No business is succeeding in a viable way unless its sales department is achieving.
That being the case, why are sales professions so often viewed with negative perceptions and stereotypes?
James has been in the sales and software industry for over 10 years and was the world’s #1 social seller on LinkedIn while working for LinkedIn. Sales Confidence also hosts the SaaSGrowth 2020 conference in London.
“Our vision is to build the world’s largest B2B sales community,” James said. “Day to day, we’re focused on helping elevate the sales profession and helping people in each stage of their career with their performance, mindset, and wellbeing.”
Fundamentally, there is no single company out there that is surviving unless their sales function is performing.
Negative perceptions of sales professionals
Put simply, businesses need salespeople to achieve results in order to grow. But many consumers — despite how much we love to buy — view purchasing something as transactional. “As a buyer, we’ve often been left disappointed with the buyer experience,” James said.
Buyers’ negative perceptions of sales professionals are impacted by our everyday experiences being rushed or pressured to make quick decisions.
In reality, B2B sales professionals, particularly within the software industry, are incredibly thoughtful, caring, and often emotionally intelligent sales professionals.
They really do care about understanding their buyer, understanding their buyer’s needs and providing the right solution at the right stage for that individual in their company.
When you elevate yourself and you want to add value strategically, you truly have to understand the organization and the people that you’re looking to advise.
The strategic function of sales professionals
A considerable part of the problem with negative stereotyping of sales professionals — in other words, one of the best ways to elevate sales — is to recognize its strategic function within an organization.
“It’s really important as a sales professional to intimately understand your target buyer, the type of company, industry that they operate in, and stage they are at in their research,” James said.
Sales professionals should be rewarded with recognition for the extent of research that they commit to learning how to become an expert and trusted advisor to their clients. “If you understand the company that you’re talking with, then you will be in a better position to advise them at a strategic level,” he added.
When selling to enterprise companies with 10,000 employees, there will often be 10 or more people involved in a decision-making process, so a sales professional should invest time in understanding the different needs of these different individuals.
“When you elevate yourself and you want to add value strategically, it’s not good enough just to know your own product. To understand the type of buyer, you truly have to understand the organization and the people that you’re looking to advise,” James said.
Those companies right now in 2020 that have focused on the mental health of their leaders and professionals are going to be much more successful than their peers in the industry.
3 ways to shift perception of sales professionals
1 — Compensation
A large part of the earning of salespeople is based on commission, and rightly so.
“Making a sale and closing a deal is an extremely positive thing to do as an individual,” James said. “Fundamentally, there is no single company out there that is surviving unless their sales function is performing.”
James also advocates sharing the rewards of a sale beyond the sales function. Just as sales is supported by marketing, customer success, products, PR, and content, these other people in the business should be rewarded in the success of sales.
“We should be proud of sales, and we should be proud of closing the deal — and we should extend the rewards for those individuals around the sales organization or supporting the organization,” he said.
At Sales Confidence, the results of every annual conference ticket sale that’s not directly closed by a sales professional is shared among everyone in the whole company (even freelancers).
2 — Community
When sales professionals belong to a community where they’re being educated, meeting mentors, and accelerating their career with industry insights, that raises their performance and serves their organizations.
James is invested in telling the story of salespeople within the SaaS industry, as well as in mainstream press. Narrating the experience of salespeople will effect a positive perception shift.
“We are going to tell the story that salespeople, like marketing people or product people or any type of person, are just human beings. We care about each other like anybody else,” James said.
He wants to focus on sales professionals within a caring community, learning how to do the best job they can, the importance of emotional intelligence and self-awareness, and how to create better buyer experiences in the marketplace.
3 — Mental wellbeing
James is committed to raising awareness of the importance of mental health. “I’ve been impacted by my own mental health challenges over the last 10 years. I’ve spent time in a mental health hospital, which is quite unusual to hear from a public figure, a CEO, and a founder,” he said.
Sales leaders are under immense pressure to meet the high expectations of the organization, manage self-doubt and pressure, and coach a sales team to deliver on numbers. Yet, viewing them exclusively as charismatic or inspirational isolates them from getting the support that they, like all of us, need day to day.
“Those companies right now in 2020 and over the next decade that have focused on the mental health of their leaders and professionals are going to be much more successful than their peers in industry,” James said.