Hackers, cinematic convention tells us, are pizza-guzzling, cola-drinking, anti-social anarchists who dabble in coding wizardry and master a dark realm of fringe technology. Salespersons, on the other hand, are almost always depicted as their polar opposites: smile-wearing, tie-sporting types who can finesse their way through any awkward social situation and are masters of the no-less-darker realm of human motivations and desires. So if I were to ask you to imagine a sales hacker, you’d probably be hard pressed, right?

Not necessarily. See, taken at its broader meaning, hacking should really be interpreted as a systematic breaking of conventions to achieve results that normally would require going through cumbersome, bureaucratic or otherwise limiting channels.

Taken as such, it’s actually easy to think of top salespersons as hackers. Instead of hacking into secured network, they hack into their customer’s buying process. And while they don’t work through cryptic lines of code, they certainly are masters of the subtleties of human communication and can hack their way into the thought processes of their worst ‘enemies’ in order to turn them into accomplices.

But more concretely, good sales persons simply know how to hack their way through all the different obstacles, internal and external, that stand between them and the commission that awaits at the far end of the sale. These could be productivity hacks, designed to help the sales person overcome bad habits and achieve an optimal use of their time – you can easily find scores of these in a simple search on the net. There are also relationship hacks, represented by all the shortcuts and inroads a sales person knows of in order to affect the buyer’s decision process. And there are, increasingly so, technology hacks – devices, online services and cool tricks that help sales persons hack their way through a deal.

Social networks represent one class of the latter kind. Tweets, Facebook updates and Foursquare check-ins all provide hints that sales persons are rapidly learning to pay attention to, as ways of collecting informal inputs about the mood, attitude or simply the location of their prospects and contacts.

Hint: for a great supply of tech hacks for sales, check out Miles Austin’s great blog Fill the Funnel.

Smartphone devices represent another class of the kind. The iPhones and Androids and their multitude of apps offer numerous opportunities to the savvy sales person for hacking the sales process. This could be as simple as using an iPad note taking app during a sales meeting to collect and share notes almost instantly with all attendees. Or it might mean using the device’s camera to capture a whiteboard’s content and transmit it to the back office during a break in that crucial sales meeting, so that answers to questions and other inputs may be swiftly collected from the back-office smarts and instantly leveraged.

Hacking the sales process is really what we had in mind when we conceived of Lead Qualifier, our first iPhone app. We sought to identify specific processes and sub-processes of the sales cycle – in this case, lead qualification – and to provide a ‘hack’ for completing them. Hence Lead Qualifier, an iPhone app that cuts down the common process of recording the qualification data related to a given lead into a 30-seconds process, vs. the usual 5-10 minutes it takes to write the whole thing down or log it within the sales force automation system.

What sales hacks do you use?