Black or white. Good or evil. Republican or democrat. Positive or negative. We’ve gotten pretty good at drawing lines in the sand, haven’t we? As a society, and a species, we love to categorize and label people, things, and activities. We somehow feel more comfortable having declared our alliance with a particular side and then view the world in terms of absolutes. You’re either on one side or the other. We have a hard time making sense of any gray area, so we stop acknowledging that it even exists.
That’s often the way people view the ideas of sales and service. Sales is bad. Service is good. If you’re a salesperson, you automatically inherit the most negative connotations the word can conjure up. You can’t possibly provide good service, because your job is to separate me from my money, right? How can anyone who chooses to be a salesperson also profess to be a service provider? It’s hypocrisy.
I get it. There’s a lot of unethical behavior out there that, to some extent, justifies the categorization of sales as bad. Deceptive advertising, hidden costs, bait-and-switch tactics, and even outright lies – they’re all out there. Every person reading this has no doubt been burned at some point by an unscrupulous salesperson looking to line their own pockets by playing on our innocence.
And so we’ve come to believe in the evilness of sales so strongly that many advocate eliminating the word from their corporate vocabulary. Instead of salespeople, we have consultants and advisors – as if changing the word does anything to mask the intent behind the behavior. They cringe when someone identifies sales for what it is and then try to explain how what they’re doing away as something different – something less offensive.
I think it’s time we put an end to this practice. I say we take back the word “sales” and acknowledge it for the noble profession that it is. How dare we allow the bottom-feeders out there to pollute the collective consciousness of our customers? How dare we hide behind some politically-correct term that attempts to soften an activity that has no shame?
Sales is a good thing. Without it, we wouldn’t know what new products are being introduced to the market. We wouldn’t hear about additional features and benefits that can enhance our lives. Without the proactive actions of caring salespeople, we’d be lost – searching for answers to problems we don’t even know we have.
Like most things though, there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about selling. The stories we tend to hear about – the ones that form our negative opinions about salespeople – are the ones that go bad. They’re the ones that leave us feeling uncomfortable with the process and the result. They’re the ones that cause us to avoid salespeople like the plague. Remember, we move toward those things that cause us pleasure and away from those that cause us pain. If all we experience or hear about are painful sales encounters, it’s no wonder we avoid them.
My wife just bought a new car. For most people, the prospect of interacting with a car salesman is pretty low on the “things I want to do today” list. But let me tell you about John. He does his job well. He asked Susan the right questions. He picked up on subtle cues and clues that indicated her preferences. He provided information that helped place each car she looked at in the proper context relative to the others on the lot, and those offered by his competitors. There were no vague answers, no off-the-cuff promises, and no high-pressure pitches. He simply sought to understand the customer’s needs and then pointed her to a product that would meet them.
The process of buying my wife’s new car didn’t feel sleazy. It didn’t feel like we were getting cheated or misled. It felt right. When my wife told the manager how impressed she was with John, he nodded his head in understanding. It turns out John has won many awards for sales excellence over his 20 year career with the dealership, and has a large list of repeat customers. I can see why. His approach to selling makes for a pleasurable experience – people are naturally drawn back to that. John is a salesman, and proud of it.
The world needs more people like John. We need men and women who actively seek to understand what the person in front of them needs and then share how their product can meet those needs. We need salespeople. Look around at your coworkers. They could be those kind of people. You could be one too. Let’s do it together.
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