Personal Branding in Sales: An Introduction

In our digital sales age, we’re seeing increasing attention paid to the idea of personal branding. Although the idea itself is by no means new (a brief history is below), awareness of its importance and value in business – including for sales reps – is now reaching a critical mass of awareness. There’s a problem, however. While the majority of sales and business professionals endorse development and use of personal branding, there’s no real common agreement as to what exactly it is. Many people conflate elevator pitches and personal branding. While elevator pitches are an important part of personal branding, they’re just that – only one aspect of the whole. So today we’ll discuss the history of personal branding, provide our own comprehensive definition, and give you some examples.

A Very Short History of Personal Branding
Although he didn’t define it as such, the underlying concept behind personal branding can be traced back to Aristotle, who observed in his Nicomachean Ethics, “These virtues are formed in many by his doing the actions” (Side note: That quote “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence is not an act, but a habit”? Not Aristotle, despite widespread misattribution. That’s actually Will Durant re-explaining and summarizing Aristotle’s idea).

Personal branding’s ideas as applied to business and sales first emerged in Napoleon Hill’s 1937 book, Think and Grow Rich, and surfaced again in Al Ries and Jack Trout’s 1981 co-publication Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind. It was not until a 1997 article by Tom Peters, however, that the term personal branding would be both coined and popularized in the mainstream.

In the resulting two decades, sales professionals have wrestled with the idea of personal branding – what it is and how to implement it. And with the rise of the global digital economy and the resulting informed buyers of the 21st century, new questions have arisen as to where personal branding fits into the idea of relationship-oriented sales processes and the evolution of sales reps into Trusted Advisors.

Personal Branding Defined (and Some Examples)
The shorthand version: Personal branding is everything involving the presentation and communication of your business self – and you are your business self 24/7/365.

The longer answer: The way you dress, the way you write, the way you talk, what you say in both verbal and written communication, your body language, your mannerisms, your expressions – literally everything involves your personal branding. This is a hard concept for some people to get around. But it’s true.

Added to the mix – as a sales rep, your employer’s own branding becomes part of your personal brand by extension. To some degree, your personal branding can have certain parameters imposed on it by your company’s brand. The easiest way to see this is in the work dress code. Obviously, the clothing aspect doesn’t apply when you’re not working, but other elements do.

Naturally you’re asking what those elements are. Rather than list them all, I’ll tell you to keep in mind the following: Even when you’re not on the clock or communicating in the capacity of your job as a sales rep, you’re still a representative of your employer and everything that you and say do reflects not only on you, but who you work for.

Think this sounds absurd? Tell that to the untold numbers of people who have been fired for saying the wrong thing on social media or who have been terminated after being involved in illegal activity. The old saying about “Avoid saying or doing anything you wouldn’t want to see published in a newspaper” is a good rule of thumb to follow in regard to personal branding and your conduct (you’ll likely see benefits in your private life as well by following this axiom).

Naturally, given that personal branding is so wide in scope, there’s a lot to discuss about how to envision, construct, implement, and broadcast your personal brand. So much so that in the coming weeks and months, we’ll have more installments in this series, each post discussing a specific aspect of your personal brand and how to create it. Let us know in the comments which areas you’d like to see address in future posts.