Salespeople Get a Bad Rap

Discussion
Jan 11, 2008

By Tom Ryan

A survey of 2,700 corporate buyers worldwide found that 41 percent rated the quality of the sales professionals as “fair” to “poor,” with some describing salespeople as “charm school graduates,” “leeches” and “rashes.” Of those surveyed, one-third said they don’t receive the level of support they need from salespeople and 46 percent said they would be ashamed to call themselves a salesperson.

The buyers were surveyed by Development Dimensions International, the human resources consulting company.

“A few bad apples always spoil the bunch,” Bradford Thomas, the company’s sales practice team manager, told the Associated Press. “We see it in popular culture all of the time — the aggressive, deceptive used car salesperson with high-pressure techniques. But most are dedicated and hardworking.”

On the positive side, those surveyed ranked salespeople their second choice for information to make buying decisions, above friends and family, losing only to the internet.

“In a given week, people make dozens or hundreds of purchase decisions but see the process as a necessary evil,” said Mr. Thomas.

Indeed, more than 40 percent of buyers have increased their expectations of salespeople’s business and industry knowledge. One in five buyers claimed that salespeople’s expertise is getting worse. One U.S. buyer said the problem is “too many under-trained, underpaid young professionals who probably won’t be there in a year. They have few resources for information and aren’t trained to know how or where to look for help.”

When asked if they considered their sales contacts to be business partners, 54 percent of buyers said “yes.” Asked what made a good partner, buyers cited “product or service advice,” “market knowledge” and “trust” as the top three qualities they value the most in a salesperson. Surprisingly, only 31 percent of buyers selected “relationship building” as a desired quality.

“In the wake of years of public business scandals, trust has really become a precursor to relationship building,” Mr. Thomas said. “Salespeople have to provide extra value in order to earn the right to be viewed as a trusted business advisor.”

Overall, Mr. Thomas said that although sales organizations have made great strides toward becoming better business advisors over the last ten years, salespeople should keep up with the changing needs and demands of their clients to meet these rising expectations.

“If you want your salespeople to build value-added relationships with clients, you need to hire people who are good listeners and problem solvers, not hit-and-run sellers,” he said.

Discussion Questions: Do you think the majority of retailers think of manufacturer reps as a “necessary evil” or a business partner? What do buyers and others at retail want most from the salespeople who call on them? Do you think the quality of salespeople calling on retailers has become better or worse over the last decade?

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20 Comments on "Salespeople Get a Bad Rap"


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Mark Lilien
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

It’s generally not constructive for buyers and salespeople to throw stones at each other. Of course there are unskilled buyers as well as unskilled salespeople. And there are skilled folks who can be annoying or worse. Sometimes there’s a race between the retailers and their suppliers: who can achieve the highest employee turnover? If the buyer turnover is 50% a year and the sales force turnover is 50% a year, all parties lose.

David Zahn
Guest
14 years 4 months ago
There are many terrific points associated with this post and plenty of food for thought. I would like to point out that while the topic is germane–the results of the study are not necessarily reflective of OUR industry. Salespeople that sell infrequently purchased items (“big ticket items” like computers, appliances, vehicles, software applications, etc) know they will not likely have to “live” with the results of being all hat and no cattle when they sell. So, the Buyer is dubious and distrustful and the salesperson may (not always, but enough times to be remembered) attempt to “fast talk” them into a sale. Unfortunately, sales people are guilty for the sins of those that came before them and mucked it up for the current sales person. The expectation is that only half of what is shared is relevant, correct, or believable. So, the Buyer is less inclined to view that person as truly operating in the Buyer’s best interests. In our industry, you have to work with the Buyer over and over and cannot just “move… Read more »
Thomas Mediger
Guest
Thomas Mediger
14 years 4 months ago

I can’t believe that no one has mentioned the high cost of a direct sales staff. Most manufacturers have been making job cuts just like the retailers have. Yet retailers are now demanding more resources than ever from the vendors as support staff. Where does the funding for all of this come from? A new magical pool of money just doesn’t appear out of nowhere. If a retailer has a demand for additional help in one area there will be cuts in another area to pay for the new services. Then add the recent raw material cost escalations with an always increasing pressure to lower margins and it is a perfect storm.

It is no surprise to me that retailers feel that they are not being serviced as well from their sales reps. There are fewer reps on the street and each rep has more accounts that they are responsible for.

Tony Orlando
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

If the major suppliers have cut their sales staffs to the bone, how is anyone going to get a fair shake from the salesperson?

Most small retail stores no longer get any service, because the big companies took us off their list years ago.

The big box stores get all of the attention today, and that is not going to change. We must fend for ourselves, by being creative, and learning about our trade from others, and doing our own research for capital improvements, along with re-sets, and sku management. It’s up to us to learn about new products, because the great salespeople of yesteryear are gone.

This is just the truth, and I’m glad I have only about ten years until I retire, because unless you work for a big corporation, the small businessperson will have to work twice as hard as I do to obtain the small bottom line in retail today.

Good luck to all, you’ll need it.

