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Are You a “Specialist” or a “Generalist?”

I have been thinking a lot about this recently - the differences between so called “specialists” and the alternative, which must logically be “generalists” It is easy to imagine what a specialist is; someone who is perceived to be if not an expert, then certainly someone who is focused; has chosen to focus on one specific area, thing, sector, topic, subject … you see what I mean. Whereas a generalist is described thus: “One who has broad general knowledge and skills in several areas

Maybe generalists could also be labeled a “Jack (Jill) of all trades” which insinuates “master of none” but actually, that is far from true. When I think about the sales space, and some of my acquaintances, colleagues and friends, it is very easy – well for me anyway – to categorize most of them: Linda Richardson, Keith Rosen, Dr. Tony Alessandra, Jeffrey Gitomer, Gerhard Gschwandtner, Geoffrey James, Dave Stein, Neil Rackham, Dave Kurlan, Paul McCord - to name but a few - are definitely generalists, because they have such an all-round, in-depth knowledge of everything sales. Experience is part of that, but so is the depth and breadth of their interest in – and commitment to - the profession.

When I think of specialists, I think of Jill Konrath (Lead generation/new business development) Joanne Black (Referral selling) Wendy Weiss (Cold calling) Trish Bertuzzi (Inside sales) Nancy Nardin (Sales process) Lori Richardson (SMB) Dan McDade (Lead generation) plus a whole host of sales management specialists, far too many to name, and an entire stadium’s worth of social media experts … and so on (There is always a danger that I will offend someone by not including them on this list - please don’t be, it is late and I have a copy deadline to meet)

So, who is better, the generalist or the specialist?

In that environment there isn’t a better: Some have chosen to concentrate on a particular aspect or area, others cannot be confined to one “discipline” But you know what? The big difference between the list of generalists above, and some training companies who really are jack of all trades and masters of none, is that my list is populated by people who genuinely are “masters of all trades”

What’s the correlation with front-line selling? Well it is simply this: Commentators like me evangelise about the need – as a professional salesman or woman – to become an industry expert; to know everything there is to know about what is happening in your sector and in your market, so that you can have meaningful dialogue with your clients and prospects. I highlighted this point in a post earlier in the week, when I suggested that buyers today are only interested in having interactions that are “wholly relevant” But here there is a dichotomy …

What if you are selling into a variety of industries? What if you cannot select your customers, and you have to rely on them selecting you? What if you have no control of your typical buying/selling cycle? Then of course you are having a much more difficult time – you have, by the very nature of your role, to become a “jack of all industries” and logically you will probably be “master of none”

For all the pontificating by us so called sales experts, the reality is that in selling, there is no vanilla solution for sales team development; no one-size-fits-all-scenarios sales methodology; no off-the-shelf holy-grail.

I have said it so many times before, all customers/prospects/clients are unique, and so are salespeople – and their development needs.

At this point you are probably anticipating that I am going to say something like: “At Jonathan Farrington & Associates, we take a very unique approach to sales team development by …” but I have to disappoint you, I am not going to use this post as an advertisement.

Oh, and me? I am a specialist … and a generalist: I used to be indecisive, but now I am not so sure.


News: It has been an exciting week in the sales space: I am hearing that Dream Force has been bigger and better than ever – do look out for Nancy Nardin’s exclusive report in next month’s Top Sales Magazine, and we are now gearing up for the next Sales 2.0 Conference, which I will be writing about next week. Herrmann International released a brand new white paper, which if you haven’t downloaded yet, you absolutely must HERE - but only if you are remotely interested in getting “an edge”

Lots going on next week, and more about that on Monday. In the meantime, look out for some guest posts over the w/e.

Bon w/e a tous!! - JF 

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