The oldest profession in the world

Okay so the headline is click-bait intended to bring you here for outrage or gratification – dependent I guess, on your stance re the profession in question. Just to clarify, we are talking about the profession of … sales. Nothing more, nothing less. I know there are other ‘professions’ that claim the title as their own, but let’s be honest – whenever there is choice, or a rival solution, then a sales process takes place. And that’s always been the case. Arguably, the first Neanderthal to slip into some raunchy furs and wink suggestively at a fellow cave dweller was, in fact, engaging in a closing technique – long before they brought any other ‘skills’ to the party.

A crude analogy I accept, but the question is how has Sales, as a modern profession, become something viewed universally in a negative light. I don’t mean the city slickers and all their millions. I mean everyday investment salespeople promoting funds, ISAs, Platforms and the like.

Do a scroll through Linkedin and in amongst all the ‘inspirational’ quotes (when did Linkedin become an online fortune cookie by the way?) you’ll see BDM’s, Strategic Partners, Business Consultants, Account Managers, etc, etc. What you won’t see is the word ‘Sales’. It’s barely visible unless it’s preceded by ‘Head of’, or followed by ‘Director’. It’s a career to seemingly be ashamed of, to not divulge you participate in, unless you are top of your relative tree. This seems a real shame to me and something we can only put right with the input from you, the customer.

As with any profession there are average participants, good participants, great participants and outright stinkers. But the fundamental role of matching services/solutions with client needs is one that should consistently add value to all stakeholders. Over the years we’ve been guilty of not flushing out the ineffective quickly and incentive schemes have pushed behaviours in directions that were foolish, short-sighted and in no ones best interest. I missed out on the shadier days of provider sales, that I am sure many of you may recall, but even in the late ‘90s people were still talking of golf handicaps and the ‘Colombo close’ as effective ways of getting business. In my defence, I only even attempted (without success), to master one of those!

In my first sales job interview (primed with useless psychometric tips that had been dished up when leaving university) I was asked to ‘sell’ a paper cup to the prospective interviewer. I asked if he was thirsty. He said he wasn’t. At exactly 8 minutes, it remains the shortest interview I’ve ever participated in. I think, hope and pray we’ve moved on from that view; that sales is some sort of magical power blessed mainly upon those from Peckham and Cork.

Now however seems the time to review the evolution or sales roles. Most providers, I’d guess, want modern professional salespeople representing them. The type that are as fit for purpose and ready for the post RDR world, as you are. The question is: ‘What do you want?’

I see an increasing demand for high quality telephone sales work, no longer seen as the inferior alternative (to a face-to-face BDM) from an advisory perspective. The ages, experience and rewards linked to that role are continually increasing, and advisors seem to respond positively to their increased availability and ability to get things done quickly, versus the traditional field based role. Likewise, the role of the face-to-face consultant has long been evolving into a ‘partnership’ based approach, of the like more traditionally linked to national/key account relationships. If an advisor is giving up their time for a meeting, then the very least they expect in return is an effort to bespoke the proposition in a way that adds increased value to their specific circumstances.

However, I’m falling into a sales trap as old as the profession itself, that of making presumptions. At the end of the day the only factor that determines the influence (if there is any) of a salesperson is the customer, i.e. you. So next time you stumble on one of us doing anything that works for you -or doesn’t- please don’t hold it back. We need and value the feedback. This is your lounge, but plenty of providers have their noses pressed firmly to the window, so please comment and let us at least attempt to provide more of what you value.