure on costs saw many organisations slashing sales forces as easy financial savings . The days of how many calls can be made in a day, are over. The days of orders takers are fast disappearing.

Buyers are looking for a lot more value beyond just a binary transaction, the sale and purchase of a product. They want insight and partners who can help them grow their business. This takes a whole new level of competence.

“The top-performing companies now focus their sales on industry or niche expertise to ensure that clients get the best results. These corporations realise they have a re- sponsibility to deliver results for the client, not just make the sale.

Raconteur report: The Times, September 2017

The sales function should now seek to show the client how they can help develop their own business. In order to do this ethically and effectively the sales person must believe in the organisation and its services and products , they represent. Maximising the sale, without benefiting the client results is very short term, ineffective and sours client/supplier relationships.  In today’s climate this is not an acceptable nor conducive  way to a successful commercial relationship.

…Sales people are becoming more like business consultants and consultancies, such as McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group or Deloitte, and are increasingly having to go out there and sell their services,” . “Everyone is having to offer genuine business insight right now.”

Ian Price- business psychologist at Recludo Consulting.

 The nature of the job is changing. As it redefines itself so the numbers will decline but the professionalism is and will continue to change and improve. It must in order to survive.

So, apart from being one most of my working life, why is this of interest ? Because it has vindicated my own belief. Organisations need people to create a symbiotic and mutually profitable relationships between existing and new customers. Symbiotic because they need to learn from each other. Mutually profitable,  because that is the nature of the contract. A buys from B. If A is not profitable they will no longer be a client of B. If the reverse is true then A will loose a supplier. It is part of the sales function to understand the needs of the ‘buyer’ and match those products and services that meet those needs . Part of that process involves an element of trust. The ‘buyer’ should be able to trust the information and data from the supplier.  The supplier should understand the requirements of the buyers and the market within which they operate . Often a complex procedure if executed properly, even with basic products. It is no longer about ‘selling a load of gear!

Finally, I come back to the ‘salesperson’ rather than ‘salesmen’. It is never been a profession that has attracted many females. No doubt due, in part, to its dubious associations with second hand car salesmen, unethical practices, golf club/football talk ‘boys club’ image . Yet in my experience those women I have come across in sales have been far more effective than their male counterparts. Perhaps the redefining of the role will encourage more women to enter this, increasingly professional and rewarding career. So perhaps it is the death the salesmen , but it it is being replaced  by something very different and a ‘salesperson’ does not quite do it justice.

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