Many of us who are tenured sales professionals – and most that have previously pursued a profession in sales – can attest to the fact that the position selection process is ultimately critical to our success in sales.

We also understand that, for most, the insight and skills necessary

for working through this process are generally not present either before the start of our careers or during the early stages. Here, my friend, is the rub and a true paradox, because to possess the capabilities necessary for thorough sales position selection, the professional must have knowledge of the profession generally and some understanding of the specific sales position(s) that he will pursue. But because of inherent limitations within the profession, he can only acquire such knowledge, experience and expertise through direct exposure in conventional sales environments.

Why is this? The answers are simple.

First, unlike other professionals, sales professionals are not prepared for their professions with formal education, apprenticeship or vocational training. Rather, regardless of institutional venue or format (high school, trade school, college/university), there are no curricula and few, if any, classes dedicated to the sales profession. Generally, any sales or salesmanship training offered by these institutions is offered at the college/university level, done on a limited scale, and usually offered only as part of a marketing or general business curriculum. Therefore, little or no attention is given the sales profession in pre-employment educational environments.

Thus, unlike most other professionals (accountants, attorneys, doctors, engineers or carpenters, plumbers), sales professionals are not educationally or functionally prepared for their chosen field.

Second, in addition to the lack of pre-employment training, most sales professionals receive little or no professional training and development support during employment. For those who do receive training in the work environment, it is estimated that 90 per cent of the training is only product-based and most of this training, perhaps 60 per cent, is rather simplistic. Therefore, most new or novice sales professionals are left to their own devices when it comes to career development and have only two choices:

1) If they remain in the field long enough, they learn their profession purely through trial and error

2) If they are wise, they seek training and development support from external resources – usually at their own expense – while also learning, perhaps to a lesser degree, from their mistakes.

I call this “the school of hard knocks” for sales professionals. They are required to learn basic survival skills in addition to gaining the experience and expertise necessary for career development principally on their own.

Note: It should be said that some sales professionals (perhaps 10 per cent) are fortunate in that they align themselves with organizations that both appreciate and understand the value of their profession, and thus value them as professionals. These organizations provide professional training and development support. Therefore the few individuals who align themselves with supportive organizations are able to rely less on survival skills and more on their intellect as they are generally exposed to what I call “the sales university system.” These systems are generally structured to provide extensive career development support.

As mentioned before, there is paradox here – one which few other professionals are faced with. Because of the lack of pre-employment education and limited training and development during employment, most sales professionals learn their profession only after years of real-time exposure in the field and by trial and error. Therefore, most sales professionals don’t truly find their selling niche until they have experienced firsthand (and learned from those experiences) the pros and cons of the profession in general, and specifically, the positions held during the early stages of their careers.

Subsequently, provided they stay in the profession long enough and work hard at developing their professionalism, they eventually develop both the insight and skill necessary to chart their courses for successful careers.

Bobby Butler is president and founder of Sales Mentoring Solutions. His firm provides training and development as well as organization development support to sales organizations and professional association memberships.

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