When I was growing up, “salesperson” was not on the list of professions approved by my parents. “Professionals” were doctors, lawyers and engineers. That’s it. That's a mindset many other people share as well.
But after selling my first business and starting Ideal, building a startup sales team from scratch, speaking to other CEOs, senior managers, and academics, I can safely say that attitude has changed. Selling is a legitimate professional career and should always be thought of as one.
Here are three reasons why more people should start thinking about sales as a viable, parent-approved career:
1) Educational institutions are making sales a core part of their curriculums
A profession that requires a specific educational background is more likely to be viewed as a legitimate profession. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers all have degrees in their respective fields. Twenty years ago, individuals who became salespeople often had no training at all. But it’s important to remember that “no formal training” does not mean “no skills required.” At the time, there was no such thing as an undergraduate or graduate degree in sales. Many sales professionals learned the ropes through in-house mentorship, niche training programs or simply trial and error.
Today, we’re seeing the beginnings of an academic awakening, as universities start realizing that sales is one of the most in-demand and lucrative careers out there. Employers are looking for skilled and educated salespeople just as they search for marketers, accountants and consultants.
Sales is also considered both a recession-proof and future-proof profession. Over one-third (36%) of employers plan to hire full-time, permanent sales employees in the next year. Harvard University and Queen’s College both have new sales courses offered in their business schools. Ball State University, Florida State University and many others have added majors in professional selling. I believe this trend will continue until sales courses are a mandatory part of all business degrees.
2) Sales certifications are becoming more commonplace
Most “professionals” have a designation and governing body to oversee it. Engineers share the B.E., doctors all earn MDs, and accountants are all CPAs. Each respective field has their own organization to govern the rules and processes around receiving the designation, and this standard is becoming the norm in sales as well.
In Canada, the Canadian Professional Sales Association (CPSA) governs the Certified Sales Professional (CSP) designation. The American Institute of Inside Sales professionals (AA-ISP) oversees the CISP designation. Thanks to the dedication and determination of the professionals behind these organizations, we’re well on our way to recognizing sales for the expertise it requires.
3) Public attitude is changing
I think the biggest reason sales hasn’t been seen as a profession is popular opinion. For decades, there has been a negative perception of Salespeople. Best-selling author Daniel Pink found that the most common adjectives used to describe Salespeople are dishonest, sleazy, and yuck. Wow.
We’re all familiar with the image of a slimy, used-car salesperson. We think of Boiler Room and Glengarry Glen Ross. We think that salespeople are out there to take advantage of us and trick us into buying something.
We don’t always think about the training, dedication, and talent it requires to be a top salesperson. Fortunately, that mindset is changing. With the advent of solution selling, social selling and Sales 2.0, we’re now seeing sales as a main pillar of business. On average, the sales team is about 30% of the total headcount for larger companies and 40-50% for smaller companies. Salespeople are on the frontline. They’re in the trenches. They carry the business. As the famous Harvey Mackay once put it, “Everyone is in sales. It’s the only way we stay in business.”
There is definitely a changing attitude towards sales as a profession and for good reason. Salespeople are professionals. Let’s give them the respect they deserve.
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Originally published May 10, 2016 6:30:00 AM, updated February 01 2017