Salespeople still matter.

So says Frank Cespedes, a senior lecturer at Harvard’s business school, speaking at a dealer-centric auto-industry conference. He contends research debunks three sales-related myths.

  • Myth: Salespeople are on the way out because of the Internet. “That’s not supported by the data,” Cespedes says. Dealership employment has climbed steadily since a trough year of 2008. U.S. dealerships employ more than 1 million people, 20.4% in sales, according to the National Automobile Dealers Assn.
  • Myth: Selling depends heavily on the salesperson’s outgoing personality. “Research indicates no consistent correlation between personality and performance,” Cespedes says. “Salespeople come in all types. The born salesman is a myth.”
  • Myth: It’s all about social media today. “Sixty-two percent of people in a poll say social media has no influence on their buying. Gartner and Sirius surveys rank the salesperson No.1, social media last.” 

Some businesses labor to develop a business strategy, but then fail to fill in the staff, Cespedes says at this year’s DrivingSales Executive Summit.

“Less than 50% of employees say they understand their firm’s strategy, and the percentage decreases with sales and service employees,” he says, citing Effectory International polling of 300,000 people worldwide.

Senior executives may fret their competitors will take their business strategies and run. That’s a misplaced fear, according to Cespedes. “You’ve got problems if you worry about competitors understanding your strategy, and your employees don’t understand it.”

Some companies don’t even have a strategy when it comes down to it, he says. “When you cut through the rhetoric, it’s ‘Let’s pick a big number and try to hit it.’”

Lack of a strategy can hurt sales, says Cespedes whose background includes running business ventures. “There’s no such thing as effective selling if it doesn’t support a business strategy.”

One tenet rings true, he says. “It is not a good idea to sell below cost, even though I’ve heard rationalizations for doing that.”

sfinlay@wardsauto.com