Chapter 12 – Professional Selling

12.1 The Role Professional Salespeople Play


  • Recognize the role professional selling plays in society and in marketing strategies.
  • Identify the different types of sales positions.

“Nothing happens until someone sells something,” is an old saying in business. But in reality, a lot must happen before a sale can be made. Companies count on their sales teams not only to sell products but to the lay the groundwork to make it happen. However, salespeople are expensive. Often, they are the most expensive element in a company’s overall marketing investments. As a result, they have to generate business in order to justify a company’s investment in them.


What Salespeople Do

Salespeople act on behalf of their companies for doing the following:

  • Creating value for their company’s customers
  • Managing relationships
  • Relaying customer and market information back to their company

In addition to acting on behalf of their company, sales representatives also act on behalf of their customers. Whenever a salesperson goes back to their company with a customer’s request, be it for quicker delivery, a change in a product feature, or a negotiated price, they are voicing the customer’s needs. Their goal is to help the buyer purchase what serves the buyer’s needs the best.

Salespeople also face conflicts within their companies. When a salesperson tells a customer that a product will be delivered in three days, they have made a promise that will either be kept or broken by their company’s shipping department. When the salesperson accepts a contract with certain terms, they have made a promise to the customer that will either be kept or broken by their company’s credit department. What if the credit department and shipping department can’t agree on the shipping terms the customer should receive? Which group should the salesperson side with? What if sales managers want the salesperson to sell enterprise software that still has unresolved problems? Should the salesperson still work hard to sell it? Situations such as these create role conflicts. A role conflict occurs when the responsibility that a salesperson has toward their company and customers, deviate. In general, salespeople handle conflicting expectations well.

Creating Value

Consider the following situations:

  • A cardiac surgeon with a high-risk patient is wondering what to do. The physician calls the salesperson to get his input on how to handle the situation. The salesperson recommends the appropriate pacemaker and offers to come to the hospital in order to be able to answer any questions that might arise during the surgery.
  • A food wholesaler is working overtime to prepare invoices. Unfortunately, one out of five has a mistake. The result is that customers don’t get their invoices in a timely fashion, so they don’t pay quickly and don’t pay the correct amounts. Consequently, the company has to borrow money to fulfill its payroll obligations. A salesperson recommends the wholesaler purchase an electronic invoicing system. The wholesaler does. Subsequently, it takes the wholesaler just days to get invoices ready, instead of weeks. In addition, instead of the invoices being only 80% accurate, they are close to being 100% accurate. The wholesaler no longer has trouble meeting its payroll because customers are paying more quickly.
  • Sanderson Farms, a chicken processor, wants to build a new plant near Tyler, Texas. The chambers of commerce for several towns in the area compete for the project for the project by offering various incentives. The chamber representative from Tyler works hard to create a package of incentives that is attractive to Sanderson Farms. They locate an enterprise zone that reduces the company’s taxes and work with a local banker to get the company better financing. In addition, the rep gets a local technical college involved so that Sanderson will have enough trained employees. These factors create a unique package that sells the company on setting up shop in Tyler.

Salespeople can adapt the offering or they can adapt how they present the offering so that it is easier for the client to understand and make the right decision. Adapting a message or a product on the fly isn’t something that can be easily accomplished except in-person or on the phone. The ability to engage in dialogue helps salespeople better understand their customers and their needs, and then create valuable solutions for them.

Managing Relationships

Because their time is limited, sales representatives have to decide which accounts they have the best shot at winning and which are the most lucrative. Once a salesperson has decided to pursue an account, a strategy is devised and implemented, and if a sale happens, the salesperson is also responsible for ensuring that the offering is implemented properly and to the customer’s satisfaction.

Salespeople recognize that business is not about making friends, but about making and retaining customers. Although buyers tend to purchase products from salespeople they like, being liked is not enough. Salespeople have to ensure that they close the deal with the customer. They also have to recognize that the goal is not to just close one deal, but as many deals from that company as possible.

Gathering Information

Salespeople are boundary spanners in that they operate outside the boundaries of the company and in the field. As such, they are the first to learn about what competitors are doing. An important function for them, then, is to report back to headquarters about their competitors’ new offerings and strategies. Similarly, salespeople interact directly with large business customers and in so doing gather useful information about their needs. The salespeople can pass the information back to their companies, in order to create new offerings and adjust their current offerings. Many companies use customer relationship management (CRM) software such as to provide a mechanism for salespeople to enter customer data. The data can be retrieved by others, whose role is to synthesize the information and create actionable plans from the feedback provided by the salespeople.

Types of Sales Positions

There are different ways to categorize salespeople. They can be categorized by the customers they work with, such as whether they are individual consumers, other businesses, or government institutions. Another way to categorize salespeople is by the size of their customers or by their major sales activity which is to make sales by calling on customers.

A missionary salesperson calls on people who make decisions about products (but don’t actually buy them). While they call on individuals, the relationship is business-to-business. For example, a pharmaceutical representative might call on a physician to provide the doctor with clinical information about a medication’s effectiveness. The salesperson hopes the doctor will prescribe the drug. Patients, not doctors, actually purchase the medication. There are salespeople who also work with “market influencers.” In the example of pharmaceutical reps calling on doctors, they may want to publish articles in medical journals or have experts speak at conferences about the efficacy of the drug.

A trade salesperson is someone who calls on retailers and helps them display, advertise, and sell products to consumers. A trade salesperson may call on a major supermarket chain such as Walmart for a company that makes barbecue sauces, rubs, marinades, and other barbecuing products. The salesperson makes suggestions about how their products could be priced, placed in stores so they will sell faster and may even develop ads and fliers featuring the company’s products.

A prospector is a salesperson whose primary function is to find prospects, or potential customers. The potential customers have a need, but for any number of reasons, they are not actively looking for products to meet those needs, perhaps because they lack information about where to look for them or simply haven’t had the time to do so. Prospectors often knock on a lot of doors and make a lot of phone calls, which is called cold calling because they do not know the potential accounts and are therefore talking to them “cold.” Their primary job is to sell, but the activity that drives their success is prospecting. In some business-to-business situations, the prospector finds a prospect and then turns it over to another salesperson to close the deal. Alternatively, the prospector may take the prospect all the way through the sales process and close the sale.

Account managers are responsible for managing the ongoing business with customers as a way to identify new opportunities within the company. Account managers have to identify lead users (people likely to use new, cutting-edge products) and build relationships with them. Lead users are in a good position to help improve a company’s offerings or develop new ones.

There are other types of salespeople who do not actively solicit business: order takers and sales support. Order takers close sales while sales support do not.

Order takers include retail sales clerks and salespeople for distributors of products, like plumbing supplies or electrical products, who sell to plumbers and electricians. Other order takers may work in a call center, taking customer sales calls over the phone or online when customers initiate contact. Such salespeople carry sales quotas and are expected to achieve those sales numbers.

Sales support works with salespeople to help make a sale and to take care of the customer after the sale. For example, sales support may help salespeople price projects and prepare bids and proposals.


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Principles of Marketing, 1st Canadian Edition Copyright © by Anthony Francescucci, Joanne McNeish, Nukhet Taylor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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