TALKING SALES 40: “The Sales Profession”


John Dougan cartoon

In this interview John Dougan states that sales should be seen as a profession.

trust-me-im-in-sales2He explains that professional salespeople offer two real things to customers; they offer perspective and they offer utility. As a result of both of those things customers gain value.

John emphasises that salespeople should be accountable for consistently providing value. To do this they need to be an expert in what their customers’ challenges, issues and opportunities are. “We have a very easy way of looking at that”. He goes on to suggest you ask yourself; “Do I help organisations fix and avoid issues that they have, or do I help them accomplish an opportunity that exists?” See the full interview below.

John Dougan is the Intrepid Sales Detective, a noted writer and blogger on sales effectiveness.

See more of the ‘TALKING SALES’ series here


John S: John, I’ve loved the subjects we’ve been talking about so far, about the buyer process versus the sales process, about sales methodology and social selling. This brings me to the question; who is a salesperson and what is a sales profession? I’ve got to tell you, I hear a lot of stories out there about sales, and the name has certain connotations that I think we need to fix. I believe it’s a profession. What are your beliefs?

John D: Wow – John, it’s a great question! Sales is very much a profession. I mean, we can base it on a few different things, but professional salespeople offer two real things to customers: they offer perspective and they offer utility, as a result of both of those things they gain value. The perspective may be something that they hadn’t thought of before that is unique to them. The utility may well be something that you can actually physically give or that can be tangible or may well be a solution that you’re providing for them. But ultimately, professionals put the customer at the core of everything that they do.

John S: Absolutely. Creating value for your customer is vital, and that’s what sales professionals do. Is that what you’re saying.

John D: Yeah, they certainly do. I mean, not only that, not only do they create value for their customers but they’re also completely accountable to that value. For example, we know that things change over time, that buyers can indeed go through different processes that—you know, whatever it happens to be there are changes out there that are outside of our control. So, as much as we can provide utility now, we’ve got to provide utility in the future. And the important thing is that we’re accountable to that.

John S: Accountable to creating the value for the customer?

John D: And consistently providing value. If you don’t then how can you call yourself the trusted advisor?

John S: So, should we measure salespeople instead of on how many sales they make or what process they follow we should be actually measuring what value they create for customers?

John D: A hundred percent. And John, some organisations have started to do this. They call it network versus enterprise contribution, the idea that not only do I provide an enterprise number, my performance – and again, we see that in sport all the time, people are assessed on their performance – but also: what good do I do to those around me? How much of a broker of capabilities am I? Do I provide value that’s outside of my general remit? And that, of course, if you look at sports people – it’s a great example – they’re doing things in the community.

John S: And all business salespeople, B2B salespeople selling complex solutions, etc. actually are team leaders anyway. They’re working with a team of people they embrace as third parties, their own people and, to some extent, the customer people. True?

John D: Oh John, a great point! You know, when was the last time as a sales resource, as a professional salesperson, you said to your customer “You know what? I can help you with this, but I’m not the person that you need to be speaking to.” That’s when I value sales interactions the most is when not only do I have the customer at the forefront of everything that I’m doing, but I actually have a conversation that provides them with unique value they hadn’t thought of before our interaction.

John S: And therefore you become the trusted advisor.

John D: Yeah, I think it’s something that’s bounded about. The truth is, if you want to be a trusted advisor then provide value to your customer in every interaction, even when you’re not the person that can provide the solution.

John S: And to do that you need to be a domain expert.

John D: A hundred percent. You need to be an expert in what your customers’ challenges, issues, opportunities are. You know, we have very easy way of looking at that. Do you help organisations fix and avoid issues that they have, or do you help them accomplish an opportunity that exists?

John S: Instead of selling feature, function, benefit on a product.

John D: Instead of pushing something on them.

John S: Pull versus push.

John D: Exactly.

John S: Hey, I love the concept of professional selling as a really well-structured profession, and I think we really need to work hard to help people get to that professional state. Thank you very much for your thoughts! I think there’ll be a lot of value for everybody.

John D: Thank you, John!


If you like John Dougan  you can see more of his interviews here:

  1. Adapting Sales Process to Buyer Behaviour
  2. Choosing the right sales methodology
  3. The social selling evolution


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John leads three related organisations, Custell, Strategic Selling Group and Sales Masterminds APAC. These help B2B selling organisations, who recognise the need to transform their sales capability, to respond to the tsunami of change that is starting to wash over us all. He works with people who recognise that to survive they must more strategically support their customer in their buying journey - and understand that they must become specialists in the customer's domain in order to be of value to them. He also helps sales teams build differentiated personal brands and leverage the digital and social worlds to engage to create trust and value.

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