Professional Selling Study Guide
Professional Selling Study Guide

Professional Selling Study Guide

Source: University of Minnesota Libraries

Student Price: FREE

An introductory marketing study guide from the University of Minnesota.

Professional Selling - Study Guide

Salespeople act as representatives for other people, including employees who work in other parts of their companies. Salespeople create value for their customers, manage relationships, and gather information for their firms. There are four types of salespeople: missionary salespeople, trade salespeople, prospectors, and account managers.

​Some buyers and sellers are more interested in building strong relationships with one another than others. The four types of relationships between buyers and sellers are transactional, functional, affiliative, and strategic. The four basic sales strategies salespeople use are script-based selling, needs-satisfaction selling, consultative selling, and strategic-partner selling. Different strategies can be used with in different types of relationships. For example, the same questioning techniques used in needs-satisfaction selling might be used in relationships characterized by consultative selling and strategic-partner selling. The sales process used to sell products is generally the same regardless of the selling strategy used. However, the strategy chosen will depend on the stage the seller is focusing on. For example, if the problem is a new one that requires a customized solution, the salesperson and buyer are likely to spend more time in the needs identification stage. Consequently, a needs-satisfaction strategy or consultation strategy is likely to be used.

​The sales cycle is a basic unit of measurement indicating how long it takes to close a sale. Salespeople examine their performance at each stage of the sales cycle in order to identify specific areas for improvement. A salesperson who shortens the cycle is able to generate more revenue with the same amount of effort. Salespeople also track their conversion ratios to identify which stages of the sales cycle they need to work on. 

Sales executives track the same metrics as individual salespeople but at the aggregate level. If many salespeople are struggling with one stage of the sales cycle, for example, then additional training or marketing may be needed, or a new strategy is necessary. Sales executives also look at their firm’s sales relative to their forecasts in order to spot possible trends. A firm’s sales trends affect many of the other decisions the company’s executives have to make, including manufacturing and output decisions. Sales managers also have to manage their company’s selling costs. Sales managers are often responsible for a firm’s sales and its profit levels.

​Salespeople are, for the most part, caring, ethical professionals. They do face unique ethical challenges because of their job, including how to handle unethical requests from customers and making sure that they know and follow all company policies for interacting with customers. American salespeople have the added constraint that what’s illegal in the United States is illegal for them in other countries because of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, even if the behavior in question is acceptable to those countries’ laws and practices. 

Sales managers have all the usual management concerns, such as fair hiring practices. According to the Federal Sentencing Guidelines, managers also have to develop policies and practices that codify ethical behaviors, train salespeople on the ethics policies, and ensure that the policies are followed. In addition, sales managers have to be aware of laws such as the Universal Commercial Code and others that govern sales transactions.

​Marketing personnel support a firm’s sales force by shortening the sales cycle and improving conversions. The sales cycle is shortened whenever a marketing activity or marketing communication either eliminates a prospect’s need to take a step in the sales cycle or speeds up the stages in the cycle. Marketing managers also create printed and digital materials called collateral designed to help persuade buyers. 

Lead management and lead scoring are two other ways in which marketing professionals help their firm’s salespeople. If a closed-loop lead management is used, marketing managers can determine what tactics and messages works best and make sound marketing investments. 

In turn, salespeople support marketing personnel by communicating their customers’ needs and ideas back to them. Salespeople are also the first to spot the actions of competing firms, including which companies and products are the strongest competitors. The marketing department then uses the information to create better marketing messages, sales strategies, offerings, or a combination of the three.

​Outsourcing the sales function can be done through distributors, independent agents, and manufacturers’ representatives, as well as other types of sales organizations. The entire sales cycle can be outsourced or only parts of it. Outsourcing can cost less and requires less investment than a company-employed sales force. Moreover, independent agents, distributors, and manufacturers’ representatives often have established relationships that make it easier for a company to enter and penetrate new markets. 

Outsourcing the sales function(s) means that a company will lose some control over its sales activities. To counteract that loss of control, companies try to devise attractive compensation schemes, as well as effective marketing strategies for the independent sales organizations and people with whom they work. Companies also hire sales managers to manage the relationships with the outsourced sales staff.

​Discussion Questions 


As a customer, would it be important for you to know how your salesperson was paid? Why or why not?


Should salespeople be responsible for handling all their customers’ complaints or should customers be told to call the departments responsible for the complaints? Explain your answer.


What impact would a service-dominant logic approach have on how you craft sales strategy?


Assume you sell plumbing supplies via a distributor that sells to retailers.

a. What can you, as the manufacturer’s sales representative, do to shorten the distributor’s sales cycle? To improve its conversions?

b. Assume you are the distributor and you have five salespeople working for you. Two call on plumbing companies and large construction companies at job sites, whereas the other three work as salespeople in your warehouse to handle walk-in customers. What can you do with marketing to shorten the sales cycle of each group? How might your efforts affect the performance each group differently?


Assume you invented a new plastic-shaping technology that allows plastic products to be manufactured much more cheaply. When you talk to manufacturers, though, they are skeptical because the new method is so radically different from any technology they have ever used before.

a. What do you think the sales cycle for the technology would look like? What would the most important step of the sales cycle be? Why?

b. What type of sales force would you utilize and why?

c. What marketing activities could help you shorten the sales cycle and how?


In many organizations, marketing and sales do not get along very well. Describe what you would expect to be the results in an organization such as this.


What are three questions you would want to ask in a job interview if you were interviewing for an entry-level marketing position?


Salespeople are often viewed with disdain by the general public. What do you think could change those perceptions?


The Federal Sentencing Guidelines show companies ways to avoid legal responsibility for 376 ethical violations by salespeople and other employees. Do you think this is a good thing? Do you think companies can successfully monitor and manage ethics?


When does outsourcing the sales force work well? When should it be avoided?



Contact a salesperson and ask if you can spend a half-day observing sales calls. Whether you are able to observe or not, ask these questions: What are the segments within that salesperson’s territory? How do they make decisions and what are the key sales activities?


Contact a professional who works with salespeople. This exercise can be done with physicians who have reps call on them, professors who have sales reps call on them, as well as professional purchasing agents. What do they think of salespeople and the value that these professionals get from their salespeople? What separates the good salespeople from the ones that are not so good?


You are trying to convince a potential roommate to move into your apartment. Develop a list of questions you would use to understand what that person needed in a place to live and in a roommate. Then, with someone else in the class, take turns selling each other on why you should room together.

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​Principles of Marketing by [Author removed at request of original publisher] is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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This content is from ​University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2015 - Chapter 13 Key Takeaways, Discussion Questions & Activities. Modifications were made as follows:

  • Removal of references to the chapter's associated readings

The University of Minnesota Libraries Publishing edition, 2015 is adapted from a work originally produced in 2010 by a publisher who has requested that it not receive attribution.