Leading printing executives into the future
What Role Do Your Sales Professionals Play?
By Jerry Scher
Published: February 25, 2013
I recently attended and spoke at the Association of Marketing Service Providers (AMSP) winter
conference and a great deal of time was spent discussing the need for a new generation of sales
professionals. Industry executives are noticeably struggling with the challenge of re-defining
what these folks look like and where to find them. Companies in a multitude of industries are
confronting this challenge because there are numerous forces at play. In fact we are experiencing
a “Perfect Storm” when it comes to attracting, recruiting, hiring and coaching our next
generation of sales professionals.
As buying/purchasing behavior is changing so is the role of the sales professional. In many ways
technology has leveled the playing field when it comes to making purchasing decisions. Buyers
have access to so much more information today; long before they speak to a sales person. In the
past the sales person was the source of information regarding their products and processes but in
order to remain relevant in the future, they must play a very different role . And while
transactional business will continue as products and services are commoditized, most of those
purchases can be automated through technology and the sales person role (and cost) can be
eliminated or at least minimized.
There has been a great deal of discussion about the book “The Challenger Sale” by Matthew
Dixon and Brent Adamson because of the research they conducted and the insights they
provided. The authors identified five different types of sales people:
The Hard Worker
The Relationship Builder
The Lone Wolf
The Reactive Problem Solver
As a result of their research they identified “The Challenger” sales person far and away the most
successful of the group and acknowledged three distinct skills the Challengers possess;
1. The ability to teach to enable clients to view new and innovative approaches
2. The ability to tailor solutions based on a clients’ values system
3. The ability to take control of the dialogue and decision making process which requires an
understanding of the financial impact of a decision
To further this discussion I will point to a book published in 1995 – High Performance Sales
Organizations where the authors stated that they “expect a salesperson to be a professional
businessperson who happens to be involved in selling.” For years we have been saying that
successful sales professionals must be consultative rather than transactional and that involves a
process of assisting their clients in achieving their strategic goals. And in many cases this
requires the ability to challenge a client’s status quo. Not an easy task for run of the mill
More recently (2011) in his book “That Used to Be Us” Thomas Friedman discussed what
employers are (and will be) looking for in current and future employees based on the need for the
United States to compete in this global economy. His list included:
Strong communication skills
Desire to collaborate as part of a team
Ability to adapt to a continually changing business environment
Open-mindedness and a strong desire to learn and improve
Creativity and critical thinking
Capacity to innovate – reinvent solutions
Aptitude to challenge the status quo before your competitor does
And finally in a recent interview, Bill Gates talked about how we can dramatically improve
education by identifying and selecting better teachers (performance optimization through better
hiring). Through his foundation they have evidently determined that the “best teachers” are the
ones that are capable of engaging their students in thought provoking dialogue and not just
presenting the information within the curriculum of study. The good ones are capable of creating
an environment that fosters creative and critical thinking. Does all of this sound familiar?
I believe that as we continue to transform our businesses, especially in the communications
industry, sales professionals must be more consultative, incorporating a Socratic approach to not
only challenging their clients but to seek innovative strategies and solutions. They must also be
able to educate/teach their clients so they can achieve their stated and unstated strategic goals.
So how can we accomplish this? Well, it begins by carefully defining the job in terms of both
Eligibility and Suitability. Eligibility referring to the specific criteria (i.e. past experience,
industry knowledge, education, technological competence, current client relationships) that you
pre-define as required for employment consideration. Suitability referring to the work
preferences, behavioral traits and competencies that are recognized as critical to success with a
list that includes motivation, interpersonal skills, decision-making, negotiation, strategic
judgment, innovative persistence and a willingness to take initiative.
Sales professionals must be able to engage at multiple levels within a client’s organization, have
an understanding of organizational politics and how decisions are made and by whom. They
must feel comfortable in influencing/persuading others to their point of view while at the same
time be accomplished active listeners with an ability to ask thoughtful questions. In other words
engage their clients/prospects in meaningful dialogue, not only to diagnose problems and
opportunities but to control the process and move it forward assertively.
Great sales people are capable orchestrators with the ability to define the challenges and
coordinate the necessary resources to address those challenges. They are good planners and are
well organized. So how difficult is it to determine if someone is suitable for this newly defined
role? Well it's a lot easier to determine that they don’t possess these qualities after we hire them;
which obviously doesn’t work that well. In fact it's far too costly to determine that after they're
Traditionally we attempt to make that assessment through a series of interviews; but too
frequently those interviews are conducted poorly. So to improve our success rate we have to
develop a systematic approach to interviewing as well as training those responsible for
conducting those interviews. There are basic interview skills that can be taught and practiced.
And if you research the subject of interviewing, you will find that there is greater focus on
preparing the interviewee than the interviewer.
And finally, we must research the range of behavioral assessment tools that are available and
select one that provides you with the insights you are looking for when considering candidates
for hire (or internal promotions). Technological advances that have taken place in the
employment assessment field have certainly made these tools far more effective in predicting
behavior related to specific job requirements as well as making them easier to administer and far
more cost effective.
If you would like more information about transitioning your sales team read our whitepaper The
Guide to Transitioning Your Team to Be Sustainable Resources.
Jerry Scher has been engaged in the graphic communication industry for over 35 years, Jerry's
primary goal - make those around him more successful.