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.

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5 thoughts on “The oldest profession in the world

  • I like this, Damian. Whilst not an adviser, I do get frustrated by dishonest techniques to get me into a meeting which is essentially a sales pitch. Examples are pretending that my opinion is being sought on a particular new product or service when it’s within seconds of being launched so my opinion will have no impact anyway. I’ve started to warm more to people who just say they want to sell me something and are frank about it.

    I’ve also made my sales team call themselves a sales team, although I occasionally see one or two of them change their job title in their email footer to something less blunt.

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  • Good subject and blog, Damian.

    I used to ask interviewees for their definition of sales. My favourite response was ‘forcible negotiation’.

    My definition was, and is, ‘find out what they want, then give it to them’.

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  • Selling is the most basic of all human skills and has been with us since time began.

    I think the article is trying to support sales skills but seems to be doing so in a typically reluctant and patronising manner.

    Sales can be the presentation of a product or of a service and in our industry there is a huge and urgent need for basic sales education at all points in the distribution process.I

    Every one of us is always selling something although some are clearly more successful than others.

    It is easy to demean sales techniques but the complete lack of basic sales skills in our industry simply highlights the absolute need for the introduction of effective sales training at all levels.

    You ask what we want Damien and talk of changing demands brought about by the RDR etc. although I don’t think anything has happened which changes the need for basic sales skills.

    Why not begin again with first impressions which do still count as much as they always have. It is not difficult to dress in an appropriate manner for business – clean shiny shoes, pressed shirt, tie and suit with a tidy haircut ( you are not a pop star ). It is not difficult to be on time or to be prepared for the meeting you have asked for especially with the technology available today. It is not difficult to check out websites and find out if your proposition is relevant to the meeting you have arranged.

    It is quite amazing how willing so many are to allow their business to be poorly presented and badly represented when all that is needed are basic sales skills and product/sales knowledge.

    The dismal approach of our industry to the change of being paid by clients rather than providers highlights how great is the need for sales education amongst advisers.

    Perhaps it is really just as simple as reminding ourselves that we need to be able to persuade people that we have something which can add value to their lives.

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  • I think the current crop of intermediaries must be difficult to sell to.
    I dont think that I’m alone in valuing the written word more highly than the spoken. So, for example, the Alliance Trust annual report to shareholders carries a lot of weight in my mind, but the nice chap who says that the company is in it for the long term , honest, doesnt.
    Why is that?
    I think it is possibly down to the years of lack of integrity in our business – both amongst providers and advisers. Too many people have said anything to get a sale. But it is also down to the bureaucratic regulatory system we work within. “If it isnt written down, it didnt happen”
    I think that means that you either have to have products which align with my personal values, or you need to get me to change my values, if you are to sell to me (and other intermediaries).
    That sounds a lot harder to me than what I used to do 25 years ago when I was selling to intermediaries (an extra 5% LAUTRO were the magic words back then!)

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  • Sales is not a dirty word! While (probably) most Lawyers and Accountants think they don’t sell, the best ones do. They and we sell service/time for fees.

    The best sales techniques encompass assumption to the extent that it’s all so natural, neither the buyer nor the seller realises a selling process is taking place!

    Good topic Damian.

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