Updated: Sep 2, 2022
Sales professionals are among business owners’ greatest assets. These talented and tenacious individuals manage and advance the frontline of the businesses they serve. Their work is vital to the success of sales goals and company profitability. While there are several types of salespeople, there are only two tiers of competency classification: the sales professional and the sales representative. Understanding the difference between these groups is important for business owners and sales managers, especially when sales growth requires new account acquisition.
Most business owners and sales managers cannot distinguish between a sales rep and a sales pro. Unlike other professions such as accounting, the sales profession is not formalized. The qualifications for employment as a salesperson are often arbitrarily determined by individual companies or those who hire for these companies. In a hiring situation, HR or a hiring manager must resort to their sense of judgment or some “common sense” standard by which to identify and assess “qualified” candidates. There exists no assurance of competencies—such as what a degree or certification would suggest—in the actual qualitative differences among salespeople. So, when looking for a sales professional, it may "take one to know one." And, these days especially, there are fewer people who can recognize the difference between a professional and a representative. This is a serious problem that, for obvious reasons, needs to be addressed.
While these two groups—reps and pros—perform many of the same functions, the differences between them account for many of the problems business owners experience in trying to grow their sales.
The difference between sales reps and sales pros can be expressed in terms of degree or quality. Sales reps will present your products and services to prospective customers and identify, qualify, and follow-up on sales opportunities. They will create presentations, schedule sales meetings, and, in the process, occasionally receive a sale. The "numbers game" mentality is meaningful to the sales rep. Their sales are incidental to their work, which is more routine than it is mindful, engaged to ensure their best effort to fulfill an objective. By contrast, the sales of the professional are orchestrated results of efforts thoughtfully applied with the intent to achieve a specific outcome, which is tailored to the particular set of circumstances they face in a given sales situation. On the surface, it may appear that the sales rep and the sales professional do the same job. In actuality, however, the level of awareness, competency, care, and the effective results that a sales pro brings to the work are markedly different from those of a sales rep.
Vision, preparedness, investment, and skill are areas related to sales work that may be useful in identifying other important differences between reps and pros.
There are several main objectives in most sales processes, which can include: finding and qualifying prospective clients; profiling and identifying leverage points; developing and applying strategy; scheduling appointments with prospective clients; engaging, advancing, and obtaining next-step commitments with prospects. As selling becomes complex, additional steps are required in order to achieve a sale. Identifying a vision for the often unclear, prospect-specific steps in a sales situation can challenge a salesperson, especially when an initial vision must shift to accommodate new developments in the course of a sale.
Sales reps lack vision. They give little or no thought to modifying basic procedures. Sales reps are not concerned with maximizing the effectiveness of their endeavors. "Sales is sales," you’ll often hear them say, which means that they believe every new opportunity is like all others. By contrast, sales professionals consistently strive to gain insight and some advantage with each sales opportunity. They’re determined to ensure the success of their mission to convert potential sales into actualized sales. Some of the many ways in which sales pros excel beyond representatives include:
Sales pros don't make excuses for failures; they correct mistakes and other shortcomings
Sales pros avoid making assumptions; they pursue knowledge
Sales pros value and make wise use of data
Sales pros consider the uniqueness of a prospect instead of taking a blanket approach
Sales pros do not abandon pursuits prematurely or without valid reason
Sales reps can develop their vision and improve their sales by thinking more comprehensively—questioning, reasoning about the “why,” “how,” and “what” beyond the ostensible—, as opposed to comfortably settling with their assumptions and foregone conclusions. A classic example is a rep's conclusion that a prospect's lack of response to the rep confirms the prospect's intentional effort to avoid the salesperson. The rep then disengages the pursuit. A higher level of awareness about the possibilities for the prospect's unresponsiveness can account for the difference between many sales successes and sales failures. The point here is: the willingness and effort to see and accommodate a broader perspective, which separates pros from reps.
