What is the correct title for a salesperson’s role? What should I call myself?
This is a contentious issue, and a question we get asked frequently.
The answer will depend on why you are asking the question. Are you asking because:
- You think the title ‘sales representative’ doesn’t adequately describe what you do;
- You are uncomfortable being called a ‘salesperson’ or ‘sales representative’ for whatever reason; or
- You think ‘salesperson’ or ‘sales representative’ doesn’t represent or position you in the best light as a professional to your clients, even though your role involves selling?
All of these reasons are valid and can present problems if not properly addressed.
Let’s agree before we start on some key principles and realities.
- Selling is everybody’s business and everybody lives by selling something.
- Selling is the vehicle that allows opportunity to flourish and people to prosper.
- Without a sales function and people to execute sales, a business cannot exist. Someone has to do the selling.
That said, if we accept selling is part of our function in life, in theory, we shouldn’t have to worry about titles as a way of convincing ourselves we are in sales and need to sell. However, people like titles. There is something about a title that denotes to others what we do, what our job is, our status, and where we are on the pecking order of life.
So, let’s address each area so that whatever you end up calling yourself by way of role title, you are doing so in the clear light of day with no cognitive dissonance and can feel proud about it and your role in sales.
Sales role titles – their relevance and suitability
It is true that not all sales roles are built the same. There are a range of roles that fall under the title of sales, however, they vary in levels of sophistication, job function and perception by clients and key stakeholders. Let’s look at the standard range of sales job titles and functions on offer.
Types of field sales roles
- Sales representative, sales executive, sales consultant, sales associate
- Direct salesperson
- New business development manager, business development manager
- Technical/medical/scientific sales representative
- Sales engineer, technical manager
- Relationship manager, consultant, client relationship manager
- Territory manager, territory account manager
- Account manager, key account manager, strategic account manager, major account manager
- Chief sales officer (often referring to the chief executive officer)
Types of internal and retail sales roles
- Telesales, internal sales, call centre operator, customer service representative, live chat service provider, customer care consultant
- Retail salesperson, service desk operator
Technically, all of these roles can and should be responsible for business development, whether they are prospecting in new or existing accounts, large or small. None of these roles should be passive in nature — even if they are inbound roles they can be proactive in terms of growing sales, servicing and retaining customers. All people in these roles should be able to apply ethical solutions sales processes and operate from a customer-centric philosophy.
You will notice some titles, such as ‘business development manager’, ‘relationship manager’ or ‘key account manager’, are usually reserved for more senior sales roles, where additional, higher levels of skills and knowledge are required in areas such as sales strategy, strategic account management, segmentation management, business and financial acumen and tenders. The more common sales role titles, such as ‘sales consultant or sales representative, are usually sales roles that deal with smaller or less complex accounts.
So what about all those other roles, especially in professional services and engineering firms, where part of their role is selling? I say, keep your current job title, but do not forget a key part of your role is selling. Simple.
The power of perception
Confusion about sales role titles still occurs in business every day. Personally, I don’t care what you call yourself, it is what you do and achieve that is important. But many salespeople and their clients care about what they are called.
Interestingly, what people call themselves can influence their behaviour. If you call yourself a consultant or relationship manager, when you are truly a salesperson, you could forget your main responsibility is generating new business opportunities and making sales. We see this time and time again in businesses, where there is major role confusion because the function of selling is not made explicit in any form, but rather, is just assumed. Don’t fool yourself or your team — if you are a manager, and if selling is a key part of your role, make sure it is front and centre of all your endeavours.
Also, given the historically hierarchical nature of business, your job title can denote status, as mentioned previously. Many clients, especially B2B clients, like to feel they are dealing with a person who has status, power, control and influence. And it is true a title can denote this. Your title could help or hinder you in terms of getting in front of the right people. However, while a title can set up a certain initial perception, the truth will be revealed in how you behave.
In reality, it shouldn’t matter what you are called. If you are a professional sales and business person who can sort things out and make decisions, rather than defaulting to your manager all the time, you will earn the respect and trust of your clients. Your title will not save you in the long run. Someone can have the grandest title and still behave like a fool, so don’t confuse packaging with substance.
How to address any shame of being associated with sales
If your view of selling is negative, you might feel ashamed of being associated with any form of ‘sales’ in your title. But this is self-defeating and can keep us from earning what we are worth.
There is a specific type of fear called role rejection, which is denoted by these sets of behaviours and beliefs.
- Unresolved guilt or shame about being in sales based on negative stereotypes.
- Doesn’t like seeing themselves as a salesperson for fear of letting others down or being seen as a lesser person if they are in sales.
- Uses other titles to disguise what they really do.
- Invests energy in being overly positive and rigidly optimistic.
- Tends to ‘quit while succeeding’ — they are good at what they do in sales, but haven’t resolved their guilt about being in sales, so quit.
- Talks in clichés and platitudes — lots of motivational rah-rah to stay ‘pepped up’.
- Provides advice to customers rather than solving their problem by selling a solution.
This fear is based on a faulty belief system about selling being bad or wrong. This has been taught to them by others and passed on like a virus.
- Recognise without selling nothing happens.
- Take pride in your products and organisation. Find purpose and meaning in what you do and how you can help others.
- Sales professionals all know it can be a very demanding job, but highly successful sales professionals appreciate the rewards, satisfaction and freedoms that a successful sales career can bring.
- As this fear is highly contagious, be careful you don’t convince others that ‘sales’ is a title or role to avoid.
So what should you list on your business cards, LinkedIn header and signature blocks?
It does help to have something to make it easier for others to know what you are responsible for. My advice is to be clear, straightforward. If you are worried about your title, the most neutral titles for most sales roles are business development manager, account manager and sales executive. They say what you do and are familiar to most people.
I also suggest you steer clear of some of the more outlandish titles on offer, such as:
- ‘Happiness engineer’;
- ‘Sales ninja’;
- ‘Master handshaker’;
- ‘Solutions facilitator’;
- ‘Actions and repercussions adviser’;
- ‘Pre-need counsellor’;
- ‘Excellence technician’, if you’re in customer service; or
- ‘Life expectancy investigator’, for life insurance sales.
One ‘wise’ person has suggested your title should reflect your personality — no, it shouldn’t.
Can you imagine larger companies with teams of salespeople roaming the streets with titles that reflect their personalities? Let’s not even go there.
Your job title is about making it easy for other people to understand what you do so you can build trust and credibility. The titles mentioned above don’t help. They are faddish at best.
Don’t get confused about what title you should have. Select the one that works best for your market and clearly describe what you do.
And, be proud that you are in sales.
Remember everybody lives by selling something.
This is a rewritten version of an article first published on February 2, 2014.