The Most Misunderstood Profession in the World: Sales

 In Industry News

The Machine gun SalesmanHow do you define “sales” as a profession?

I’ll give you two options.

Option one: “Sales” is the profession of persuading someone to acquire something irrespective of whether they need it or not.

Option two: “Sales” is the profession of helping someone acquire something they need also when they didn’t realize that they had that need.

Which of the definitions do you subscribe to?

We meet salespeople everyday and everywhere. Some of them are trying to sell us stuff and others are trying to convince us of something in exchange for support for their cause. (In that sense we are all salespeople, read “To Sell is Human” by Daniel M. Pink)

Some of them may convince us today and tomorrow we will still be happy with the decision they helped us make yesterday, but from time to time we will regret our commitment realizing that it was not in our best interests. How will we respond to people who made us commit to something we later regret? Not very favourably I assume – somewhat reserved and cautious.

The world from the sales person’s perspective

Let’s look at it from the other side.

You are a person responsible for driving revenue to my company. Your company has budgets and expenses so it needs a certain measure of revenue with a certain measure of gross margin every month and every quarter and every fiscal year. As it is your job to deliver at or above the budget you obviously want to meet or exceed your objectives on an on-going basis.

How do you do that?

Scenario one: Hit and run.

If you work in a business where you (and your company) only see the customer once, then you need to sell as much as possible to the individual customer in a one-time transaction.

To do so you need two main qualifications:

  1. Ability to qualify (triage)
  2. Empathy

Ability to qualify

You need to quickly assess if the customer is really going to buy something or not. If you are good at that then you can prioritize your time and devote most of it to customers with a genuine buying intention or propensity.


To serve the customer you must identify and understand her (conscious and subconscious) needs. Only when you understand the customer can you match her needs with what you have to offer.

Example: You are working the floor in an expensive accessory shop in an airport. Sometimes there is nothing to do and sometimes customers are standing in line to be served. Most of them will never come to buy again, but a few may.

Scenario two: Relationships

If you work in a business where you (and your company) have long-term relationships with our customers, then you need to maximize the Customer Lifetime Value.

To do so you need two main qualifications:

  1. Ability to qualify (triage)
  2. Empathy

Ability to qualify

You need to assess if potential customers match my ideal customer profile (can you deliver successfully, can you win the deal). You need to carefully allocate your time so you build and maintain your customer relationships, but spend the bulk of your time on revenue-generating projects. This is a tough job, because you may have to spend considerable time on a project now that will not generate revenue this year (your company counts in calendar quarters and fiscal years).


To serve the customer you must identify and understand her business and personal needs. Only when you understand business and personal needs can you navigate the customers’ purchase process and take one of two actions: Back out to save time and money or push ahead to win the business.

Example: You work as a sales representative for SAP.


There are obviously many other qualifications that a salesperson needs to perform successfully such as social media insight, communication skills, product knowledge, domain expertise, courage and business acumen, but the most critical are the two that I mention above.

You need to identify those that are receptive to your value proposition and maintain your pipeline of opportunities making sure that you deliver your revenue numbers again and again. This may mean that you experience a multitude of rejections and that you on your own initiative reject a multitude of potential opportunities, but that is a crucial part of your job as a salesperson.

If you want to be successful in sales then you should not try to persuade everyone you meet to buy your stuff. This is what some people call “hard selling” and that doesn’t lead to success.

In every profession there are high performers and low performers. Please let us not define the profession of sales by only considering the low performers.


Triage (/ˈtriːɑːʒ/ or /triːˈɑːʒ/) is the process of determining the priority of patients’ treatments based on the severity of their condition. This rations patient treatment efficiently when resources are insufficient for all to be treated immediately.

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