Sales is an Unattractive Profession to Almost Half of People

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DDI study finds buyers’ poor perception of the sales profession creates hurdles for salespeople and their employers.

Salespeople have to provide extra value in order to earn the right to be viewed as a trusted business advisor.

Forty-six percent of people with buying responsibility wouldn’t be proud to call themselves sales professionals according to Development Dimensions International’s (DDI) Global Sales Perceptions Report.

DDI, a global human resources consulting firm, surveyed 2,700 corporate buyers from Australia, Canada, France, Germany, the U.S. and the U.K. to explore views of and experiences with the sales profession.

“If salespeople can provide the support buyers are looking for, our study shows they can shift from being perceived as a necessary evil to an indispensable partner,” Bradford Thomas, Manager, DDI’s Sales Talent Practice, said. “Despite all the time and money spent training salespeople to be consultative, they are not making inroads to becoming business partners.”

Some of the top findings from the late 2007 research includes:

Shed the “snake-oil” reputation. When asked if they would be proud to call themselves a salesperson, 46 percent of respondents said “no thanks” to the profession. And who can blame them when descriptions of salespeople in the study include “charm school graduates,” “leeches” and “rashes”?

“Sales organizations have made great strides toward becoming better business advisors over the last ten years, but it’s still difficult to make these inroads because the perception of salespeople isn’t always positive,” Thomas said. “The general perception of buyers is that salespeople don’t listen, they are pushy, and really don’t take the time to understand buyers’ needs or even their own products. It is hard to be a business advisor when the relationship is a one-way street.”

It’s not all peace, love and understanding. Forty-one percent of respondents rated the overall quality of the sales profession “fair” or “poor.” “Salespeople shouldn’t settle for this mediocre perception,” Thomas said. “And companies shouldn’t either. Do you really want most of your customers to feel lukewarm about your sales team?”

More than 40 percent of buyers have increased their expectations of salespeople’s business and industry knowledge. And one in five buyers believe that salespeople’s expertise is getting worse. One US buyer said the problem is “too many under-trained, underpaid young professionals who probably won’t be there in a year. They have few resources for information and aren’t trained to know how or where to look for help.”

“Salespeople need to keep up with the changing needs and demands of their clients to meet these rising expectations,” Thomas said. “If you want your salespeople to build value-added relationships with clients, you need to hire people who are good listeners and problem solvers, not hit-and-run sellers”

Rules of engagement. When asked if they considered their sales contacts to be business partners, 54 percent of buyers said “yes.” So, what makes a good partner? Buyers cited “product or service advice,” “market knowledge” and “trust” as the top three qualities they value the most in a salesperson. Surprisingly, only 31 percent of buyers selected “relationship building” as a desired quality.

“In the wake of years of public business scandals, trust has really become a precursor to relationship building,” Thomas said. “Salespeople have to provide extra value in order to earn the right to be viewed as a trusted business advisor.”

Other Highlights from the Survey

  •     One third of respondents don’t receive the level of support they need from salespeople
  •     Salespeople are the second choice for information to make buying decisions, losing out to the Internet
  •     Forty-three percent of buyers are more loyal to the salesperson than the company

Click here to read DDI's full Global Sales Perceptions Report

For more information, contact: Jeanine Buell at 412-257-3638 or Jennifer Pesci-Kelly at 412-257-3862.

About DDI
Founded in 1970, Development Dimensions International, a global human resources consulting firm, helps organizations close the gap between today’s talent capability and future talent needs. DDI’s expertise includes designing and implementing selection systems, and identifying and developing front-line to executive leadership talent. With more than 1,000 associates in 75 offices in 26 countries, the firm advises half of the Fortune 500. For more information about DDI visit


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Jeanine Buell

Jennifer Pesci-Kelly
Development Dimensions International
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