Rule #1: Transcend Public Opinion
Over the years, the sales practice has appropriately earned a pretty poor reputation. To grasp the scope of the negative predicament salespeople have created for themselves, try this exercise: Put this book down, walk over to the person nearest to you (spouse, friend, co-worker, stranger . . . it doesn’t matter) and ask what word immediately comes to mind when you say “salesman.” Go ahead . . . I’ll wait.
Did you hear any of these very predictable responses: Sleazy; crooked; fast talking; unscrupulous; dishonest; shifty; lacking trust; lacking ethics; liars; car lots; insurance; egotists; manipulative. I’m sure you can come up with a few thoughts of your own . . . perhaps even based on a previous personal experience.
I am aware that some of you salespeople will take exception to this exercise. The words that come to your mind might include honest, trustworthy, friendly, helpful, courteous, etc. Quite frankly, I envy your sunny disposition and self- esteem but I must respectfully inform you that you are an island in a sea of cynicism toward sales professionals.
The reason why these less-than-attractive labels of the sales profession persist results from a concept known as “easy entry.” To become a salesperson all you need to do is to have a card printed identifying you as a salesperson. Good, bad or indifferent, this is how too many small companies create their sales force. They find people who can “fog a mirror”, and they go out and print them calling cards. The sooner you acknowledge this reality, the more quickly you will combat it.
A Story Worth Repeating
In 1987, I was teaching marketing courses to both graduate and undergraduate students at Fairleigh Dickinson University (FDU) in Madison, New Jersey. On the first day of a new marking period I asked an undergraduate class …
“How many of you in this room, are interested in helping people after graduating?”
Virtually every hand in the class went up. I asked a second question,
“How many of you want to earn a lot of money as soon as you graduate?”
For a second time, every hand in the class shot up. I followed with a third question,
“How many of you upon graduation would like to be in a position where you can be your own boss?”
99% of the students had their hand in the air. Then came the eye opener, “How many of you are planning on becoming salespeople?”
Not one person in the class raised their hand. This response paints an accurate picture of the public perception of the sales profession today.
How could we have let this happen? Where did we go wrong? Is it that every consumer has been injured by a salesperson and is carrying a grudge? Do we owe this negative press to Al Bundy, the TV Sitcom shoe salesman on Married With Children? Or how about Herb on the old TV show WKRP in Cincinnati who was always wearing loud sports jackets that didn’t match his pants?
If perception is reality, salespeople have a major obstacle to overcome. Right or wrong, salespeople have apparently earned themselves a less-than-glowing reputation over the years. Many people, in fact, still consider salespeople to be less than honorable, or simply people between “real jobs.”
Frankly, I cast much of the blame on sales managers and sales trainers . . . especially those who have never actually “carried the bag.” I take offense with a manager or trainer telling me it is my duty to “overcome” people’s objections or to sell people “up,” or to recite any phrase designed to take advantage of an individual’s lack of knowledge, experience, or decision-making ability.
There will always be people in the world who are out to make a fast buck at the expense of others without a trace of guilt or a second thought. I can’t change this. I can only remind you that the behavior of these few individuals does not have to prevent you from becoming a consummate professional.
Begin by asking yourself these questions: • “What am I doing here? In this job? In this company?” • “Am I here to help people . . ..or would I prefer to harm them?”
• “Am I planning to be a sincere, honest and straightforward business professional . . ..or does lying, cheating and dishonest behavior fit into my plans?”
“Am I eager, qualified and prepared to bring something of value to the party . . . or am I here looking for a free ride?”