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Sales – the least “professional” business role?

BY that I do NOT mean sales people are NOT professional – rather the role is not really considered so by many.  Just think of the titles sales people go by: Marketing representative. Account executive.  Business development manager.

Ever notice how people who are supposed to be selling stuff aren’t labeled as sales people?  Yet “nothing happens until a sale is made” and no company exists without customers.

There are far more “chief marketing officers” than “chief sales officers”, and – with some notable exceptions – the prestige is in the marketing title.

It isn’t just the titles on business cards, although that’s a symptom of the larger problem. It’s the lack of training provided by many companies, the failure to adequately vet and hire due to a lack of understanding of what works and what doesn’t in “sales”. You can see the impact of this in the relatively high turnover among sales departments.

All of the really good sales people I know are true professionals.  They do their homework, are persistent, listen a lot, ask a lot of questions, prepare carefully and thoroughly, and don’t waste time on likely-futile lunches and golf games. There’s a mistaken impression among many that this is “natural”, that these women and men just “get sales.”

Not true.  In fact, these “pros” are likely the ones fortunate enough to start their careers at companies that invested in sales training; had mentors who helped them grow and mature, worked for managers that supported them and helped them learn from their mistakes. These managers understand the sales process, and how it works both internally and externally. Did they learn this in business school? Highly unlikely.

Sales’ task is to find out what customers’ pain points were and figure out if and how their company’s offerings will alleviate that pain.  It is NOT convincing a prospect to use your stuff, but rather to know prospects so well that you can identify the ones most likely to buy your stuff.  There’s a VERY big difference.

In the work comp world, we all know sales people who are constantly on the move. Many are pure relationships sales people; they sell to their friends, and when they run out of friends to sell their current stuff to, they move on.  In contrast there are a relative few who are true professionals, able to mix the relationship with the consultative, skilled at leveraging their personal reputation to gain entre to a prospect where they work very hard to determine if there’s a fit.

As I look at the work comp services industry, not much has changed over the last couple of decades.  At many companies there’s a lack of appreciation for and of sales. That’s not to say senior management doesn’t want great sales people, they just don’t understand what makes one a great sales person, and what management needs to do to help sales continue to deliver.  There’s usually a distinct lack of training as well, little effective mentoring, and lots of internal conflict between operations and sales – a clear indication that not enough has been done to ensure sales and operations work together effectively.

What does this mean for you?

With the ever-changing landscape in work comp – mergers, acquisitions, vertical consolidation and internalization of services by many TPAs, retirement of many senior execs in “buying” roles, the growing role of the Procurement departments at carriers such as the Hartford and Liberty Mutual, it is becoming increasingly clear that work comp service entities will have to invest in their sales departments and staff if they are to succeed.



5 thoughts on “Sales – the least “professional” business role?”

  1. It’s exciting to see other professionals like yourself understand the value of the sales role. You can’t buy the business. You have to build a cohesive sales team that works with operations and earns the trust of clients through experience. Amen!

  2. Joe, The consolidations and vertical integration you mention does require great skill, training and understanding to succeed in sales. However, the real skill needs to be with the buyer in order to withstand the onslaught of bundled services that can become so procedurally and electronically intertwined into the carrier/claims processes that the service provider becomes too difficult to dislodge. Service firms are not consolidating simply to offer more services one at a time. The blatant motivation is to make their customer dependent on the firm’s services – the tail wagging the dog. The service firm becomes so much a part of the culture that to make a change – even a much needed change – may not pencil out. They hand over the keys to the store.

    My dad used to urge us not to own anything we can’t fix. Easier said than done for sure. However, with a little adaptation to current times, that adage could hold true for carriers who become too dependent on one firm to the point they get stuck to the proverbial tar baby from the old “Uncle Remus” stories.

  3. Joe

    The challenge we see is that few agencies understand how BUYING has changed and as a result they’ve failed to change how they SELL. Folks who rely on relationships, promoting features and benefits, services and price are doomed for failure.

    However, those who invest in understanding how buyers buy, and recognize that as sales professionals, or agents or business development mangers, their greatest role is to help organizations self discover risks and threats and agree on a path forward will continue to win.

    Failure to develop, articulate and execute a strong value proposition that is client focused and outcome oriented is the kiss of death.

  4. Joe, Great blog! All true! Leadership who are not sales professionals just does not understand the role. You said it best here…”All of the really good sales people I know are true professionals. They do their homework, are persistent, listen a lot, ask a lot of questions, prepare carefully and thoroughly, and don’t waste time on likely-futile lunches and golf games. There’s a mistaken impression among many that this is “natural”, that these women and men just “get sales.” I love what I do and it never feels like work!

  5. Joe, Very good blog piece. I hope you have follow-up pieces to this. As a buyer, when someone comes to the table with a bundled approach people should be aware. One size fits all solutions often is a symptom of someone trying to just make a sell. Salespeople, should listen to the buyer and know what pieces fit for now. They should also have the knowledge to dissect the situation and make recommendations appropriately and establish themselves as a resource of product and industry knowledge including the competition.
    There should also be somewhat of a relationship in place to respect the “sell”. Mostly the relationship part should come during the implementation and management stages where you then prove your worth and hopefully position yourself for upsell solutions.

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Joe Paduda is the principal of Health Strategy Associates



A national consulting firm specializing in managed care for workers’ compensation, group health and auto, and health care cost containment. We serve insurers, employers and health care providers.



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