Fallacy: We Hire People That Know How to Sell

by Pat D’Amico

If your organization is struggling with achieving revenue targets, it’s possible you’ve sat in meetings to discuss topics such as account targeting, product lifecycle, new product development, and market needs. Hopefully, those discussions have also included the topic of salesforce skills.  The truth is that in my experience (even with my Fortune 500 clients), too many companies are remiss in discussing and evaluating just that – how well prepared, or not, is our sales team to actually sell? At the end of the day, you can have the best product in the market, but without a team with the skills necessary to sell in today’s complex business environment, you are facing an uphill battle.

There was a time when the key to being a good salesperson hinged primarily on the ability to build and maintain relationships and an understanding of the products? How things have changed…

For today’s sales professionals, the bar for success is much higher. First and foremost is the need to understand that salespeople, and the sales function, is a profession. Defining what it means to be a professional is something that comes up in many of the courses I teach. In the end, the simplest and probably most accurate definition of a professional is someone that is consistently developing themselves and their craft. Essentially, someone that is always ‘working on their game.’

The degree to which a salesperson has to work on their game today is significantly greater than in generations past. It cannot be achieved by the sometimes-inherent ability to build relationships and basic product/service knowledge and expertise. While additional skills such as understanding the market and customers may also come to mind, these are things we started realizing back in the 1980s and ’90s. Today, sales professionals must understand multi-decision maker selling, individual and organizational purchasing behaviors, buyer motivations, etc. These elements require a level of knowledge and skill development which cannot be achieved solely through on-the-job experience. To be competitive and to meet organizational revenue goals, sales teams need formal training.

Formal sales training lacks overall across the majority of industries, and one of the greatest mistakes I encounter when working with organizations is the belief, “We are hiring successful salespeople, so they know how to sell.” Trust me, over the past 25+ years I have spent working in, leading, evaluating, and advising sales organizations, I can tell you this ranks number one on the list of false beliefs.

Research over the past 20 years has significantly advanced what we know about how and why people and organizations buy. This is not simple survey data; it is based on the study of the human brain and decision making. Harvard Business Review recently devoted an entire edition of its magazine solely to the topic of the research on neuroscience, and its association to marketing and selling. Organizations must invest in the development of their sales teams to understand and apply what we now know to be competitive.

Take for example, the topic of individual and organizational purchasing behaviors. While experience may provide the sales professional with knowledge, they too often don’t know what it means or what to do with it. Knowing how to take that knowledge, and apply it against what science has now revealed, can create a competitive advantage for the organization.

Even more apparent is the application of what we know about the neuroscience of individual buying behaviors. Fascinating research by individuals such as Dr. Robert Cooper and Antonio Damasio, among others, have revealed things about human decision making that fly in the face of conventional wisdom which we, in sales, have operated under for decades.

So, when you are asking yourself and your organization if your sales team needs sales training, understand that it requires everyone to dispense with the old beliefs that sales training should be focused on simply uncovering needs and product knowledge. Today’s sales professionals need their organizations to advance their skills based on, and aligned to, the new science. Without it, organizations are doomed to come up short in attempting to achieve their revenue goals.


Pat D’Amico has more than 30 years of management and leadership experience, including combat tours in the US Army, and an extensive background in training. He has spent the last 25 years in the life sciences (medical device and pharmaceutical) in functional leadership roles including sales, marketing, recruiting, commercial operations, national accounts, and training. He holds a BA in World Politics and a Master’s in Education. He can be reached at pat@aboutfacedev.com.

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