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Never Apologize For Selling Or Being A Sales Professional!

by David Brock on September 18th, 2014

I have to admit I get just rip roaring pissed off with a lot of the rhetoric–some from very smart people about selling and sales people.  “We should stop selling and start serving… ”  “We need to stop selling and be helpful…”  “We’re not trying to sell you something, we’re trying to solve your problems….”

The madness goes on to what we call ourselves or refuse to call ourselves.  We don’t want to be called sales professionals, but rather relationship managers, account managers, customer service managers (as opposed to real customer service people), business development managers, partners, and the list of creative names that avoid the “S” word is really astounding.

All of this is simply horse shit!  It may draw eyeballs, it may create readers, it creates great sound bites and tweets, it may sell seminars and workshops, but it’s just crap and does our profession a disservice.  It plays to and reinforces all the stereotypes about bad selling and salesmanship.  It lumps all of us together, demeaning us, and avoiding the real issue, bad salesmanship and bad sales practice.

When are we going to stop apologizing for who we are and what we do?!

I am a sales professional.  I’m proud of being a sales professional, I’m proud of the value I create for my customers and clients.  I want them to recognize that value and I’m proud to ask them to pay me for the value we create.  (And they are happy to pay.)

There is nothing incompatible about selling, serving, and being helpful.  Professional selling has always been about helping customers improve and serving them.  Whether it’s helping them realize opportunities they are missing, whether it’s identifying and solving a problem they are having, whether it’s helping them achieve goals, business and personal.  Great selling has always been focused on being helpful, serving our customers, building great and differentiated value that’s meaningful to them.

But we have more responsibility than just being helpful and solving problems.  We are accountable for creating revenue, keeping our companies in business, and the people who support us by designing, building and supporting the products solutions and services we sell employed.

We shouldn’t be wasting our time on people who don’t want our help and service.  We shouldn’t be wasting our time on organizations whose problems we aren’t the best in the world at solving.  We shouldn’t be wasting our time on people who don’t want to change and improve, or whose focus is on other priorities.  We shouldn’t be wasting our time on organizations who are not prepared to invest in the value we create.

There’s really a perverse irony.  If we are spending our time being trying to be helpful and serving those people—then we are probably wasting their time.  We are spending their time on things they don’t care about or aren’t a current priority.  We are spending their time on things in which we offer little value or which they don’t value.  In the end, we really aren’t being helpful or of service, we are being just the opposite  (Kind of funny how that works, isn’t it?).

The issue we are avoiding by playing these word and title games is bad salesmanship and bad sales practice!  We’ve got to confront that head on, not avoid it by changing what we call ourselves, playing word games about servicing and helping  and not selling.

We have to root out and extinguish bad sales practice and bad salesmanship.  It has to be unacceptable in our own organizations, both because it’s bad for our customers and it’s bad for our companies.  We have to set personal examples to our people, our peers, and most importantly to our customers about truly professional selling.  We have to educate them about what great professional selling is about, so they don’t let the hackers waste their time.

When you think about it, we’re the only people who haven’t figured that out.  Our customers have already figured it out.  They really want to see good sales people and to buy–because their act of buying means we are creating value and helping them achieve, improve, and produce results.

They tell us this every day, by who they choose to see, by where they invest their time, and what they choose to buy.  There’s tons of market research from the leading analysts reinforcing this.  Customers value sales people who help solve their problem and who help them improve.  And they welcome investing in those things that create great return and results for them.

All these articles and stuff about stopping selling aren’t written for buyers, they are addressed to sellers.  Rather than have us confront the real problem, they promote avoidance and distract us from the core issues of what professional selling is about.

Anyone ashamed of being a sales person, is not addressing the core issue, they’re just trying to mask it, perhaps even use it to manipulate customers.  Bad salesmanship and sales practice is bad salesmanship and sales practice, whether executed by a sales person, a business development person, a relationship managers, or a partner.

So let’s stop playing word games, let’s stop avoiding the issues that confront us, our companies, and our customers.  Great selling creates great value.  Bad salesmanship, manipulative, deceptive, pressure based tactics and practices are simply unacceptable and have nothing to do with being a sales professional.  Bad salesmanship, not listening, not probing, not exploring, not challenging, not engaging, not understanding the customer or their business, being poorly prepared, not following up, not learning and improving is wasteful of our time and our customers’ time and needs to be eliminated.  Being focused only on what we get, regardless of the value the customer gets is wrong and an embarrassment to our profession and our companies.

Bad salesmanship, bad sales practice is simply unacceptable.  We should call it what it is, we should address it head on, and we should eradicate it.  Playing word and title games is nothing more than mental and verbal masturbation.

(Aren’t you glad I don’t feel strongly about this?)

  1. I love this. I think this is so important that I’m writing my thesis about positive identity development in salespeople. The negative portrayals in media and the negative comments from others are unnecessary, and for the most part untrue. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Amen! Sales is a noble profession. The best of us cannot be intimidated by the worst of us. Every profession has its “bad apples” and sales is no different. However, the vast majority of salespeople I’ve encountered are honest, intelligent, hard-working professionals. Thank you for so eloquently and passionately defending our craft!

  3. Dave, while I agree with much of your overall sentiments – especially about those urging us to help instead of sell- the faculties we appeal to when we sell are pretty much the same as those we use when we intend to deceive.

