Just based on social commentary, along with incredibly negative entertainment media over the last 100 years (think Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross, just as 2 prime examples), it would appear, at least at a surface glance, that the only meaning salespeople could find in life would come from pressuring prospects to buy things against their will, a grubbing for money and, in the end, total misery.
No other profession is subject to this kind of negative portrayal. Can you imagine if being a doctor or judge was shown in such a light–that everyone in this profession was a jerk? Even with all the lawyer jokes aside, there are still many hero portrayals of lawyers in films and TV–but not so with salespeople.
These types of portrayals have certainly hit their mark; being a salesperson has a very definite stigma attached to it. I find myself from time to time addressing audiences of young people. I’ll ask for a show of hands of how many would like to pursue various careers–I’ll say, “doctor” and a number of hands will shoot up. I’ll say, “lawyer” and another substantial number will appear. But when I say, “salesperson” I’ll be lucky if one hand is raised.
This is true also when talking to children, too. Ask any one of them “what they want to be when they grow up” and you’ll get all kinds of answers ranging from “doctor” to “lawyer” to “astronaut” and beyond. I’ve yet to hear “salesperson” in response to such a question.
Another common viewpoint about sales that I’ve frequently read or heard is that someone has to be born a salesperson–they can never learn it. Otherwise, who would want to be a salesperson?
This view is reflected in our education system. Have you ever heard of a Master’s Degree in Sales? Colleges and universities have, in the last few years, added courses, but not real degree programs. At Pipeliner we are working with DePaul University and other schools to improve on this ourselves–to demonstrate that sales is not a simple subject to learn, and more is needed. But where can a person go if they want a real education in sales?
The “shame” over sales goes to ridiculous extremes. I recently ran across, in a book I was reading, advice for salespeople in “coming out” to their friends and family as as salesperson! It includes such nuggets as, “Accept yourself” and “Choose your time of coming out to your family carefully.”
This stigma extends to companies that refuse to have “sales” in job titles. Titles such as “business analyst” or “system specialist” are used instead, in an effort to try and fool prospects (really?) into not quite believing they’re talking to a salesperson and being sold.
But even with this tainted social view of salespeople, and despite the fact that people do not choose a sales a career at least early in life, an enormous number of people find themselves in this career. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, in the U.S. some 14.5 million people–22 percent of the population–work in sales or related occupations. Extrapolating that same percentage to the world, that would mean that roughly 1.65 billion people are employed in sales and related jobs.
So what meaning can be found in the life of a salesperson? Is it something to be ashamed of, or something–as we at Pipeliner believe–that should be a source of pride?
Stay with me in the next few weeks as I explore the subject of the Meaning in Life of a Salesperson–the most challenging, yet the most rewarding career available.
What meaning have you found as a salesperson? Leave a comment and let us know.
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Nikolaus: First, this is a great post and a critical issue. In reality, however, it’s tragic that we have to even address the issue, it should be something all professional sales people know and what attracts them to selling.
I can’t imagine a profession that a greater ability to learn and grow personally, as well as contribute to the abilities of organizations and people achieving their goals. We meet every day with people who are struggling to improve, to address new opportunities. We help them solve their problems and succeed. At the same time we help our companies grow and succeed. What could be more fun and rewarding—and to think we get paid commissions/bonuses to do this.
Related, I get tired of the apologists to sales. A couple years ago, I hit peak frustration and wrote this:http://partnersinexcellenceblog.com/never-apologize-for-selling-or-being-a-sales-professional/
I enjoyed reading this post Nikolaus and I’ll be eagerly awaiting the following posts in this series. This is a subject very close to my heart, in fact, I established my sales performance consultancy with the big hairy audacious goal (thank you Jim Collins) of “changing the way the world thinks about sales. More recently that thinking has evolved into my personal purpose statement, which is “To break down the barriers between buyers and sellers so that together we can change the world”. And I truly believe that’s possible.
More than just about any other profession salespeople have the ability to become a powerful force for positive change in the world. The reality is we interact with other people every single day. In effect we’re in the people business, whatever we may be selling. This high-touch world we occupy presents us with a unique opportunity to deliver an uplifting experience that will enhance the other person’s day, whatever the outcome.
Although not every interaction will result in a sale or even the promise of a future sale, that doesn’t mean we’ve lost the opportunity to create value. We can always create value for those we meet. We can always help those we meet to be successful, even in small ways. And the more we place that objective at the very core of our daily purpose, the more effectively we can shift our focus from our needs to meeting others needs, the more likely it is that we, in turn, will be more successful. And just maybe we touch a few lives along the way.
Can you imagine a world where every salesperson on the planet embraces this mindset, and where that mindset drives behaviours that are much more worthy, fulfilling and meaningful. The ripple effect that creates individually, within teams, and across companies, communities, and society could be truly profound. But, we need to break with the outdated mindsets, practices, and cultures of the past to embrace a higher purpose. As Mahatma Gandhi is famously quoted as saying “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The seeds of our salvation are ours to sow.