The basic steps of preparedness for many sales pursuits involve:
(1) gaining a depth of knowledge about the prospect and the sales opportunities that the prospect represents;
(2) identifying strong links or leverage points (means by which to engage prospective clients);
(3) considering your responses to questions that a prospect could ask;
(4) anticipating any peripheral issues that could interfere with the progress of the opportunity;
(5) developing an alternative objective for a conversation or meeting that does not go as planned.
Sales professionals are prepared to engage and nurture sales opportunities. Sales representatives go through the motions of prospecting, calling, meeting, presenting, and following-up without sufficient preparation or respect for the uniqueness of each prospective client. Sales will always be a numbers game for the representative who must rely on "numbers" (quantity of work), which functions as a crutch or compensation for the know-how and skills they lack.
Preparation of a salesperson to engage and sustain sales pursuits requires time and a financial investment. If the business owner or sales manager does not adequately support their salespeople in the activities required for success, both the business and the salesperson are likely to lose sales to competition that is better positioned to succeed.
Sales representatives can improve their preparedness to engage prospective clients and sell by answering questions such as these:
1. What data might help me engage and intrigue my prospect?
2. At this point, what is my main objective in meeting with this prospect?
3. What possible issues might influence my prospect's buying decision?
4. How can I create urgency for my product/service in this situation?
5. What questions might my prospect ask and how will I answer?
6. What hurdles can I anticipate between where the opportunity stands and a sale?
7. What can I ask in order to gain valuable insight that will help me nurture this prospect?
8. How can I use a Stage & Position or Peripheral Selling strategy in order to engage this prospective client and advance the sales opportunity?
Sales reps rarely consider the cost of their sales efforts to their employers. Profitability is not a consideration for the representative who understands "sale" as "commission due” and a means to keep their job. Their contributions have little intrinsic value, although they may account for a company's sales potential. This means that, compared with their professional counterparts, sales reps are far more expendable and much easier to replace.
Sales professionals have a greater intrinsic worth by simply knowing when, where, and how to apply their superior effort and capability. Professionals know which prospects to pursue, when and why a sales pursuit should be abandoned, how to negotiate and achieve more profitable transactions, and strive to improve their knowledge and skills to maximize their success.
A sales representative can improve their value as a salesperson by periodically questioning themselves and learning how to think like a pro. For example, they might ask:
1. Am I on-track to reach my goals, and, if not, how will I change that status?
2. What overall value does this sales pursuit represent to me and my employer?
3. What priority should I give this pursuit, and why?
4. Given what I need to accomplish, are my time investments wise?
5. What can I do in order to increase my productivity to ensure success?
Salespeople must develop a multitude of skills in order to consistently bring sales opportunities to fruition. Yet, sales reps often neglect the development of their skills. Reps and pros, therefore, vary to the extent that they diverge in mastery of the skills required in order to sell reliably.
Consider a few aspects of common sales work and examples of their respective demands (each aspect can include skills and requirements beyond those listed here):
Conduct research >
Requires attention to detail, resourcefulness, and creativity
Requires logic, assessment, foresight (ability to see opportunity)
Set appointments >
Requires technique proficiency, discernment, and accommodation
Requires presentation skills, strategy formulation, ability to gain insight
Nurture business >
Requires patience, resourcefulness, persistence, creativity, and subtlety
Selling professionally requires a multitude of skills to work synergistically. Those who possess and refine such skills become top sales performers. Most people employed in sales, however, do not improve their skills, and thus, remain ill-equipped to evolve in the profession and succeed consistently.
As you strive to improve the sales of your company, understand which skills are required to meet your specific challenges. Consider your sales methodology. It should be comprehensive and suited to your resources and needs. Understand the rationale behind what you practice in your operation and require of your salespeople. Set reasonable standards for your operation (in various respects) and learn how to safeguard these standards (proper standards can dramatically improve results from individual sales efforts and performance throughout an operation).
Certainly, one of the greatest sales skills to develop is critical thinking. Sales professionals think critically about prospects and situations and, therefore, are able to figure out how to effectively manage those situations in order to create and advance opportunities. Convert your representatives into professionals with an objective-driven process, condition-specific sales training, role-play exercises, performance standards, skill development tests, and appropriate care and support. You’ll enjoy greater sales success in return.
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