Why the Negative Connotation Around Sales Is No Longer True?

For reasons I don’t understand, the word “sales” still carries a lot of baggage. When I taught at Capital University, I would ask the students to describe salespeople. We would fill up a whiteboard with words like: “pushy,” “selfish,” “aggressive,” persuasive,” “slimy,” and “slick.” They always came up with more words than this sampling, but it’s enough for you to get the picture that they didn’t have a very positive view of sales—or salespeople.

Once we had enough words on the board, I would ask the students to raise their hand if they had a parent in sales, particularly their mother. There were always three or four students with a parent in sales, and one or two were a student’s Mother. Then I asked them why their Mother was all of these terrible things and how they could possibly live with such a monster. The students would laugh and argue that their Mom was the exact opposite of the words on the whiteboard.

There are few things worth noting here as it pertains to the word “sales” and the stereotypical salesperson that point to the disconnect of how sales is perceived and how different salespeople are from the stereotype.

Salespeople are paid for winning. They do not get paid for losing. This is unlike any other role in business, where one is paid no matter what. All of the roles in business are important and necessary, but salespeople have more skin in the game. Losing is expensive. You give up time and energy without getting anything for your effort. Which leads us to the reason salespeople are no longer the wicked brutes of yesteryear.

Because variable compensation structures allow a company to offer higher compensation to people who produce a greater result, the words that describe the stereotype would cause a salesperson to lose deals now. No one has to buy from a pushy, aggressive, high pressure, slick salesperson. These behaviors would almost invariably produce a loss in B2B sales, making them ineffective as a choice one might make were they trying to create a preference to buy from them.

There are very few salespeople who have been taught high-pressure sales tactics over the last few decades, even if there are still some who behave badly. But they are the exception, not the rule. In the future, the negative connotation will not be that a salesperson used high-pressure tactics to try to win a sale, but that they didn’t know anything and wasted their prospective client’s time.

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