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Respect for the Profession of Selling

Respect for the Profession of Selling

May 12, 2010

I attended a seminar a few weeks ago in which the presenter, sales trainer Joe Ellers of Palmetto Associates pointed out that “selling is a profession on par with a design engineer or a doctor. Present yourself as a professional.”

On the surface that is true. Selling is a great profession and a tremendous career opportunity. A good salesperson is part psychologist with the ability to “read” a customer. He/she is a problem solver, an application provider who has the uncanny ability to know when to listen and when to talk  (In fact actually listening to the customer is probably one of a salesperson’s top attributes.)

So you would think that sales would be a respected profession. But, in the minds of many people, that isn’t the case.

The old perception of a salesperson still exists. Tell someone you’re in sales and often the reaction is a forced smile. Some people still believe that anyone in sales is like Herb on the old television show “WKRP in Cincinnati.” You know, the kind of guy who wears loud jackets, tells jokes and brings doughnuts on sales calls. In the “old days” these salespeople were considered simple “order takers” rather than problem solvers.

That type of salesperson doesn’t exist anymore. Today distributor salespeople are technically knowledgeable and work with the buyers’ teams to solve problems, recommend applications and new products that make it easier for the customer to increase productivity.

It’s a shame that salespeople don’t have more respect. Over the years, I’ve had the chance to travel and interview many distributor salespeople and have come away impressed with their knowledge and enthusiasm for selling.

Sure, there are some salespeople that demean the profession, but that happens in every business. 

A top salesperson isn’t happy with the status quo but seeks to improve his or her selling skills by reading self-help books, attending sales seminars and looking for other ways to improve their selling techniques. It benefits them of course, but in the end it also brings up the status of the profession.

Jack Keough is a contributing editor to Modern Distribution Management and the owner of Keough Business Communications. He can be reached at or by phone at 508-734-0029. Keough is the former editor of Industrial Distribution Magazine.

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