Evolution of a Sales Rep

Sales is one of those “professions” without regulation or licensing. Pretty much anybody can call themselves a salesperson. From the outside things may seem simple. Sales is sales. Reps are reps. They’re all the same. What’s to know?

From the inside, things are not so simple. There is a vast difference between an inexperienced retail sales clerk and a professional business-to-business software rep. I’ve written this page tongue-in-cheek. It is an attempt to entertain while educating. It actually would be funny if it wasn’t for the fact that livelihoods and business survival is at stake.


1. Salerepus Primitus

Experience: Never sold before.

Training: Instructed to get on the phone (or visit) and make a bunch of cold calls using the Yellow Pages.

Marketing Support: His manager told him “who needs marketing? Our product is so good it will sell itself.”

Collateral Materials: A brochure put together by the boss’s nephew “who can draw real good and always wanted to be a graphic designer.”

Technique: Put in a lot of hours, learn to deal with rejection, almost faint when someone says yes.

Results: As primitive as the photo suggests – miserably low close ratios ( a few percent) both on conversion of cold calls to presentation appointments and from presentations to sales. Extremely high rep turnover as they quit in disgust (not making any money, scared about going broke) or are fired (blamed by manager for not trying “hard” enough or making “enough” calls).

2. Salesrepus Darwinicus

Experience: A few years if lucky.
Training: On the job training by Managers who like to manage because they couldn’t sell and knew it (but somehow they feel qualified to teach others how to sell). Only other training was a few “motivational” seminars by the Touring Consultants and watching the “Death of a Salesman” on TV (kept nodding his head in agreement throughout the whole two hours!).

Marketing Support: A little of this, a little of that. Trade magazine bingo card leads and a pile of business cards from last year’s trade show “put a card in the fish bowl and win a trip” contest.

Collateral Materials: A few brochures and newspaper articles in a looseleaf binder.

Technique: Dreads getting up in the morning. Needs 3 cups of coffee to get awake enough to start the day. Shuffles his business cards and reads the newspaper – anything to avoid making that first phone call. Always takes the long road to get to a call. Braces for the cold hard slap-in-the-face rejection and usually gets exactly what was expected in accordance with self-fulfilling prophecy.

Results: Survival of the fittest is no fun for the unfit! Always reads the Sunday classifieds looking for an “easier” job. Eventually withers and dies – ends up at Sears selling Die Hard batteries and tires for $9.50 an hour.

3. Salesrepus Shmoozus

Experience: Any where from zero to fifty years.

Training: By going on a few calls with a more senior rep or manager. Told to “watch how I do it, it’s easy, now it’s your turn – go getem!

Marketing Support: A few trade magazine ads and perhaps the occasional direct mail marathon where everybody comes in on a Saturday to stuff envelopes and lick stamps.

Collateral Materials: A presentation binder with a few fliers and a chart or two. Never uses it anyway “it’s in my car trunk, want to see it?”

Technique: Make lots of calls, try to get to know the prospects personally, ask them all about their trophies, stuffed fish on the wall, their kids, and so on. Visit the Hot List prospects every week to see “if they’re ready to buy yet.” Don’t want to pressure anyone because “if I try to close them they may stop liking me.”

Results: Invited to be President of the Elks Club. Lives in a small walkup flat and drives a 15 year old Ford Escort. Always saying how well the calls went. And how much the prospects like him and the product. Only problem is there are no orders or checks coming in. Sells just enough, from prospects who were going to buy anyway, to keep the job, for a while at least.

4. Salesrepus Ruthlessicus

Experience: At least a few years.

Training: Probably hustled lemonade at five years old, sold Kirby vacuum cleaners door-to-door at 16, and was taught how to close and make the big bucks by the pros (before they were indicted and “went out of town” for a while).

Marketing Support: The hot leads go to the CLOSERS – just like in Glengarry GlenRoss.

Collateral Materials: Brochures are for losers.

Technique: A true carnivore. Slash and burn. Go for the jugular with high-pressure close techniques: good cop bad cop, takeaway, puppy dog. “I got a million of em!”

