A Brief History of the Sales Profession


The formula for defining a "profession" is similar throughout many disciplines, including: accounting, education, engineering, law and medicine.

Morris L. Cogan addressed the definition of forming a profession in business in 1953. After reviewing all the literature on the topic, he offered the following comprehensive distillation, which is submitted here, as a fine summary of the previous definitions:
A profession is a vocation whose practice is founded upon understanding the theoretical structure of some department of learning or science, and upon the abilities accompanying such an understanding. This understanding and these abilities are applied to the vital practical affairs of man. The practices of the profession are modified by knowledge of a generalized nature and by the accumulated wisdom and experience of mankind, which serve to correct the errors of specialization. The profession, that serves the vital needs of man, considers its first ethical imperative to be altruistic service to the client"(Vollmer et al., 1966).
Why is the definition of a profession so important to selling? The professionalism of a group establishes the power that is recognized by others within the business community and outside the profession. With the sanction, approval, and authority intact, the profession attains higher status in the eyes of the clients. In this case, the clients of the seller would need to recognize and sanction, and approve the authority of the sales professional. Due to the nature of the buying-selling relationship, many individual buyers do not feel comfortable giving or otherwise recognizing this power in the sales professional. The question becomes: if doctors and lawyers receive money for their work, and indeed must sell and market their services, why then, are they seen as "more professional"?All of these definitions of a profession provide insight into the ideals and behaviors, which are needed to be considered "professional" by members of the business community. In learning to become a "professional", many occupations are taught in school. When a student studies any new subject matter, their first objective is to understand an overview of the entire subject matter. For example, when studying medicine, students first understand all the systems of the body, the different medical terms, and a high level overview of the entire field before they ever operate on anyone. Once any student studying a new subject understands this high level overview, they then move in depth into each specific area of that profession.

Some sales professionals have entered the field by joining a large and established company. Others have grown up in the field by learning the "hard way". Still, others have done a combination of both. With over 15 million sales professionals, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the United States alone there was no set standard upon which to measure and advance the entire profession until the United Professional Sales Association standards were created at the turn of the century.

With these standards, thousands of sales professionals are discovering that they are indeed a part of a "True Profession."

Brian is the Chairman and Founder of the the United Professional Sales Association (UPSA). UPSA is a non-profit organization headquartered in Washington DC that has addressed the concerns and challenges of individual sales professionals. Brian has authored the world's first universal selling standards and open-source selling framework for free distribution. This 'Compendium of Professional Selling' containing the commonly accepted and universally functional knowledge that all sales professionals possess. The open-source selling standards have been downloaded in 16 countries by over 300 people. Over 30 people have made contributions.

Because UPSA is not owned by one person or any company, it is a member organization and guardian of the global standard of entry into the sales profession.


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