The Problem with Salespeople
Many people have a problem with salespeople. And who can blame them?
Haven’t we all been pressured or cajoled into buying something that we didn’t want or need. And when you attempt to seek a refund, you are treated like a loser or a complainer, which only hardens your animosity towards salespeople.
Others see salespeople as sleazy caricatures based on TV shows, movies, and plays. For example, who can ever forget how Ricky Roma (played by Al Pacino) plays on the insecurities of James Lingk (played by Jonathan Pryce) when he sells him real estate in the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. Or how about that scene where Chris Varick (played by Vin Diesel) scams a busy and distracted doctor into buying stock of a new but dubious drug in the movie Boiler Room.
I know how people feel about selling because I’m a salesperson.
I admit it. But most salespeople will lie about their profession. They’ll use euphemisms like “New Business Development Manager” or “Account Manager.” But they’re not fooling anyone, especially me.
Unlike some of my colleagues, I know who I am, and I’m proud of my work.
But for most people, salespeople are considered a nuisance.
With a pinch of guilt, a dash of guile, and a mix of flattery, the cunning salesperson creates his pièces de résistance — buyer’s remorse.
We’re the ones you hang up on when we make cold calls to you at work. We’re the ones you avoid when you see us standing at street corners pitching or hawking products or services. We’re the ones you're rude to when we approach you at a store and ask if you need help. We’re the ones you submit bogus phone numbers to when you complete free trial requests, so we can’t call you back. We’re the ones you don’t show up for a scheduled appointment, and never return our follow-up phone calls to reschedule the meeting.
Some employees treat us like the proverbial crazy old aunt or uncle that you want to hide in the office basement. They avoid eye contact with us because they feel sorry for all the rejections we face daily from prospects. Or they feel embarrassed for us because we never pursued a “real” job or a career.
Just as some view sanitation workers as a necessary evil for collecting garbage, others see salespeople as a necessary evil for generating revenue.
Both jobs are dirty and difficult. But somebody has to do it.
Without sanitation workers, the streets would be covered with trash and overrun by vermin. Health problems would arise. Urban communities couldn’t function. People would move to the countryside to avoid the chaos.
Without salespeople, companies would fail. Employees would get laid off. Governments couldn’t collect taxes. Infrastructures would fall apart. People would starve.
In both of the above scenarios, we would all end up living in the Dark Ages.
Yes, there is a problem with salespeople. And that problem begins with perceptions.
For example, most young people enter sales with their eyes blinded by dollar signs. They see selling not as an honorable profession, but one where they can turn a quick buck by hustling naïve customers. They think that cheap gimmicks will get them ahead and help them exceed their quota. But they soon realize that selling is a lot harder than it looks, and most customers aren’t as stupid as they think.
Meanwhile, most people avoid salespeople, and for a good reason. While they sometimes must deal with the stereotypical high-pressured used car salesman, it’s the shrewd salespeople they worry about the most. You know, the ones who sell gym memberships or timeshare contracts that are difficult to understand, and even harder to break. With a pinch of guilt, a dash of guile, and a mix of flattery, the cunning salesperson creates his pièces de résistance — buyer’s remorse.
And it’s not just buyer’s remorse that undermines our confidence in salespeople. It’s also purchasing products that don’t work. We’ve all been there. That time you bought a car that turned out to be a lemon. That time you paid for a printer that frequently jammed. That time you purchased a laptop that froze.
And the list goes on.
But there is a solution.
It begins when salespeople and customers start changing their perceptions of the sales profession.
Salespeople need to treat customers with dignity and deference, and not see them as their next meal ticket. In turn, customers need to accept salespeople as problem solvers and not view them as annoying pests. With mutual respect and understanding, salespeople and customers alike can educate and empathize with one another.
Both salespeople and customers need to understand their different roles.
Salespeople need to earn money, and customers want to solve problems. But to be successful, salespeople need to listen more and speak less. Customers don’t want to hear sales pitches; they want to hear about solutions. But customers need to drop their natural suspicions when working with salespeople. They need to open up more when discussing their challenges.
Professional relationships are built on trust. And trust starts when both salespeople and customers realize that selling should solve problems, not create them.
Don Lee is the author of Jumpstart your Sales Career, Help for New Salespeople.