Getting The Edge In Professional Selling
Terence A. Hockenhull

“BAD PRESS” constantly barrages people who choose sales as a career. As a result, many people think there is something degrading about filling a sales position.

Tell someone that you are a salesperson and he may ask: “How long do you intend to do that for?” Selling has always been an important component of my job. Whether teaching, delivering seminars or selling and marketing consultancy services, I have worked with many who consider selling a temporary job which they will do while looking for something more “professional” to do. I am no exception to the thousands of salesmen who prefer to use alternative titles on business correspondence. Marketing assistant, product manager, area representative all seem to be more socially acceptable than the term “salesman.”

Why is it that so many people consider salespeople to be untrustworthy, unprofessional and incompetent? It comes down to what people remember most about the dealings they have had with salesmen and women. When a salesman delivers satisfactory service, it is usually enough to thank him by awarding him the business. Yet, if a salesperson behaves unprofessionally, the customer will delight in telling as many people as possible about his bad experience.

There are three areas that are important in maintaining a professional sales image. These are honesty, ability and concern for the customer. A salesperson who fails to disclose all relevant information about his products or services and allows the customer to buy when he knows it is not what the customer needs, contravenes the basic quality of honesty and the customer will be left with a poor impression. Ability reflects on the salesperson capacity to uncover the client’s needs through effective selling techniques and, of course, by demonstrating the depth of his product knowledge. We all have met salespeople who are unable to describe their products well, or answer the most basic of questions. Clearly, product knowledge is essential for a salesman to perform effectively.

Concern for the customer is the third key quality. For professional salespeople selling high-value products or services, this is an essential quality. What is interesting is that the worst offenders are often those who receive their remuneration by way of commissions. Tenacity and aggressiveness are important and valuable traits. However, it is inherently wrong to sell product to a client when the client doesn’t want or need it.

Many insurance companies pay agents on a commission only basis; this practice is beginning to with more and more insurance companies switching to a salary and commission package. The rationale behind this is to increase the professional image of “Financial Consultants.” (Note they are called financial consultants now and not insurance salesmen!)

My younger brother now works for a large financial company handling customer complaints. He tells me the shift away from commissions and towards a structured remuneration plan has decreased the number of complaints from customers who feel they had been bamboozled into buying something that they don’t need.

Every professional salesperson should aim to deliver on all three professional qualities of honesty, ability and concern for the customer. Perhaps if more salespeople took a careful look at their own performance and stopped contravening these basic tenets, salespeople might enjoy a better reputation.

Terence A. Hockenhull is a long-term resident of the Philippines. He is an accomplished sales consultant who currently holds an executive sales position with an Italian geotechnical company.