Results: No doubt about it they will get the deals. But when the complaints, cancellations, and lawsuits start pouring in they will be long gone!

5. Salesrepus Plodicus

Experience: Year after year after year.

Training: Flavor of the week seminars by experts on the latest business fads – relationship selling, personality types, neuro linguistic programming, quadrants…

Marketing Support: The usual mix of ads, trade shows, telemarketing, and whatever.

Collateral Materials: Mediocre brochures.

Technique: Quota drifts up, territory gradually reduced, treadmill days on the phone and on the road.

Results: Hit quota, keep the job. Plodders make the world go round but are bad choices for fast-paced startups or rapidly changing technologies where courage and creativity are mandatory.

6. Salesrepus Consultus

Experience: New college graduates to too many years.

Training: MBA. From an Ivy league school.

Marketing Support: Complex package of focus groups, ad agencies, marketing consultants, and other theoretical experts.

Collateral Materials: Tall stack of market surveys, white papers, multipage brochures. And PowerPoint presentations on the latest and greatest Pentium IV laptops.

Technique: More a vegetarian than the meat eater above. The Doctor will see you now. The expert in the white lab coat. Performs multiple fact-finding calls and schedules many committee meetings to find the ammunition for an immense written proposal up to 200 pages long.

Results: Keeps talking about how “successful” the meetings were. Eventually may get the contract – but will the company still be in business?

7. Salesrepus Charismaticus

Experience: Varies.

Training: Doesn’t matter, he’s going to wing it anyway. But you can bet that he worked in the same business as the prospects before switching to sales so he knows the territory and lots of the players.

Marketing Support: Doesn’t matter.

Collateral Materials: Doesn’t matter.

Technique: A natural-born salesperson that is universally liked. Somehow gets in doors other reps can’t budge and instantly builds a rapport like the rep and prospect were best friends in high school. Often a disorganized mess, dislikes having to do reports and forecasts.

Results: Here is your SuperStar Top-Gun Rep of the Year! So of course he is promoted to Sales Manager. Now the SuperStar has to try to explain to the new reps how to sell the product. “All you have to do is make a lot of calls, the product will sell itself.” How do you teach someone to be charismatic like John F. Kennedy or Paul McCartney? The SuperStar never really thought about why he was successful, it just came naturally. And the SuperStar is not really happy being the manager and having to be around the office all the time doing paperwork and dealing with all the other rep’s problems. The SuperStar daydreams about being free as a bird making a lot more (easier) money as a rep with no headaches – and usually ends up back there after being fired (happily) as manager.

8. Salesrepus Professionalis

Experience: At least a few years.

Training: A serious student of sales – takes every course available to improve knowledge and skills. While the other reps are off to Tahoe to go skiing or hitting the clubs on Wednesday nights he is taking graduate courses to earn an MBA or keep up with the latest technologies in his area of expertise.

Marketing Support: Often advises the company on how to improve programs and save money by eliminating ineffectual advertising.

Collateral Materials: A well organized and designed presentation binder with proof sources (authoritative articles and surveys) and lots of happy customer testimonials. More often than not he designs and produces his own brochures that are better than those the company provided – and has his own website too.

Technique: This reps knows he will never be another Martin Luther King or Ghandi, so he must rely on developing talent and skills to meet ambitious sales targets and career goals. He systematically improves sales performance by constantly listening to and learning from anyone who can possibly help. Tracks his own performance measuring number of calls made and close ratios – doesn’t wait for the sales manager to tell him what happened. He already knows and is doing something to improve the results for the next month. He never wings it, but instead perfects a presentation script based on actual sales results. He experiments to improve the script – if it works it’s in, if not it’s out. His goal is nothing less than perfection. A favorite quote might be from the world renowned guitarist Eric Clapton “One of these days I’m going to get the hang of this thing” (referring to his guitar!)

Results: Always in the top 10% and making more money this year than last. If not recognized and compensated will quit and find another company that is smart enough to recognize genius and keep it happy. If promoted, and he will be sooner or later, will repeat the performance and make a great trainer and manager.