When I teach undergraduates my Personal Selling course (a survey on business-to-business sales), I begin the class by asking the students to tell me what words they would use to describe salespeople. Without failure, I hear words like “greedy,” “selfish,” and “manipulative.” I wait until I have a nice consensus that salespeople are in fact selfish scumbags before I spring my trap.
Once I have listed all the negative stereotypes, I ask anyone who has a parent that works in sales to raise their hands. Normally about twenty-five percent of the students raise their hands. Some of their parents are entrepreneurs, making them salespeople, too.
I ask the question, “So, Johnny, your dad is a manipulative, self-centered, dirt bag salesperson, huh? Johnny protests: “No way! My Dad is a great guy. His customers love him! He’s always finding ways to help them!” And I am certain this is true of Johnny’s father, and all the other fathers, mothers, and other family members that sell, too.
The stereotypes are no longer true. Nor is the negative connotation.
A Sense of Pride
You sell. It’s what you do. That makes you a salesperson.
Some of us have decided to call ourselves “business development,” in an attempt to distance ourselves from the word “sales.” There isn’t any more potent or powerful way to develop business than selling.
Others have decided that they “facilitate buying decisions,” to put some space between what they do and a title they choose not to embrace. But salespeople have been “facilitating buying decision” for as long as their have been salespeople.
Still others have decided to call themselves “consultant” to avoid having don the moniker “salesperson.” Or they instead call themselves “advisor” or “specialist.” They’re still salespeople, and they’re still selling.
The behavior of millions of salespeople over the last few decades has proven the stereotypes wrong. The negative connotation only persists because we allow it to. And if a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch, then every profession must be equally tainted.
Let’s take the word sales back. The next time someone asks you what you do, proudly look them in the eye and say, “I’m a salesperson.”
Do you embrace that you are a salesperson?
What words do you use to describe what you do? Is there a single word among that list that is truly negative?
Why do the negative connotation and negative stereotypes still persist, even when they’ve been invalid for decades?
Are you proud of what you do for your company and your clients? Isn’t what you are doing what selling really is?