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 business cards. The sooner you acknowledge this reality the more quickly you can combat it.
A Story Worth Repeating
In 1987 I was teaching marketing courses 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?”
If your answers to the first parts of these questions are positive, then you have the fundamental attitude to change your life forever.
Sure not everyone is cut out to be a highly skilled sales professional. But those who are can literally write their own ticket in nearly any field they wish. Selling skills (which are nothing more than people skills after you isolate a few industry specific nuances) are easily transferable and cross most industry boundaries quite easily.
And for us commoners who haven’t been gifted with multi- million-dollar athletic talents, sales is one of the remaining arenas where you can realistically
make all the money you want. The ceiling you place on your earnings is self- imposed.
I want you to remember the one thing that virtually every salesperson forgets over time:
A career in sales can be and should be fun.
Hunting for customers is fun. Calling people who don’t know you from Adam and trying to schedule an appointment with them is challenging and fun. Addressing people’s concerns and supplying the correct solution is fun. Having lunch, or dinner, or coffee with potential clients is fun. Helping people is fun. Meeting people is fun. Doing research on the web before calling your next person on your list is fun. Signing an order is fun. Travel is fun. (Although the travel part is fast becoming less fun all the time.) Getting paid for your hard work is fun. Spending the money you earn is fun. Sales is fun!
Never make the mistake of confusing selling with hard work. As I mentioned earlier, hard work is going out to State Highway 25 shortly after noon on a 95-degree, humid summer’s day with a shovel in your hand and digging a trench while nursing an aching back. This can never be confused with sitting in an air conditioned car or office, a refreshing coke or cup of coffee in hand, and dialing for dollars . . . or editing a sales letter of introduction . . . or brainstorming your next sales strategy or plan of action. Making good things happen for your customers is fun and will always be a pretty cool way to run your life.