To Sell, or Not to Sell — That’s NOT the Question

“Nothing happens until a sale is made.” Thomas Watson Sr., founder of IBM

What comes to mind when you think of a salesperson: Schmoozer? Shyster? Ripoff artist? Con man? Sleazebag? (Or worse …?)  What image do you get? Is it guy in a cheap suit trying to sell you a car that doesn’t run right? A financial guru who’s out to steal your life savings? (I’ll bet you can picture a few who have “made off” with people’s money.) A telemarketing huckster who’s offering you the world, plus a set of steak knives (“But wait – there’s MORE!”), if you only “Act Now!” to buy some gizmo over the phone that he swears is the greatest thing since sliced bread?

Perhaps you are personally sales-adverse because you don’t want to appear pushy, be a pest, or, God forbid – be seen as manipulative. If that’s the case, let me share with you the very first Merriam-Webster Dictionary entry that comes up:

Definition of MANIPULATE 1. To treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful manner

This word has acquired a negative connotation of deception. Yet, by definition, if you’re doing your job properly, you are handling people in a skillful manner. And that’s manipulation.

In his book To Sell is Human, Dan Pink takes this idea to the next level. The US Bureau of Labor Statistics data reveals that one American worker in nine sells for a living, yet he argues we’re all in sales. Even though Pink, an author, would never be considered a sales guy, he estimates he spends up to 40% of his week “moving others” to take some sort of action. And he contends this “moving others” business (a “positive manipulation,” if you will) is sales. Since everyone is listening to WIIFM radio (“What’s In It For Me?”), it’s incumbent on each of us to influence/persuade/convince people to part with resources (not only money, but also time and effort) so they can be better off with our offering than without.

Yet sales is still considered “the Rodney Dangerfield of professions.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with this late, great comedian, whose career took off after age 40 while he held a day job of, what else? A salesman. Rodney’s routines often began with, “I’ll tell ya, I get no respect.” Then he’d deliver a series of self-deprecating one-liners that would keep his fans rolling with laughter, like, “I was so ugly when I was born, the doctor slapped my mother …” (Still brings a chuckle to me as I write this!)

Why do people who sell for a living get no respect, are often treated with disdain and even ridiculed? I suspect it comes from the stereotypes I mentioned as well as the widely circulated yet actually rare stories about individuals who got burned by some scammer – just the stuff that makes front page news. So it’s no wonder others can be turned off if you reveal you’re in sales.

Perhaps the problem with the sales profession comes down to the low entry requirements. Selling has been called the lowest paid easy work you’ll ever do and the highest paid hard work. This explains why most people bomb out early in the sales game, thinking that all it takes to make a bundle of cash is a smile, a glad hand and a smooth rap. Let’s face it — many companies want to push low end products to the masses and will hire anyone who can fog a mirror, memorize a script and be willing to get doors slammed in their face hour after hour. (No respect there — trust me, I’ve done it!) I would call individuals in this category “amateurs” who just want a job, not a career. And they never turn pro.

Some of the mistakes amateurs make include:

• Talking too much Amateurs consider “the gift of gab” their greatest asset. What they usually do is talk their way out of a sale as prospects’ eyes glaze over from their incessant prattle.

• Believing sales is a numbers game Rookie salespeople will talk to anyone who has a pulse without bothering to identify appropriate candidates for their products/services. And then they’re the first to complain about the poor quality of their prospects.

• Job hopping Know anybody who has jumped from sales job to sales job? These folks mistakenly think that they’ll eventually find THE product/service that magically sells itself. With that kind of thinking they might as well buy a lottery ticket.

What would it be like if becoming a professional in sales was like other professions? Imagine for a minute if, to become a salesperson, you had to train as long as someone who had to complete medical school, then do an internship, then a residency to become a doctor. And spend the kind of money, and go into the kind of debt that an individual who aspires to heal others has to before practicing medicine on their own — you’d get a whole new level of respect as a professional, wouldn’t you?

In contrast to the amateurs, pros know they need to train rigorously to master the art of influence: The ability to help their prospects decide to use the products and services they offer. Sales pros understand they need to:

• Get mentoring from top producers Why reinvent the wheel when you can model the behavior of the successful ones who have come before you?

• Study their craft Sales pros live by the motto, “leaders are readers.” Their library is filled with books from sales superstars like Zig Ziglar, Tom Hopkins, Brian Tracy and David Sandler.

• Attend seminars The best of the best make sure they go events where they can learn from the masters as well as rub shoulders with other individuals who have committed to staying on top.

• Listen to educational/motivational/inspirational audio programs Rather than turn on their car radio, pros are listening to audio programs from the likes of Earl Nightingale and other great speakers at Nightingale-Conant Corporation during their commutes.

• Develop great questions Following the adage, “Telling is not selling,” pros use compelling questions to uncover their prospects’ needs so they can address them effectively and close the deal.

• Hire a coach All professional athletes have coaches. Sales pros know that they, like the highly paid sports stars we follow, can’t identify their areas for improvement like a pair of well-trained eyes can, so they invest in a coach to fine-tune their game.

In other words, sales professionals are committed to continually improve for years until they make it into the top 10% in their industry. Along the way they develop critical relationship skills to retain key customers/clients, versus the rank hustler, who is looking for the equivalent of a sales one-night stand. That’s what separates the pros from the amateurs.

Bottom line If you’re in business, you’re in sales — can you love the fact that you do this for a living?  No — I mean really embrace it, by knowing without a doubt that you’re helping people get what they need? Dan Pink has coined a term that may warm you to this notion:  Servant selling, which he claims is the essence of moving others today. After all, if you believe you’re a good person and believe that what you offer adds value to others’ lives, then why would you want to ROB anyone out of the opportunity to buy what you have to sell?  Get over it, and then get on with the essential human act of making a sale.

Success Skills Coach Jim Rohrbach, “The Personal Fitness Trainer for Your Business,” coaches Financial Advisors around the US by phone to help them grow their clientele. To set up a Free Consultation with Jim, go to


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