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Blog: Rodney Dangerfield and selling

By Jack Keough

One of my friends, who has been in distribution sales for many years, likens his job to that of the words that were the trademark of the late comedian Rodney Dangerfield: “I don’t get no respect.”

He’s used to it because he says salespeople don’t get the respect for what they do.

I thought about his comments the other night at a reception when I was introduced to someone and I asked him what he did for a living. “I’m in sales,” he said. He didn’t say it proudly but after I got to talk with him I discovered he sold important medical equipment used in the operating room.

Years ago, I wrote an editorial in which I noted that every person within a company was in sales. From the receptionist who answers the phone, the person at the front counter, the inside salesperson who processes an order and everyone in the shipping and receiving department. We’re all in sales.

If you are applying for a job, you’re selling your capabilities; if you’re presenting plans for improvement in your company or an important project, you’re selling an idea. It’s all part of the selling process.

I received some interesting comments after that article appeared. Someone within my own company said she would never consider herself a salesperson. From the way she said it, it sounded like it was a demeaning job.

Being a salesperson is a great career opportunity. Successful salespeople are excellent listeners, have the ability to “read” a prospect, know what the customer’s hot buttons are and learn when to close a deal.

Fifteen years ago, there were some who said the role of the outside salesperson in distribution would be minimized, if not eliminated, because of the internet. You probably remember the term: disintermediation.

Instead, what actually has happened is the salesperson’s role has become increasingly important. Take a look at many of the largest electrical and industrial distributors in the country. Despite declining employment in some areas of many business sectors, distributors are actually increasing the number of outside salespeople.

As an electrical distributor salesperson you’re not just providing products and solutions; in many cases you’re saving lives and preventing catastrophes.

Yes it is a tough job. It isn’t easy handling rejection. Two of my children are salespeople and the first time one of them was rejected in sales, he was shocked.

Handling rejection is something you have to overcome if you are going to be a professional-and successful- salesperson. A major league baseball player who hits .300 is considered a star. That means he doesn’t get a hit seven times out of ten.

It’s how you react from losing a sale or not getting a hit is what counts. Often you can learn more when you lose a sale than when you win one.

Some universities now see the value of selling as a career as they offer programs in sales and sales management. 

Mark Kramer, president of Laird Plastics and former chairman of the National Assn. of Wholesaler-Distributors, pointed this out at the association’s meeting in January. (You can see a report of this convention on our web site).

Kramer noted that “sales majors” and “sales certificate” programs are increasingly offered by more than 70 universities. “Selling is being recognized for the contribution it makes,” he said.

A sales major typically has two years of concentrated sales focus that covers all essential selling skills, negotiating, communication and presentations skills and extended role play and competition.

But as Kramer correctly highlighted, “There is a need to expand both the number of programs and the capacity of existing ones.”

Sales, indeed, is a great profession. And that’s something we should be emphasizing.

Jack Keough was the editor of Industrial Distribution magazine for more than 26 years. He often speaks at many industry events and seminars. He can be reached at john.keough@comcast.net



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