Ed Dennis
Guest
Ed Dennis
14 years 4 months ago
Having been a sales person most of my life I can assure you that most sales people are horrible. The primary reason is that their management has no earthly idea how to run a business. They don’t know that customers are the engine of the business and never give a thought to taking care of the engine. Most have been raised in an environment that revolves around their own operations (factories). They would rather pump out tons of commodity products and keep the factories running at full speed. Have you ever noticed how often innovation comes from “outside” the industry? Salesmen are usually a bad experience because their bosses force them to continually pound square pegs into round holes. Supplier management is almost never concerned with the health and growth of their customers. They invest no time in trying to understand their customers business, how it works, what processes and equipment is in place, etc. I was once berated by the VP of Sales of a Frozen Food Manufacturer for not spending any time trying… Read more »
David Livingston
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

Good listening and problem solving both go a long way. Not wasting my time goes farther. Free ballgame tickets, box seats, free trips to Florida go even farther.

Canned sales talk, bad jokes, ‘get to know you’ games, pretty girl tag-a-long props, and boiler room techniques won’t get my respect.

Max Goldberg
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

Good salespeople know that they can make more money helping a client solve a problem than by just pushing their wares. Management often loses sight of this in the push to reach quarterly projections.

As products proliferate, it becomes more important for salespeople to know not only their product, but its benefits and where it fits into the overall category landscape. The more knowledge a salesperson has and is willing to honestly share, the more benefit that salesperson can be to a buyer and the more he/she will become a trusted partner.

Bob Phibbs
Guest
14 years 4 months ago
Most manufacturers reps these days are little more than order takers, deal makers and returns coordinators. Is this different from the past? Probably not. Is the fact that salespeople are looked down upon news? The Tony awards in 2006 announced that the number one play through a large poll was the story of a pathetic salesman; Death of a Salesmen. Selling is not considered a noble profession; never has been. When I speak to large audiences and ask how many people would call themselves a salesperson, it is usually less than 10%–and these are retail business owners! Yet nothing in their store happens without someone selling it to someone. Many of the larger stores have said they can do without manufacturers reps if they get better pricing/dating. Clearly, those buyers do not see the value of the position. Those who are making a difference and growing the lines are training their reps to do something that positively impacts their retailer clients whether it is training, reviewing marketing materials or working with a new employee. In… Read more »
Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
14 years 4 months ago

Most retailers think of reps as a necessary evil unless the rep performs above normal. Unfortunately, many sales reps are or behave like used car salespeople which is an immediate turn off. They’re not helpful or caring and only want the order. They are highly paid order takers.

The sales reps that decide to be a business partner come up with creative ideas, know the retailers business well and can suggest alternatives when a request cannot be honored. Business partners add with value including premium service, attitude and knowledge.

Buyers want service, they want to know that once a discussion is had, the rep will execute the goals and vision of the discussion with the best price, delivery, dependable communication and execution.

The quality of salespeople is diminishing as the older generation retire and the newer generation enter the field. The newer generation are not focused on service or becoming a business partner. They are more focused on “what’s in this for me.”

Bill Bittner
Guest
Bill Bittner
14 years 4 months ago
If you manage the seller/buyer relationship with the symbiotic perspective that it deserves, there is plenty of room for win/win opportunities. It is much easier if the salesman carries a variety of products, but even the one product salesman can help the nervous buyer make a commitment. Both salesmen and buyers have no place to hide. Ultimately, the sales quotas will be met or missed and the buyer will sell out at full retail or have to markdown inventory to clear the supply chain. So with this in mind, it pays for them to work together. The salesman has to understand the retailer’s capabilities and offer the incentives that make sense. Especially with “menu pricing,” there is no reason to push (i.e. electronic payments) allowances that the buyer’s organization cannot handle. The salesman needs to help the buyer achieve the best cost they can get. If it is an “in and out” or high fashion item, the seller needs to help the buyer feel comfortable with the risk associated with the investment. If the buyer… Read more »
David Biernbaum
Guest
14 years 4 months ago
I don’t blame the buyers that rated the quality of sales people as “fair” to “poor,” with some describing salespeople as “charm school graduates,” “leeches” and “rashes” because I have a picture in my head of the usual suspects, and perception isn’t far from reality. However, where there is smoke there is fire, and here are the real issues found deep in the forest: First, let’s take the big companies; not a forest but more like a jungle: In some instances, salespeople are so far removed from the true decision-makers that many are not empowered to make meaningful decisions or to truly resolve problems for the retail customer. Another issue is that these types of “image” companies often hire the most erroneous choices for sales people. Instead of hiring thinkers, planners, and assertive problem solvers, they tend to hire the “image” candidates with crispy clean resumes, robots, and nice empty suits. On the positive side, I do see a trend recently where some of the major companies are starting to have an open mind to… Read more »
Mel Kleiman
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

I would first like to reverse the question and ask about the quality of the buyer. What percentage of the salespeople feel that they get to deal with a professional buyer who looks at them as a partner rather then as a nuisance?