    Take a look at: “The science of deception : psychology and commerce in America.”

    • Thanks for the reference to the book. I think the issue is more one of intent. With virtually everything we do there are good and bad instances of each. We can do the same here.

  4. Martin Schmalenbach permalink

    Ah, some passion – nice to see Dave!

    Before I came to Microchip, my current employer, I hated sales people and selling, because of how badly I got treated by sales people through the ages.

    In coming to where I am now, I learned that I’d been selling most of my life, and that it was a noble field, when done with the right intent and capabilities. Now I’m responsible for developing the sales capabilities of getting on for 800 sales people around the world, and loving it (is it really work when you get paid for doing what you love?!)

    This is a simple matter for me. Selling is a mutual exchange of value. Personally, I want to make a difference to people, so if I do make a difference, that’s value to the other person, and there is nothing wrong in asking for some reasonable share of the value created with (not ‘for’?!) the client.

    Lastly, I had the privilege to see professionalism first hand during my time in the air force. In the air force we trained (‘train hard, fight easy’), we practiced, we challenged each other and ourselves to be better at our craft at the end of the day than we were at the start of the day. We helped each other – sure, it was incredibly competitive, and yet we still managed to be a team, to collaborate with each other. My dream is for sales people to be similarly viewed – as professional people who make a difference. Your thought leadership is helping us get closer to this dream (but don’t tell anybody I said this – I’m a Brit and we’re not generally big on giving or receiving praise, so ‘shhh!’)

    • Martin, thanks for such a thoughtful comment. You have articulated simply, yet elegantly what professional selling is all about–the mutual exchange of value. Making a difference to people organizations is critical–the great sales professionals recognize they do this with customers who care about the difference they can make. Sales people who “want to make a difference” to people who don’t care, are wasting their time and that of the customer. Those who persist at doing that, aren’t making a difference, they are self centered, focused on their gain and not the value they create.

      Separately, I love the way you describe your role/job. I feel much the same way, in some sense this is my hobby. Imagine getting up everyday, working with some of the smartest people in the world, doing your hobby, having an impact, getting paid……. What could be better! You can tell your impact, Microswitch is one of the company’s I watch because of what you are doing in innovating and driving top performance in sales. It is truly an outstanding organization–great value system, great culture, great leadership, great people–you can see you have made a difference. Kudos!

      I’m humbled by your last sentence. For a Brit to say that in a public forum……. I’m overwhelmed. Thank you.

      • Martin Schmalenbach permalink

        Dave – thanks for your response. I suspect your keyboard is as dyslexic as mine, and that you meant to type ‘Microchip’ instead of ‘Microswitch’ – heck, last week at the Miller Heiman Summit I found myself telling somebody I worked for Microsoft – what happened to my 7 years at Microchip??!! (I hope our EVP of Sales, Mitch Little, is not reading this… I wouldn’t want him to get too carried away with your praise – as he’d be the first to say, there’s still a few days left until the end of the quarter!!)

        On a more serious note, your follow up to describing working with smart people, doing your hobby and getting paid… I wonder to what extent this phenomenon and associated attitude contribute to the longer term success of a sales person, and of the relationship between a sales organization and its clients? I have an opinion, but no facts… that it DOES have a contribution, bigger than many might think…

        • Martin: OMG!! I can’t believe I did that. I know I’ll get a call or email from Mitch saying something to the effect “If you are so EXCELLENT, why can’t you get our name right?” I deserve it, my apologies!

          I think a common trait many of us have, which underlies this behavior, is curiosity. I wrote about curiosity as a critical sales competency a couple of weeks ago. I’d be interested in your observations about this.

  5. “Selling is a scary thing–particularly if you’re a CEO and your whole life’s work is on the line. Selling was something I did my best to avoid.”
    Jim Koch, Chairman Boston Beer Company (Samuel Adams)


    “Selling is a devalued skill.”

    “If you go to a cocktail party and you’re asked what you do for a living, and you reply, “I’m a salesman,” people look at you like you’ve got crumbs on your shirt.”

    “Not only did I not value selling as a profession, but I also came from a culture in which it was implicitly–and explicitly–devalued, particularly compared with marketing.”

    “It’s really selling that drives most businesses: the direct interface between the product and customer, the crucial feedback loop. And if more CEOs had to go out and sell their products, day in and day out, they’d pay a lot more attention to what they were making. The more unwilling they are to put themselves in the middle of that transaction, the better chance they have of missing out on a critical element of their business. When you’re out there selling, face-to-face with your customer, there’s no place to hide. It’s the acid test.”

    “Selling is fundamental. Again and again, American business breaks that direct-feedback loop by divorcing responsibility for making the product from the responsibility for selling it.”

    “The great benefit of CEO selling is letting your organization know what your priorities are.”

  6. Great post! The bad sales guys/gals give us professional sales folks a bad rap, and our reputations are on the line everyday. Integrity, honesty, and the Golden Rule are important traits that characterize us top sales professionals. We bring tremendous value to our clients, and I to this day have clients that I have serviced for over 20 years even with a job change. Sales is building and maintaining relationships for a lifetime with trust at the heart of our profession.

    Cudos to all you sales professionals out there that follow these tenets of our profession, and for those that don’t get another career.

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