There are Two Fundamental Classifications of Salesperson

The difference between Sales Pros and Sales Reps is important for business owners, executives, and sales managers who want to accelerate revenue growth by acquiring new accounts.

The Numbers Game

The basic premise of most sales models is that Sales is a “numbers game.” The numbers pertain to a volume of leads, sales calls, and potential sales fed into a sales funnel (or pipeline).

The sales funnel contains the company’s sales cycle, the steps involved in order to close, or convert, a potential sale into an actual sale.

Best practices, action plans, and differentiation are rudimentary concepts that are, in their respective function within classic American sales practices, among the basic pillars for advancing sales. The predominant focus of the methodology and its numerous variations is on its product—sales.

Sales Pros vs Sales Reps

While there are several types of salespeople, there are but two fundamental classifications of salesperson—the sales professional and the sales representative. The difference between these groups is important for business owners and sales managers to understand, especially if they are interested in growing a business by acquiring new accounts.

Sales professionals are among a business owner’s greatest assets. Their work is vital for accelerating revenue growth. Unfortunately, these individuals are becoming increasingly difficult to find. The occupation of selling is changing through the influx of sales representatives.

In recent years, the sales occupation has sustained a different kind of salesperson, which I refer to as the sales representative.

Most business owners and sales managers cannot distinguish a sales rep from a sales pro. Unlike other professions such as accounting, the profession of sales is not formalized; there is no required certification process, and therefore, no criteria defining the differences between the levels of proficiency existing among those in the profession.

While these two groups—reps and pros—perform many of the same functions, the differences between them account for many of the problems business owners have in growing their businesses.

Drawing the Line

The difference between sales reps and sales pros comes down to terms of a degree of quality.

Sales reps will present your products and services to prospective customers, identity, qualify, and follow-up on sales opportunities. They will create presentations, schedule sales meetings, and, in the process, occasionally receive a sale.

The sales of the representative are incidental to their work, which is more mindless (as of a routine) than it is mindful (as if engaged in to ensure the fulfillment of an objective).

By contrast, the sales of the professional are orchestrated results of his/her work, which is thoughtfully pursued with the intent of achieving a specific result.Vision, preparedness, investment, and skill provide categories for good examples that can more clearly highlight the differences between sales reps and sales pros.


There are several main objectives in most sales sequences, including finding and qualifying prospective clients, scheduling appointments with prospective clients, profiling and identifying leveraging points, clarifying urgency to buy, and obtaining next-step commitments with a prospect.

As selling becomes complex, additional steps are required in order to achieve a sale. Identifying and having a vision of the often arcane, prospect-specific steps can challenge a salesperson. And an initial vision must often adapt in order to accommodate new steps as they arise in the pursuit of sales.

Sales reps lack vision. They give little or no thought to modifying general sales procedures. Reps are not concerned with maximizing the effectiveness of their endeavors, though they say otherwise.

Sales professionals consistently strive to gain insight and advantages into sales situations and opportunities to ensure the success of their mission to convert potential sales into actualized sales.

Reps can develop their vision and improve their sales by thinking more deeply, questioning, not settling with their assumptions, and reasoning the “why,” “how,” and “what” beyond the ostensible. This thinking process accounts for the main difference between many sales successes and failures.


The basics of preparedness for most sales pursuits are:

  • having a breadth and depth of knowledge about the prospect and the sales opportunities the prospect represents;
  • strong leveraging points;
  • anticipation of a prospect’s responses to your presentation, and consideration of any peripheral issues that could impact achieving the sale;
  • a step-by-step vision for securing the sale;
  • a fallback approach for reengaging a waning prospect.

Sales professionals are prepared to engage and nurture sales opportunities. Sales representatives mindlessly go through the motions of call, meet, and follow-up without sufficient preparation. For the sales representative who hopes that eventually something will come from “all of my work,” sales is a numbers game.

Preparing a salesperson to engage in a sales pursuit requires an investment of time and materials from the business owner. If the business owner or sales manager isn’t supporting her salespeople in the activities essential for selling in today’s world, both the business and the rep will typically lose in competitive selling situations involving competition that is better prepared.

Sales representatives can improve their preparedness by asking and answering for themselves questions such as:

1.  What data might help me engage and intrigue my prospect?
2.  What is the main objective of my meeting with this prospect?
3.  What possible issues might be influencing my prospect’s buying decision?
4.  How can I create desire for my product in my prospect?
5.  What questions might my prospect ask me and how will I answer?
6.  What hurdles can I anticipate between where the sale is now and finalizing the sale?
7.  How will my presentation help my prospect understand the value I offer?


A sales rep rarely considers what his/her sales pursuits cost his/her employer. Profitability is not a consideration for the reps who see a sale simply as a sale, and their investment in any sales work as valuable.

Sales professionals are more valuable to employers and will consistently outperform sales reps by simply knowing where and how to invest their skills. Professionals know which prospects to pursue, when and why a sales pursuit should be abandoned, how to negotiate and achieve profitable transactions, and strive to improve their skills in order to maximize profits from their endeavors.

Sales representatives can improve their value as a salesperson by periodically questioning themselves:

1.  Am I on-track for reaching my goals, and, if not, how will I change that status?
2.  What overall value does this sales pursuit represent to me and my employer?
3.  What priority should I give this pursuit in helping achieve my goals?
4.  How does the work I’m doing right now rank in helping me achieve my goals?
5.  What can I do in order to increase my productivity and ensure reaching my goal?


Salespeople must develop a multitude of skills in order to consistently bring sales opportunities to fruition. Sales reps often neglect developing their skills.

Sales representatives and sales professionals, therefore, vary to the extent that they diverge in possessing the skills required to sell most effectively. Consider the components of most sales work and their respective demands:

  • Conducting Research: requires resourcefulness and creativity
  • Qualifying: requires logic, and breadth and depth of specific (industry) knowledge
  • Setting appointments: requires technique proficiency, discernment, and assertiveness
  • Presenting: requires strategy formulation, positioning, and presentation skills
  • Nurturing business: requires patience, resourcefulness, persistence, creativity, and subtlety

Selling professionally requires a multitude of skills working synergistically. Those possessing such skills become top performers.

Most people employed in sales, however, do not improve their skills, and thus, remain ill equipped to succeed consistently. Developing the appropriate sales skills will improve one’s effectiveness in selling.

As you strive to improve your company’s sales, understand which skills are required to meet your specific challenges. And do not expect equal results from sales methodologies. Understand the rationale behind what you are practicing, and require the same exercise form your salespeople.

Start hiring better sales pros rather than sales reps today with our FREE Sales Interview Guide

About the author

Steven Young

Steven Robert Young, creator of IDEAL, and author of "Achieve" and "The Sales Success,"…

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