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The Definition of Sales Professional Selling Defined

Brian Lambert

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Before I define professional selling. Let's look at some of the related professions. Below are some definitions of professions/occupations that relate to professional selling from Wikipedia:

  • Marketing is defined as an ongoing process of planning and executing the marketing mix (Product, Price, Place, Promotion) for products, services or ideas to create exchange between individuals and organizations
  • Advertising is defined as a form of communication that typically attempts to persuade potential customers to purchase or to consume more of a particular brand of product or service.
  • Public relations is defined as the practice of managing the flow of information between an organization and its audiences.
  • Sales Promotions is defined as the pre-determined actions designed to increase consumer demand, stimulate market demand or improve product availability for a limited time (i. e. , contests, point of purchase displays, rebates, free travel, and sales incentives. )

What about the sales profession?

Notice in the above definitions, the profession is *not* defined as the individual. For example, marketing isn't defined as “people who market. " Yet, the sales profession is often explained as “individuals who sell. " Therefore, selling shouldn't be defined in this manner. Notice also, that the above professions are *not* defined by the activities of those individuals. In other words, the profession of advertising isn't defined as “placing ads on television. " Therefore, selling shouldn't be defined in this manner.

Academically, selling is thought of as a part of marketing, however, the two disciplines are completely different. Sales departments often form a separate grouping in a corporate structure, employing individuals who specialize in sale specific roles. While the sales process refers to a systematic process of repetitive and measurable milestones, the definition of the sales “profession" doesn't exist (until now with this article).

So the questions become:

  • Who is “in" the profession and who is not?
  • How does selling relate to marketing, advertising, promotions, and public relations?
  • What shared competencies do individuals within the sales profession need?
  • How do these competencies align to roles in terms of focus and differentiation?

A definition should provide a meaning. To determine the meaning of the sale profession, it is useful to determine what the sales profession *must* contain.

The following three tenets are required for professional selling:

  • The focus of the sales profession centers on the human agents involved in the exchange between buyer and seller
  • Effective selling requires a systems approach, at minimum involving roles that sell, enable selling, and develop sales capabilities
  • A specific set of sales skills and knowledge are required to facilitate the exchange of value between buyers and sellers

Within these three tenets the following definition of profession selling is offered by the American Society of Training and Development (ASTD):

Professional Selling is:

"The holistic business system required to effectively develop, manage, enable, and execute a mutually beneficial, interpersonal exchange of goods and/or services for equitable value. "

What does this definition accomplish?

First, it creates a definition of world class selling. An organization wishing to benchmark its selling effectiveness can leverage the above definition to clearly understand strengths and weaknesses. Without such a definition, most adjustments to the selling team are arbitrary and subjective. By understanding the system's view required for selling effectiveness, organizations can look at indidual sales team members as well as sales team processes and tools and how they align to the buyer.

Second, it allows for more consistent results in performance through the clear establishment of roles regarding who is “in" and who is “out" of professional selling. For example, if it doesn't involve a human agent, it is not within the sales profession - it's a marketing function with a transaction (i. e. , a “sale"). For this definition, sales operations, sales recruiters, and sales trainers are “in" the profession because they possess unique skills outside of their regular job titles. They posses knowledge and skill that is unique to enabling the definition.

Third, the definition lays the foundation for sales talent management/people strategies. With such a definition, sales development employees can create learning solutions that fit the unique aspects of a sales culture. At the same time, front-end recruitment strategies and more clearly tie to retention strategies.

Fourth, it helps organization on exemplary performance. By setting a bar with such a definition, organizations don't have to settle for mediocre sales effectiveness. They can use the definition to help bridge the gap between sales capacity and sales team competency.

Brian Lambert is the Director of Sales Development and Performance at the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD). In this role, he is responsible for meeting the unique challenges of performance professionals focused on the sales profession. He is responsible for conducting primary research and creating resources, articles, and other custom content that helps individuals design and deliver sales training, manage and develop high performing sales talent, and improve salesperson performance. Brian has fifteen years of experience in sales, sales management, sales training, and sales consulting and is an internationally recognized expert on the state of the sales profession as well as current trends in transforming sales team systems, processes, and people.

Brian is a highly sought after world-wide speaker, author, and trainer on sales competency, sales performance, sales process, sales professionalism, sales ethics, and sales process.

Find out about Brian at
Visit the sales competency project at


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