Are You A Sales Professional or Semi-Skilled Laborer?

By Paul McCord

We in sales work in what we like to claim is one of the highest paid professions, yet statistics indicate we are, in fact, employed in one of the lowest paying professions. In fact, we are engaged in a business that is unevenly divided between a relatively small group of highly skilled professionals, earning some of the highest wages in the world, and a huge group of unskilled and semi-skilled laborers, earning unskilled and semi-skilled wages.

Truth, Sales and Leadership

Salesmen, politicians and chief executives are all cut from the same mold. Their fundamental job is to impress and make others feel good about buying what they have to sell. As someone who has spent his career in product delivery, and who is sceptical by nature, Marc Hamann had a mixed relationship with the sales and presentation types. He has all too often ended up on the hook when one of them sold unicorns when what we had in the barn was donkeys. But, unlike many technically oriented delivery specialists, he has a deep appreciation for the value and necessity of presentation and sales. He understands the symbiotic nature of our separate disciplines. In the end, things only work out well when both roles are filled competently, and both sides need to remember their dependence on the other if they want to succeed.

Basic Sales Skills That Every Sales Person Must Have to Be Successful

What does it take to become a successful salesperson in the modern age? Contrary to popular belief, great salespeople are not those that are naturally gifted in the art – although some people certainly do have a natural talent for selling. To become successful in sales there are a number of basic sales skills which, when combined with dedication and desire, will set you miles apart. Sales Training Strategy lists them here.



As leaders and managers, at some point we all face performance issues and need to determine the appropriate solutions. You may be running short of your quarterly or annual sales targets; you may have a new CRM or other software or a new product or product enhancements; you have a perceived skill gap, a new sales model you want to introduce; or your people are just not performing to your expectations.
Too many times, team leaders rush to implement a training solution based on a gut feeling, only to miss the results they were hoping to gain. Training is the easy answer but was it the right thing or did you just throw money at the problem?
Following a basic set of questions can help you determine the real issues and needs and how to address them.  Here are the four key questions to ask.

1. What business results do you need or expect?
This is the most important question to answer. Every project should lead to a business result—an increase in sales, a rise in customer satisfaction, and so on. Face it, if you were not expecting good results, you would not be taking on this initiative. If you can’t define the business results you expect, then you should ask yourself why you are putting the time and resources into this. Typically, these are some results you might expect: “To meet our sales goals or $XXX in revenue,” “To increase sales X percent,” “To reach X percent market share.” In the case of a new CRM, it may simply be to not negatively impact your sales.

2. (If necessary) what is your expected return on investment?
What monetary return are you expecting from the business result? If you are expecting a 10 percent increase in sales, what is the increase in revenue? If you are expecting to rise a point in customer satisfaction ratings, what monetary value will this lead to? This question is difficult and not often answered. It is hard to isolate the training as the factor for sales increases. Use this type of information cautiously and only present if it is expected or required to receive the funds.
3. What do your people need to do differently to realize the business goal?
This is the first step to isolate the real issue. Once you have identified your expected business results, you can identify what your people need to do to achieve those results.

If you know that you want to increase sales, but don’t know how, you may have to conduct a survey of salespeople or look for an outside vendor to help. To answer this question, you review current performance against desired performance. This is where an internal assessment of what salespeople are currently doing that is not leading to your expected results comes in. Are they not closing deals? Not positioning products well? Unable to use the systems correctly?
Once the required skills and knowledge have been identified, you can perform an analysis against what you expect to determine what should be provided. From the results of your research you can identify the skills or knowledge needed to achieve the results you want.
4. What the performance gap? What is the right solution?
At this point you have identified the business outcome you expect and compared it what they are doing now. This gives us a performance gap. The next question you need to ask is “Why are they not performing as we want them to?” This is where you make your decision about whether or not training is the best solution.

It is easy to jump into a training solution, but this may not be the right answer. For example, if you say, I’ll give you $100 right now if you can do this”—and they CAN do it—it isn’t a training problem. Have you ever thought, “We have a problem, so we need a workshop”? Or read an article or book and said, “I want that for my people”? It is easy to fall into offering “flavor of the month” training programs. You must not take the easy way out, but continue to search for the right answer.

According to Tom Gilbert’s Behavior Engineering Model (BEM), performance issues can be categorized into the following six groups:

  • Consequences, incentives, or rewards
  • Data, information, and feedback
  • Environmental support, resources, and tools
  • Individual capacity
  • Motives and expectations
  • Skills and knowledg

Of the six categories, the only one that can be resolved by training is lack of skills and knowledge. The others may require different changes.

Consequences, Incentives, or Rewards
Do your employees have the correct incentives or rewards to achieve the performance you want? Are there consequences to them not performing?

Do not overlook consequences. Human behavior drives us to complete work in ways that result in the least negative consequences. Make sure the incentives to perform are greater than the consequences of not performing. It is very typical to raise goals or give extra work to high performers; this can be viewed as a negative consequence of success.

Problems in this area can typically be solved by changing incentives or pay structure. If you do not have the right incentives, work with your HR or compensation expert to determine what is needed to drive the results you want.