People usually get what they expect and those buyers who expect to develop a partnering relationship with the salespeople they are working with usually get it, and those who look at a salesperson as a pain and a necessary evil end up getting what they expect.

Sales is a two way street and professional buyers get treated as professionals most of the time and when they don’t, they end up doing business anyway and helping those that do treat them as professionals.

Bonny Baldwin
Guest
Bonny Baldwin
14 years 4 months ago

I once worked as a sales rep for a retail technology provider. Oddly, though, this company didn’t appear to have much respect for, or interest in, the reality of retailers. They were always pushing, pushing, pushing their own engineering agenda whether it addressed a retailer’s needs or not. My choices were to be one of THOSE salespeople, or to leave. I left, yet my integrity isn’t paying me so well right now….

Zel Bianco
Guest
14 years 4 months ago
Wow, this subject has really touched a nerve. It is naive to think that in some way, shape or form, we are not all salespeople. Those of you who think sales is beneath you ought to understand that nothing happens and therefore no revenue is generated and therefore no one gets paid unless services, products and solutions are bought and sold. Yes, I absolutely agree that there are too many “salespeople” who make you want to shower with antibiotic body wash immediately after speaking to them, even on the phone. We’ve all had horrible experiences with salespeople at retail, car dealerships, real estate agents…the list goes on and on. Salespeople that are not prepared, are not caring about the customer getting value from their dealings will never be accepted as professionals, nor should they be. The sales rep for a manufacturer has to bring a thorough understanding of a customer’s wants and needs, problems that keep them up at night and a sincere and genuine desire to work at solving those problems with the customer.… Read more »
Kai Clarke
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

The modern buyer recognizes the role that a salesperson provides, and considers them more of a business partner than a necessary evil. However, there are still many old school buyers who determine their purchasing decision not just on information but on relationship and other subjective factors which do not come into their customer’s buying decision at store level.

The ability to separate the store level purchasing decision from that of the buyer’s is the mark of a good buyer.

The role of the good salesperson in this equation is to provide information, sound business advice, and partnership input for the buyer to use as part of their decision making process. Unfortunately, good salespeople and good business decisions are not often the same thing.

Brian Anderson
Guest
14 years 4 months ago

What’s the end in mind? Meeting and exceeding the customer’s expectations. Key point: it starts in the interview process and must be clearly communicated that as a manufacturer’s rep, agent, vendor, etc, they are your brand’s rep and first impression.

Two major principles to remember:

1. Your behavior directly affects everyone within your organization. 2. Your behavior directly influences your organization’s profitability.

What we’re dealing with are challenges in interpersonal behavior and often, leadership behavior. They are the egregious everyday annoyances that make the workplace substantially more noxious than it needs to be. They don’t happen in a vacuum. They are transactional flaws performed by one person against others. These faults are simple to correct. The fix is in the skill set for all of us.

Ben Ball
Guest
14 years 4 months ago
Forty one percent rated “Fair or poor” sounds like more than a “few bad apples” to me. And it is not surprising. Here’s why. 1. Sales is no longer a career profession. It is an entry point for new hires who want to move into “management” of some stripe. 2. Too many companies don’t see customers as their business partners–particularly in consumer goods companies. I once sat in the audience of a national sales meeting and heard a senior executive refer to “customers” (retailers) as “an impediment between our brands and our consumers.” Hardly the language of partnership. 3. Customers don’t want “partners” anyway. They want solutions that solve problems and drive profits. This solution is usually composed of some combination of product and service. It rarely has much to do with the quality of the salesperson anymore. 4. The ability of a salesperson to be “part of the solution” is usually tied to how well that salesperson understands the customer’s business. In the case of CPG–that means how well the salesperson understands “the customer’s… Read more »
Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
14 years 4 months ago

I found value in this article and question in a slightly different way. The article is talking about the wholesale to retail sales relationship, but re-read it as talking about the retail to consumer relationship!

These are the very same issues consumers speak about; sincerity, integrity, product knowledge, as the article said, “good listeners and problem solvers.”

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
Carol Spieckerman
14 years 4 months ago
As a consultant to vendor companies, and one who gets quite involved with sales teams in particular, I would have to say that the gulf between “gold standard” vendors and “peddlers” has widened considerably, bringing overall quality down. Much has been said about the new generation of what we call “cheap and cheerful” sales people; however, just as much (more?) of a problem are the old school sales fossils who have been allowed to linger within some organizations. These guys (sorry, most are men), might be able to get by if they were assigned to comparably old school buyers (and by the way, it wouldn’t occur to them to make relationships OUTSIDE of the buying office; a necessity in today’s world). The problem is that vendor companies are letting them work with retail stars-in-the-making who want cut-to-the-chase insights and more than five-minutes-ahead market knowledge. Instead, they get condescension in its many sales forms. Why, for example, would they need to take notes in a meeting when they know so much more? And surely that guy… Read more »
Jack Serota
Guest
Jack Serota
14 years 4 months ago

I’ll bet if you asked sales people how many good buyers there were, you would get a similar answer. This works both ways….

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