Sales, Profession Or Professionalism?
I’ve gotten tangled up in a number of conversations about “Sales Needs To Be A Profession,” lately. To be honest, I’m relatively indifferent about the discussion about whether sales should be a profession or not. But you can’t drag me off my soapbox on the subject of professionalism in sales.
The “Profession Of Selling:”
Usually when we talk about a “profession,” what we are referring to is a certification process. That process often requires a minimum level of formal training/education, some level of practical. but supervised experience, and some sort of certification process–usually some sort of exam.
When we talk about “professions,” usually we use Doctors, Lawyers, and Accountants as examples. Each go through very tough education and certification standards.
Along with this certification come certain legal restrictions and responsibilities. You can’t call yourself a Medical Doctor, unless you are actually certified. You can’t practice Law in a courtroom, unless you are certified and a member of the bar. You can’t sign off on a corporation’s books unless you are a CPA.
I suppose this process was put in place to provide some level of “protection” to all of us. After all, I wouldn’t want to go through surgery performed by my next door neighbor–a Sales VP with an industrial products company. Steve is a great guy, but the moment he picks up a scalpel, I run.
At the same time, the concept of having to “protect” people from bad sales people is discomforting.
Many people arguing for the “professionalization of sales,” do so with a genuine intent of raising the quality and conduct of sales people. They believe, requiring a minimum level of training/education, requiring a minimum level of practical-supervised experience, requiring some sort of certification of sales people will raise the standard of salesmanship, creating much better customer experiences.
Some suggest creating a Profession for sales will make sales people less despised—but then I reflect on the glee I get out of lawyer jokes (What do you call 600 lawyers at the bottom of the ocean? A good start!)
See being part of a profession doesn’t mean we see good, great, or even inspired practice.
All one has to do is open a newspaper anywhere in the world and you will find stories of declining quality of health care and medical practice, scandal after scandal involving lawyers, any number of reports of financial malfeasance and deception in which CPA’s have been involved. Choose any profession in the world, and you have no end of examples of bad practice and lack of professionalism.
We can look at the Non-Professions (note I didn’t say unprofessional). Like the professions we can find endless examples of bad practice as well.
But also like the professions, we can find endless examples of good, great, and inspired practice.
We see truly outstanding people in manufacturing, engineering, design, development, general management, human resources, customer service, operations, and finance. We see good, great, and inspired performances from people on the factory floor, from service workers, from clerical and administrative staff. We see good, great and inspired performances from marketing and sales.
So I think the discussion shouldn’t be about making sales a profession–because it won’t mean we have great performance, but rather to understand and execute things that drive the highest levels of Professionalism.
Thinking About Professionalism:
Professionalism is different from being a part of a profession. Professionalism can be practiced by anyone, regardless of the job, formal education, or ability to “pass tests.” We can see great professionalism from a janitor, a housekeeper, a receptionist, a waiter, a laborer.
Professionalism is internally driven, we can’t be educated, tested, or examined to be more professional. Professionalism is a never ending journey, demanding a commitment to continual learning and improvement.
Professionalism is rooted in a value system and beliefs that are inviolable. Professionalism is constantly seeking to achieve the highest levels of performance. Professionalism is about obsessive learning and relentless execution.
Professionalism, isn’t about not making mistakes or errors, but it’s about learning from them, improving, growing and moving on. It’s also about acknowledging those mistakes and errors to those who are impacted. We shouldn’t mistake professionalism for perfectionism.
Professionalism is about having the highest personal standards of one’s own performance, and having high expectations of the performance of everyone else. But it’s also forgiving, recognizing we sometimes fail, but need to pick ourselves up and get going again.
Professionalism is immediately recognizable by the performance itself and the example the professional sets. It needs no plaque, certificate, or framed document on a wall. It is immediately obvious to everyone who sees it. Yet, ironically, those who are the most unprofessional, never seem to recognize what professionalism is.
So should sales be a Profession? MEH …. I’m unexcited and uninspired.
But show me a true professional, someone constantly striving for the highest levels or performance, and I am truly inspired.
Seeing a great professional inspires me to do better.
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