Data, Information, and Feedback
Often people have the skills and knowledge to perform, but they do not have the data, information, or feedback they need. Ensure your team has the information and data they require to complete their jobs successfully.
Have they been given feedback that they are not meeting expectations? Employees need to receive feedback on their performance. People want to be successful, and may not even realize they are not meeting expectations.
Problems in this area can typically be solved by providing the essential data needed to perform their jobs and good feedback on their performance. Job aids, manager feedback, and coaching can resolve issues.

Environmental Support, Resources, and Tools
Do people have the support, resources, and tools to be successful? Have budget cuts hurt their ability to complete their tasks? Are there tools that provide essential information to do their jobs? Answers to these types of questions will help you determine whether you have issues in this area.

Often people have the skills and knowledge, but their environment does not support them to be successful. Frequently, providing support systems, job aids, and sales tools, or even an organizational or job realignment can resolve issues in these areas.

Individual Capacity
Is each person capable of successfully completing his or her job? This is typically one of the hardest questions to answer, as some issues of individual capacity cannot be solved with training.

We have all known someone who just cannot perform the expected job. No matter how much training the person receives, the job is not the correct fit for him or her. At times we need to make the tough decision that a hiring mistake was made or a job promotion has put someone in a position in which he or she cannot be successful.

If one or two people are struggling, then it could be individual capacity. However, if your entire organization is not performing as expected, it is probably an organizational issue. It is important to work with your human resources representative if you feel you have an issue with individual capacity.

Motives and Expectations
Do your people understand what is expected of them, and are they motivated to complete the work? These are tough questions that require a hard look at how the team is being led. Leadership is key in solving any performance issues in this area.

Many leaders feel that if they communicate goals and have a good incentive program, people will perform. Human behavior does not peak in the presence of incentives. People need to feel part of an organization and they want to follow a strong leader. Employees want to have a good understanding of organizational goals and how they fit into the bigger picture.

We must also communicate expectations. We must be clear, not only about goals, but about how we expect people to meet those goals. Performance issues in this area can be solved only by focusing on leadership and communication. Are you unwittingly part of the problem? Take a realistic look at yourself and the other leaders. Do the managers know what they are looking for? Have they clearly communicated that to the team? Have you communicated it to them?

Skills and Knowledge
Do people have the correct skills and knowledge to perform their jobs? Do they understand the business so that they can properly position it to meet customers’ needs? Do they know how to use the tools required to complete their jobs? Problems in this area, if present, can be solved with training.

The bottom line: If the problem is with skills and knowledge, some type of training intervention is required, but it is not quite that easy. You still must determine the best training solution.

Often performance issues do not fit neatly into one category. You will need to address each issue in order to be successful. Adjusting incentives, providing tools and resources, and setting clear expectations may also be required.

Most people stop at this point and hand off the course to the training department or a vendor. In my experience with leaders across organizations, the leaders who stay involved end up with more successful solutions. Leaders who are involved can ensure that a great product is delivered.

You do not need to have all of the answers, but your involvement in the process will add to the success of the solution and to your personal credibility. Your support can be integral for the acceptance of the program by your team. As I said before, people want to follow a great leader; being the visible “owner” of a project can help with its implementation and adoption.

Much of the success in addressing a performance issue is completing the due diligence in defining performance issues before deciding on a solution. It’s also important to answer the questions fully to ensure that the solution you choose is aligned with your business goals. By following this process and staying engaged, you can ensure the increased performance of your team.

Glibert, T. F. (1996). Human Competence: Engineering Worthy Performance. Amherst, MA: HRD Press/ISPI.

Content reprinted with permission from Fortify Your Sales Force: leading and training exceptional teams (Pfeiffer).
This resource is written by 13 fabulously talented authors with experience in corporate sales, sales leadership, and sales training.  They have experience in companies like Motorola, P&G, Ricoh, United Airlines, Abbott Labs, Avon, Kraft, Novartis, M&M Mars, Xerox, GE, Sears, Bayer, Walgreens, Shell Oil, Office Max, Con-Agra, Masterfoods, Gillette, Sprint and more.

About the Author

Michael Rockelmann is a talent management and performance specialist who has worked in the Learning and Development and Human Resource fields for over a decade. During this time he has held full-time positions and ran his own consulting practice, Driving Results. He has worked with several Fortune 500 and 1000 companies, many small and start-up firms, and several sales consulting organizations. His work includes companies such as Abbott Laboratories, United Air Lines, Dade Behring, CDW, TAP Pharmaceuticals, Motorola, Walgreens, Grainger, Hewitt, Brinker International, and Quaker Oats.

Michael’s experience has included the areas of sales training, leadership development, technical training, organizational development, talent management and succession planning, and other areas of Human Resources.  Currently, Michael is a managing Leadership Development at a large Pharmaceutical and Life Sciences company.

Michael has earned a B.S. degree in industrial psychology/organization development and a master’s degree in huma

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The only time during the entire year when the worldwide sales team gets together is the annual sales kickoff meeting. Obviously, everyone wants this meeting to be a success. As a keynote speaker who has had the privilege of presenting at more than one hundred annual sales meetings, Steve W. Martin thought he would share some of the ways companies sabotage their annual sales conventions.