One size of sales does not fit all

One size of sales does not fit all

Much has been written about the role of salespeople. However, many of these “authorities” are professionals in disciplines that have (at best) only an indirect relationship – and that mainly theoretical – to the real practice of salespeople.

The ‘naysayers’ claim that advances in technology will displace the need for a lot of what professional salespeople actually do. If anything, this merely reinforces our opinion that the theorists don’t actually understand what sales and selling is all about.

The reality is that selling is not one simple category of activity. In practical terms there are many different types and levels of selling, as illustrated here:

There are four key levels:

Level 1: Reactive/Indirect sales – typically call centres, telesales, door-to-door domestic selling, agents, retail, counter and showroom selling

Level 2: Transactional/Proactive Field Force – product/services sales via field sales force

Level 3: Major Account/Business Development – sales of products/services/ solutions sold on value / differentiation.

Level 4: StrategicKey Accounts/Rainmaking – preferred supplier relationships

Far from being replaced by technology, the function of selling, and the role of salespeople in the business mix, is taking on even more importance. If technology has changed anything in sales, it is that it has enabled salespeople to be more effective. Unfortunately, not many companies have been able to harness the technology effectively. As a result some organisations find that their cost of sale continues to escalate and that sales productivity appears to be declining.

Management tends to perpetuate the cycle of sales inefficiencies. They still hire salespeople who appear to have the “gift of the gab”; and they still believe that “having strong personal relationships” is all that is required. These managers live in the hope that these characteristics will generate more business, so they exhort, cajole and remunerate salespeople almost exclusively for product value/volume. And when these fail to deliver the expected results, managers generally complain that sales behaviour is not professional; that their sales teams are less productive and that salespeople aren’t doing their job.

When asked what “the job” is that sales professionals are expected to perform, one gets a general description that usually includes generating sales (either new or from current clients); building relationships and the catch-all activity of “service clients”. The fact is that few people have actually taken the time to define exactly what sales professionals are required to do. Even less have any meaningful key performance indicators that link sales performance to any kind of Balanced Scorecard®.

With each of these levels of salesmanship there are clearly defined sales roles and activities, as well as well researched client/buyer expectations. Equally, there are very specific key performance indicators for each of the functions that sales professionals perform.

It’s time to rethink how we define and develop our sales teams.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert  sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments. Her business Barrett P/L partners with its clients to improve their sales operations. Visit


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