I’ve been on a mission to elevate the sales profession from the very beginning of my entrepreneurial career, almost without realizing it. As a young salesperson, I resisted the manipulative sales tactics I was being taught. In my first company, Upstream, I proceeded to make every possible sales mistake and saw that what we were told to do simply doesn’t work.
Manipulative sales tactics, misleading email headings, over-promising, trying to trick people into buying what you’re selling - all of this nonsense feeds into a perception of the sales profession as smarmy and dirty. Yet, much of the profession keeps doing it.
To make matters worse, compared to other professions, the sales profession simply isn’t studied the same way most other professions are, nor is it taught. Until recently, almost no university has a sales-specific program, and there are very few rigorous academic studies into the profession of sales.
But to me, the sales profession has the potential to be noble, to be truly professional. So when I started Membrain, my mission was to use this platform we’ve built to help elevate the sales profession. Which of course begs the question: What does it mean to elevate the sales profession?
The sales profession’s poor reputation is partly earned, partly inherited.
In most countries, there is a public perception that salespeople are sneaky and sleazy. The phrase “a used car salesman” in the US is equivalent to calling someone a liar and a cheat. Popular media often casts salespeople as unsympathetic characters who deserve bad outcomes.
The sales profession has the potential to be noble, to be truly professional.
This perception carries through to every level of the sales journey. The public doesn’t like to talk to salespeople. Potential customers, when they do have to talk to salespeople, often feel very little trust because they expect the salesperson to try to trick them. And salespeople themselves often see their profession as a means to make money, while having very little respect for the work itself. Some are ashamed to admit what they do.
This ends up hurting everyone, because customers can’t get the help they need when they don’t trust the salesperson. Salespeople can’t offer the help the customer needs when the customer is suspicious of their motives. And salespeople ought not to have to be ashamed of their job!
So at one layer, elevating the sales profession must involve changing public perception. But the truth is that public perception is often correct.
So to address public perception, we must also change actual practice.
And to do that, we must have better data and scholarship around what professional sales should look like.
In my perspective, elevating the sales profession must happen at at least these 5 layers:
How can we change perception if we’re not changing action? Lying is one of the hallmarks of negative perception of the sales profession, so if we’re going to elevate it, we can’t start by lying about who we are and what we do.
In my work and in founding Membrain, my goal was to change how we actually sell, to elevate the sales profession from the inside.
I see this as requiring several keys:
Before I founded Membrain, I saw that there was a major gap in the tools available to help the sales profession become more effective at sales. That’s why I founded Membrain - to provide the tools we need to truly elevate the sales profession. Here are a few ways that we do that:
Another area where we need to focus, as a profession, is on improving how we manage compensation. When salespeople are on pure commission, they might be incentivized to do whatever it takes to make a sale, even if it’s not in the other person’s best interest. A larger salary base enables salespeople to take a more human and long-term approach and to learn the right skills to elevate their own work as a salesperson. This is a hot topic that merits it’s own deep-dive, but I think it’s one of the underlying reasons for questionable behaviors.
In any event, when we elevate the sales profession, we also elevate the buyer’s experience. And in elevating the buyer’s experience, we elevate the entire ecosystem of engagement, to everyone’s benefit.
Elevating the sales profession is a huge topic with many components. What does it mean to you? What are you doing to elevate the sales profession?
George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.
Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn