Thursday, August 07, 2008

Why are Medical Doctors more respected than Salespeople?

How do I dare say this? I have read the results of Gallup's annual poll about the public opinion on honesty and ethical standards of people in various professions .

Should you look at this poll for yourself, you might consider it as not very fair. The poll uses car salesmen as the stereotype representing the sales profession. I see it though rather as an indication of the challenge professional sales people are facing to fight this stereotype and getting through to the prospects or customers.

For those not wanting to accept my reasoning and insisting that the poll is unfair, I asked my network in LinkedIn to rank the respectability of the following ten professions

Medical Doctor, Judge, Lawyer, College Professor, Accountant, Military Officer, Engineer, Scientist, Professional Sales Person, Politician

The results of this little amateur poll obviously provide no statistical evidence. However, they still allow for some interesting observations. Medical Doctors still turned out to be more respected than salespersons. The gap between the two was however narrower as salespeople were ranked more towards the middle. There were some salespeople answering the question. Surprisingly they did not rank a salesperson's respectability much different than members of other professions did.

Why should we care about the sales persons respectability in society?

Are salespeople not the “Elite Athletes of the Business World” (quote from Sales Gravy ) Well, let's look at ourselves as customers. Could it be that the personal experiences most of us had with some not so professional sales people are a motivator to embrace the possibilities offered with Web 2.0? Now we can form an opinion without being influenced by salespeople. Expert's estimates about the percentage of B2B buying processes starting with a search on Google, Yahoo or others vary a bit but are at least around 75% and higher..

So it is not only more difficult for a sales person to get in front of the customer. When the customer contact finally occurs, the danger for damaging the reputation has also increased. Customers will be annoyed, if sales people try to sell in the old way. Customers, in this scenario do not need to hear how great the feature list is and how seamless the end to end solution is. Actually it was already a poor way of selling prior to Web 2.0. It was though somewhat tolerated as the salesperson was the gateway to information. But now customer's are getting intolerant as they have formed their own opinion long before they meet with you, the salesperson.

Could sales people learn something from the medical doctors ?

Let us ask just two questions about the patient – doctor relation.

Q: Do we trust that the doctor has sufficient knowledge about a patient's anatomy? A: Yes, based on long academic studies and passed examinations.

Q: Do we think the doctor cares about us? A: Yes, we are asked specific questions and we are put through tests allowing the doctor to come to a diagnosis and then recommend a treatment to relief us from pain as much as possible.

Now let us ask the same two questions for a prospect – salesperson relation.

I leave the answers to you. However if they are as positive as for the patient-doctor relation, I would suspect some wishful thinking.

Another observation you might want to take into consideration: The reputation of doctors has declined over the recent years. This phenomenon is based on feelings from patients that doctors are more and more concerned about making money instead of truly helping their patients. In the sales profession, the focus on ones own wallet is even institutionalized through compensation plans. I invite in particular sales managers to substitute 'prospect' for 'patient' and 'salesperson' for 'doctor' in the above statement. You might get a hint on the impact the compensation plans can have on the reputation of your sales.people.

Maybe if you encourage sales people to take good doctors' behavior as best practices instead of imitating the 20 year sales veteran's “spiel” you might have a brighter future in this new world of selling.

Should you look for the anatomy book of a prospect, it is not yet written. But some chapters start to emerge. Look out for the writings of behavioral economists. I am currently reading “Predictably Irrational” by Dan Ariely. But please do not let your sales people use the findings in a manipulative way.

I would like to thank: Celia Baula, Sebastian Birke, John W. Harris, Suzanne Ledo, Ann Newman, Wolf Roesch, Bart Trnavsky, Dimitry Tsygankov and Toby Mary Walker, for the interesting exchanges we had about the reputation of salespeople.


  1. I follow gallup polls at least once a week, and this one was no surprise to me. I still find it hard to believe that so many salespeople are using the old ways of selling still, until I have to do purchasing myself! If I have to listen to one more company story or "Glenn Ross" sales pitch I think I am going to lose my mind. I don't put any of my customers or prospects through those ridculous tactics, and this might be the reason why I have had so much success over the past several years. Thanks for the article!

  2. Will,
    thanks for your supporting comment.

  3. Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you penning this post
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