If I asked you to describe a salesperson, you might start to think of some of the characters you’ve seen in movies like Tommy Boy or Wolf of Wall Street (or Glengarry Glen Ross if you’re into cult classics). Or, you might think about a used car salesperson or a telemarketer. Unfortunately, for most people, their perceptions of sales professionals are mostly negative. They’re often thought of as slimy, smooth-talking, con-artists, who are only out to make money.
Now, take a moment and think about the people you know or have worked with. You likely have a friend, relative, or loved one who makes a living selling cars, houses, technology, machinery, or some other good or service. Do they match the stereotype? According to the latest Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates, about 1 in 9 people works in sales. But, what if I told you that every one of us is actually a salesperson in many ways? And what if I also told you that you would probably be better at your job — doctor, lawyer, mother, accountant, whatever — if you took on some of the skills and qualities that the best salespeople have?
Salesforce set out last year to try to do our part to debunk some of the negative stereotypes, and to reveal some of the hidden treasures in the profession of sales. We did this by making a documentary film called: The Story of Sales. We think everyone could benefit from watching this film, no matter your profession or previous level of interest in sales.
As a marketer with a decent amount of experience, I had a pretty familiar relationship with sales and salespeople. But in process of making this film, I’ve definitely learned some life-changing lessons that I’d like to share:
For the Story of Sales we talked to several professors and trainers and asked them about one of the glaring issues facing the sales profession: educating and training the next generation. We learned that only about 3-5% of the 4,000+ colleges and universities in the U.S. have a sales course, program or degree. But, at the same time, over 50% of graduates end up working in sales. While many colleges — like the one featured in the film, UT Dallas — are recognizing the need to add sales curriculum and programs, there’s still a big gap.
So why don’t more colleges teach sales? That’s probably a whole other blog post (or entire blog). But part of it is demand. I’m pretty sure I actively avoided the possibility of a career in sales when I was in my early twenties. It goes back to our negative stereotypes, and misinformation about what honest, successful sales professionals actually do. More young people would do well to consider investing in learning selling skills and deliberately considering a job in sales. Statistics show that many will work in sales anyway...Why not learn to do it well? And those skills will translate to other roles and functions in whatever you do. Plus, you can get a lot of satisfaction from helping customers (and make a good amount of money in the process).
As we interviewed our amazing group of sales experts and followed real sales trailblazers, a common theme kept coming up. It was that a successful career in sales requires personality traits and behaviors that are the complete opposite of what the stereotypes would indicate.
Most people might think that being outgoing, boisterous, smooth-talking, and charismatic are necessary traits for a winning salesperson. In fact, the best salespeople prioritize being trustworthy, curious, thoughtful and open. The words “helping” and “helper” were used many times to describe the role of a salesperson. In the end, the goal of any business should be to help its customers be happy and successful, and the sales function is the front line for that effort. They’re often the first ambassadors for your business, to show customers how your company can help them, “achieve a goal, solve a problem, or satisfy a need.”
One of our main questions going into the making of this film was, “What is the future of sales?” There’s been undeniable disruption in all facets of business from technology, the Internet and artificial intelligence (AI). Will we need humans to sell anymore, or will robots handle it for us?
The consensus from most of our interviews was that in some areas, technology and AI may automate or take over some tasks that sales has traditionally managed. But what was also a common answer was that there will always be a need and place for consultative, helpful and smart, professional salespeople. Customers, especially in more complex and higher-cost transactions, will still want to connect with someone who can guide them, give them trusted advice and provide a partner relationship.
We hope you’ll be willing to open your mind about sales and take the time to watch our documentary. You can learn more about it and watch it for free here »