We Are Not Coin-Operated

Sales gets no respect, it's time to change the perception

Quick note: I did a couple of podcasts this month that I wanted to share, details and links are at the end of this essay. Give them a listen and share your feedback. Thanks!

I hate the term coin-operated salesperson. You should hate it too, because it says what you do and who you are as a person is only guided by financial rewards. Even worse, it implies you are a non-thinking drone doing low skilled labor.

Anyone that has done any selling in their career knows that it is both challenging work and requires a sharp mind in order to achieve success. So it is disappointing when people so casually dismiss our work and our profession. I suspect that was the motivation Scott Leese had when he wrote this last week:

“Sales is the garbage can of jobs.”

His post recalled the “you can’t handle the truth” speech from a parody of A Few Good Men. Even though those of us in sales are doing the work every day to bring in revenue and ensure our employers are able to remain in business and grow, sales rarely gets the respect of those outside of our profession.

Many of us may be feeling what Scott expressed. No one wants their livelihood to be denigrated. It creates a chip on our shoulders, resentment with other teams, and the sinking feeling that you are always imminently replaceable.

I used to think as Scott does. I had that chip on my shoulder. I craved and sought the validation from others that my professional endeavors were worthy. Even after closing deals with marquee customers, generating over $100 million in revenue, and making a measurable impact for my employers, I still felt there was a distinct whiff of arrogance and condensation when speaking with my peers in other groups.

Over the past decade though, my thinking about the sales profession changed. Two experiences led me to this new revelation about the future our industry and the realization that the sales profession has a strong future ahead.

Before starting the Enterprise Sales Forum, I spent most of my time investing and advising B2B tech startups. My experiences as an enterprise salesperson and a startup founder gave me a unique lens on how founders should think about selling. This led to many 1:1 conversations with founders that took up most of my day repeating the same advice over and over again.

The genesis of the Enterprise Sales Forum was an idea to move to a community setting where startup founders could help each other. It freed up my time and scaled the value that could be provided to many. As the community grew in NYC and then elsewhere, it occurred to me that there was a real thirst for practical sales knowledge and desire to elevate sales acumen across salespeople, sales leaders, and founders.

The second experience was hearing the stories from many of the top sellers that spoke during Enterprise Sales Forum events. Some of these guests had sold over $1 billion in products and services over their careers or scaled sales teams from zero to many thousands of reps. Having the opportunity to speak with these highly accomplished professionals confirmed for me that salespeople have the best minds for business and entrepreneurship.

In the six years that the Enterprise Sales Forum has existed, the caliber of attendees has always been impressive. In reviewing the demographic data, I saw a significant number of members holding degrees from top universities, lots of entrepreneurial endeavors in their past, and impressive career progressions within sales in a short amount of time.

Some of the uplift of talent in sales can be attributed to the rise of startups over the past decade. Many see startups as an opportunity for greater visibility, faster career progression, and more rewarding work. For non-technical folks, sales is often the best and fastest route to joining a startup. However I suspect that people are starting to see sales as a profession not only with the most financial upside, but also the most career upside. This is drawing folks with more prestigious pedigrees towards sales whereas they may have chosen consulting, marketing, finance, or other fields in the past.

There are few professions that can offer as many intellectual and creative challenges. When you decouple the skills of top modern sellers, you see marketing, technology, psychology, project management, accountant, legal, and improv artist all rolled together. For all the complaints about the drudgery of prospecting or CRM, sales offers enormous career freedom and flexibility. You control your calendar, your pipeline, and your methods.

Sales is a thinking profession. Learning quickly is a must to thrive and survive. Even in slower moving industries or organizations that are highly structured and prescriptive in their sales methodology, sales is anything but coin operated. In the past you could slide along with mediocre results and putting in the bare minimum, but it is becoming harder and harder to fly under the radar.

Sales is also becoming more collaborative. One of the stark differences I felt when I shifted from software engineer to salesperson was level of collaboration with peers. Developers often helped each other, shared code, and contributed to things like open source projects.  They would eagerly meet at events, conferences, and online forums to share ideas and learnings. In sales, it felt very lone wolf, every rep from him or herself, and most gatherings were just thinly veiled recruiting events.

Fast forward twenty years and the world of sales is very different. There are multiple groups you can join, good content that is freely available, and experts are super helpful freely sharing their experiences and insights. Much of this only developed in the past decade as books like The Challenger Sales and Predictable Revenue elevated the thinking and strategy of sales and organizations like Sales Hacker and the Enterprise Sales Forum launched to freely provide great information and resources into building one’s sales and business acumen.

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The thinkers in sales have given their insights, strategies, and tactics freely to the world. You no longer have to wonder what it takes to sell $100 million in software. You can listen to an episode of the Sales Success Podcast hosted by Scott Ingram and learn what the top salespeople do. You can listen to the Sales & Surf Podcast that has managed to build the biggest and widest collection of sales knowledge extracted from the minds of sales leaders. You can follow people like Amy Volas, Justin Welsh, and Kevin Dorsey that regularly share insightful posts over LinkedIn. There is no lack of high quality content to read or communities to join.

We are not coin-operated. If anything, we are seeing the rapid evolution of sales into the profession that does command the respect of others. It’s because we are elevating the game and all the work by many people to raise the bar is having an effect. All it requires is the motivation to tap into these resources and elevate your game, which is the whole reason for the #100DaysofSales challenge.

Do you agree that sales is a profession on the rise? What inspires you to sell?

Have an awesome week and many sales ahead!

Mark Birch, Founder of the Enterprise Sales Forum

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I had the pleasure of being on a couple of podcasts to start the year. First was the Sales and Surf podcast which was quite free ranging from launching the APAC region, how to use LinkedIn for prospecting, and how to monetize a community. Second was the Sales GameChanger podcast which focused a lot on prospecting methodology.

Check them out, give them both some likes, comments, and subscriptions, and let me know what other topics you might be interested in hearing more about. Cheers!

Surf and Sales Podcast with Scott Leese and Richard Harris

S2E3 - When and how you monetize your community with Mark Birch

How To Be A Sales GameChanger podcast

Prospecting in 2021, where is my focus? With Mark Birch


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