I’ve spent a lot of time considering why the occupation of selling has been given such a low approval rating over the past 40 years. It wasn’t always that way. Here’s a story that got me thinking about this again.
A cowboy named Bud was overseeing his herd in a remote mountainous pasture in California when suddenly a brand-new BMW advanced out of a dust cloud towards him.
The driver, a young man in a Brioni suit, Gucci shoes, Ray Ban sunglasses and YSL tie, leans out the window and asks the cowboy, “If I tell you exactly how many cows and calves you have in your herd, will you give me a calf?”
Bud looks at the man, obviously a yuppie, then looks at his peacefully grazing herd and calmly answers, “Sure, Why not?”
The yuppie parks his car, whips out his Dell notebook computer, connects it to his cell phone, and surfs to a NASA page on the Internet where he calls up a GPS satellite to get an exact fix on his location which he then feeds to another NASA satellite that scans the area in an ultra-high-resolution photo. The young man then opens the digital photo in Adobe Photoshop and exports it to an image processing facility in Hamburg, Germany.
Within seconds, he receives an email on his Blackberry that the image has been processed and the data stored. He then accesses an MS-SQL database through an ODBC connected Excel spreadsheet with email on his Blackberry and, after a few minutes, receives a response.
Finally, he prints out a full-color, 150-page report on his hi-tech, miniaturized LaserJet printer and turns to the cowboy and says, “You have exactly 1,586 cows and calves.”
“That’s right. Well, I guess you can take one of my calves,” says Bud.
He watches the young man select one of the animals and looks on amused as the young man stuffs it into the trunk of his car.
Then Bud says to the young man, “Hey, if I can tell you exactly what your occupation is, will you give me back my calf?”
The young man thinks about it for a second and then says, “Okay, why not?”
“You’re a salesman”, says Bud.
“Wow! That’s correct,” says the yuppie, “but how did you guess that?”
“No guessing required.” answered the cowboy. “You showed up here like you knew everything; you want to get paid for an answer I already knew, to a question I never asked. You tried to show me how much smarter you are than me; and you don’t know a thing about cows. This is a herd of sheep.”
“Now give me back my dog.”
It’s a funny story, but there is a stinging sense of truth about what Bud the cowboy is saying; this is the image of the modern-day salesperson to many people, and it should not be the case. The title, “professional salesperson” should mean something. Selling is an honorable profession done by people who are very skilled and uniquely talented, and only the most focused, organized, driven, conscientious people achieve at the highest level in selling.
One of the mistakes made by many companies in hiring for their sales force is that generally, they have low barriers to entry and low accountability for their sales teams. If you make it easy for people to get in and you don’t hold them accountable, you are destined to have a low performing sales organization. In any great organization, whether it’s a club, church, business or your family-the standards for membership must be high and the accountability must be rigid if you want results to be high.
Professional selling is not a game for cowards; it’s a tough business, it’s an honorable business, and if you’re good at it, you have one of the most secure jobs on the planet and probably rank in the top 5% of wage earners in the world. The word “professional” should be a noun, not an adjective. Think of what the word professional implies in every other context. A professional athlete, a business professional, a professional author, a professional painter, a professional photographer, or a professional plumber or electrician implies that they are the best, they are trained, they are skilled at their craft and art and usually they have chosen it because they have special talents or abilities which support their craft. Selling should be no less so.
If you’re a trained professional salesperson, you have a tremendous business advantage.
I get to meet a lot of salespeople. If you’re privileged to be one of the 18 million salespeople in the U.S., are you a professional?
Illustration by Rob Green