Is salesperson a dirty word?

A couple of days ago, Jim Keenan wrote an article called, “The Shame in Selling.” Last week, Mark Hunter wrote an article called, “So Many Deny They’re in Sales. Why?!” And both articles reminded me of an article I read a year and a half ago by Anthony Iannarino, “You Are Not a Consultant–You Are a Salesperson.” The recurring theme in these writings and many others like them is that salespeople should not be ashamed of selling. Selling is a noble profession…isn’t it?

Selling fuels the economy. Salespeople aren’t bad guys. They’re heroes. They help people experience new things that better their lives. They help businesses grow, thereby creating jobs and bring the world more meaningful products. Salespeople push the world into a better tomorrow when it would prefer to just sit still.

My question, then, is, “Why?” Why are salespeople so reluctant to be labeled as such? Why aren’t they more naturally inclined to be proud of what they do? Why do sales trainers have to continually coax them into taking pride in their profession? Why?

What Buyers Think of Salespeople

I think the fundamental reason why salespeople don’t like being called salespeople is rather obvious–customers don’t like salespeople. Now, I know. That’s a bit of a generalization. Some customers give salespeople the benefit of the doubt and recognize the value of the work that they do. But ask any random person on the street the first thing that comes to mind when they hear the word, “salesperson,” and I guarantee you that most of the answers are going to be far from noble.

Most people, I think, see salespeople as manipulators. They’re smooth-talking tricksters trying to get you to spend as much money as they can on whatever it is they’re selling. If that’s true and most people do feel this way about salespeople, it’s not wonder that salespeople are discontented with the label. ConsultantAdvisorAccount Manager. These all sound friendlier. People don’t mind being consulted with, and they’ll tolerate advice. Heck, they’ll even take being “managed” over being “sold.”

So, let’s review: why don’t salespeople like being called, “Salespeople.” It’s because the people they are selling to don’t like salespeople!

The Two Sides of Influence

Now, after all of this, I’m going to end this article with the same admonition that the brilliant men I mentioned at the beginning give to salespeople: selling is a noble profession; take pride in it. But, how can I say that? I’ve agreed that most buyers feel a natural aversion toward salespeople. There must really be something wrong with the profession, right?

Well, let’s try a little change in vocabulary. Manipulation and trickery are dysphemisms. They are words that have a negative connotation. Let’s use something more neutral. Let’s not call salespeople manipulators or tricksters; let’s call them influencers. Let’s use the word influence. What’s the difference, you ask? Well, take a look at the two pictures below:

Wouldn’t you agree that both of these men are influencers? Both of them strive to change the behavior of the people they address. But, are both of them manipulators? Would most people call both of these men tricksters? My guess is, “No.” Most of us would agree that Hitler is a villain and MLK is a hero. But both are influencers. And, whether or not we want to use the term, both are salespeople.

Selling is Influencing

As a salesperson, you are an influencer. You have the power to alter human behavior. You have the power to create change. You have the power to move people to action. The behavior you inspire, the change you create, and the action you move people toward determines whether you are a hero or a villain. Selling itself, though, is neutral. Like “influencing,” it can be either bad or good.

You have to decide. Is what you’re selling worth pushing on to other people? Is your product actually bad for people? Are you just a peddler trying to make a buck? Or, can the solution you are selling make a positive difference in your customer’s life? Any of these situations can be true.

Think about what you sell. Is it actually valuable? Do you really believe that it is good for your customers? If not, stop selling it. You are a trickster. If, however, you sell something that you really believe can be a positive influence on your customers, keep selling and wear the badge of “salesperson” with pride. You are a hero.

What kind of salesperson are YOU???

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