By Dave Kahle

A More Professional Sales Force

neat collection of business ties

Q: Dave, I’m from outside the industry, and am accustomed to what I see as a much more professional sales force than what I currently have. Am I off-base in expecting a professional group of sales people, as opposed to the ‘nice guys’ who don’t seem to take their professions seriously that I inherited?

A: No. You’re not off base. You’ve just stumbled upon one of the biggest weaknesses in most distributors – the sales force!  It’s one of the most common laments I hear from distributor principals and sales managers: “I wish I had a more professional sales force.”

You’re not alone, of course.  Not only do I hear it regularly from distributors, but I hear a similar lament from almost every manufacturer, reflecting on the state of the distributor sales force.

Let’s take a look at what it really means, why it is such a common malady, and what you can do about it.

First, let’s acknowledge that there are individual sales people who are very professional.  I have personally met and worked with literally hundreds, if not thousands of them.  There is, scattered about the landscape, an occasional distributor company who can honestly boast of a highly professional sales force.  They are out there.

If you happen to be one of the highly professional, please don’t take offense.  I’m not talking about you.  You are an inspiration and encouragement to me as well as a pleasure with which to work.  Having said that, please understand that the vast majority of your colleagues do not share your professionalism.  They, not you, are the focus of this article.

What does it mean to be a “professional sales person?”

Here is a compendium of four of the most basic characteristics that I’ve collected from clients.

A professional sales person strives continually to do a good job.

This sounds so simple, but it is often the first complaint I hear.  The world is full of sales people who have plateaued at a certain average level of performance and are content to remain there. Too many sales people are satisfied with just doing the job — with mediocre performance.  Why?  Because they don’t see it as a profession, they see their work as a job, a necessary inconvenience that fills the work week and provides a paycheck.

The professional sales person sees the job as a challenge to continually strive for greater performance and more personal growth.  He/she understands that professionalism demands commitment to excellent performance, and strives to deliver.

A professional sales person is a good employee.

I wish I had a dollar for every distributor sales person I’ve run across who thinks of himself as an independent business person with no compulsion to follow the company’s directions.  They consider themselves outside of the world defined by the policies, strategies, goals and procedures of their employer.  Believing that their relationships with their customers are unshakeable and personal, they provide lip service to their manager’s directions, and go about their jobs as they see fit.  They mistakenly equate experience with competence.

Tacky.  Misguided.  Unprofessional.

A professional sales person is committed to personal growth.

Every profession in the world expects a minimum degree of competence to enter the profession.  That’s why lawyers must pass the bar exam, ministers and social workers must graduate from college, teachers must pass their student teaching experience, and EMT technicians must pass their exam to be certified.

Not only does every profession have minimum requirements, so too every profession then demands continual improvement of those practitioners who are dedicated to that profession.  That is why lawyers have conferences, nurses and teachers have in-services, doctors take advanced training, etc.

High standards and continuous improvement are characteristics of every profession.  While we may be a generation away from universally requiring minimum standards in our entry level sales people, we can certainly expect those who make their living by this means to regularly invest in their own improvement.  From my experience, I’m convinced that only five percent of the sales people in the world have spent $20 or more of their own money on their own improvement in the past 12 months.  That’s an indication of the degree to which they are committed to personal and professional growth.  The professionals do.  The non-professionals don’t.

Professional sales people are individuals of substantial character.

You just don’t expect foul language, coarse behavior, substance abuse, financial shortcuts and unethical behavior from a professional of any kind.  That’s because there is a universal perception of a professional as a person of substantial, reliable character of a high order.  They are more disciplined, more ethical and more refined than the mass of humanity.  Or at least they should be.

How did we get in this mess?

We look around for a culprit and, surprise, we discover him in the mirror.  For generations we have seen a mindset toward the sales force that goes like this: “Hire from inside, provide a 100% commission pay plan, and look the other way.  Anybody can be a sales person.  Just make sure they have enough product knowledge, and expect the pay plan to separate the competent from the ill-equipped.”

So we filled our sales forces with competent customer-service reps who were envious of the “big bucks” made by the sales people.  We never demanded professionalism.  We only wanted a body to fill the slot.

We are the culprit.  Every unprofessional sales person in our sales force is there as a result of a series of decisions we made.

Read Dave’s recommendations on “how to fix” the situation in the expanded version of this article here.

Copyright MMXIV by Dave Kahle
All Rights Reserved

About the Author:

Dave Kahle is one of the world’s leading sales authorities. He’s written twelve books, presented in 47 states and ten countries, and has helped enrich tens of thousands of sales people and transform hundreds of sales organizations.  Sign up for his free weekly Ezine.  Check out our Sales Resource Center for 455 sales training programs for every sales person at every level.

You may contact Dave at 800-331-1287, or