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    What Does It Mean to Elevate The Sales Profession?

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    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?

    To Elevate the Sales Profession, We Must Address These Five Things

    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:

    1. Change public perception
    2. Change customer perception
    3. Change salespeople’s perception
    4. Change actual sales practice
    5. Invest in academic research in the profession

    Changing Actual Sales Practice Is Key

    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:

    • Mindset
      We must change how salespeople THINK about their job. As long as salespeople believe their job is to convince people to buy, they will always default to sleazy tactics as long as they “work,” however temporarily. When we begin to see the sales job as one of helping connect people with resources that they need in order to grow, then we begin to understand the work in a more elevated manner.
    • Strategy
      We must change how we APPROACH sales from within our organizations. Instead of looking at how we can exploit our markets, we start looking at who we can help the most, and how we can do so in the most powerful way.
    • Process
      Sales process is a tool for helping us all stay accountable to HOW we sell to our markets, so that we stay focused on our strategy and executing on that strategy. And to prevent making simple mistakes that to lost trust and lost business.
    • Skills
      Any elevated profession is marked by specific skills. There’s an old assumption that says salespeople are born. I say salespeople are MADE, not born. The right skills, within the right process, can help otherwise “mediocre” salespeople outperform most star salespeople without a process. So to elevate the sales profession, we must elevate the skills we train our salespeople in.
    • Research
      What do we know about the STUDY and PRACTICE of sales? Not much, actually. Academia is decades behind on research into this profession, and in order to elevate it, we must invest resources into research.

    How Membrain Contributes to Elevating the Sales Profession

    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:

    • Understanding the problem
      Our platform enables sales leaders to gain a more holistic view of selling and to understand that selling is a system - not just a salesperson and a golf course + magic. Our platform enables leaders to gain insight into the system so it can be improved overall, instead of just constantly chasing unicorns.
    • Improving relationships
      Humans are at the core of every sale. As long as this is true, the software must enable salespeople to understand the humans, to build trust, to develop the relationships that enable them to actually help the other person. Our software is designed to support relationships, rather than just sales.
    • Executing strategy and process
      Our platform enables you to implement and scale your sales strategy and process across teams to gain consistency and improve both the customer experience and your team’s performance. It’s about going from theory to practive and making how you sell into your competitive advantage.
    • Upgrading skills
      Our platform helps you see which skills your teams need help on, and to provide training in context exactly when they need it.

    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 Brontén
    Published September 21, 2022
    By George Brontén

    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