Show salesman a little respect
Almost every marketing effort is designed toward generating a sale

There are few professionals that get less respect than salesmen. Yet the goal of almost every marketing effort is a customer buying a product. For that to happen, a salesperson has to get involved whether it's just a clerk at the supermarket, or a guy wearing a suit on a hefty expense account.

Intrusive telemarketers, unethical used car salesmen and the like, have combined to give a black eye to a profession that plays such a key role in the marketing process. Yet according to one sales trainer, the profession is not getting nearly as much respect as it deserves.

"The number one reason businesses fail, is lack of sales," said Stephen Schiffman, who consults for several Fortune 500 clients and has written extensively about selling. "Companies like to brag about new products they are putting out, but if no one is buying them, they don't have any value."

As an example of the low regard accorded sales people, Schiffman talks about a recent marketing meeting held at the offices of one of his clients which was attended by senior marketing, training and production executives.

However no one bothered to invite the sales manager, who, being close to clients would probably have the best idea about what strategies to take to boost sales. Universities don't place much emphasis on selling either. Even though some may offer an optional sales course as part of their marketing programs, few include them in their core curriculums.

The roots of salesmen's poor reputation, go deep. A typical hotel sign in the 1800s read "no drunks, actors or salesmen." Salespeople, especially those who sell used cars, rank among the least respected of all professionals (pretty close to journalists as a matter of fact) in public opinion polls. "Few people grow up wanting to be salesmen," said Schiffman.

Much of the resentment toward salesmen is due to a lack of understanding of the sales process. From outside the profession salespeople often seem to working shorter hours than average, taking obscenely long lunches and are always blaming someone else for poor results.

However there are signs that public's attitude to salesmen is going to change. More Canadians are now self-employed and as part of their jobs have to actually go out and sell. "Entrepreneurs often ask me about hiring and training salespeople, but I tell them to look in the mirror first." said Schiffman. "As leaders, who have often developed the company and its products from the ground up and have the most at stake in its success, they should be their own best salesmen."

Many of the more than 2.5 million Canadians who now work at their own businesses are likely to form a different picture of the sales function, now that it often is part of their daily duties.

At its root, personal selling is a business activity involving a person to person communications process, during which a salesperson uncovers and satisfies the needs of a buyer to the mutual benefit of both parties.

But there is a growing realization among management and communications professionals and even the general public, that we are all salespeople. Many of us use sales techniques in every aspect of our daily lives, even those of us that don't actually have to go out and sell a product to a customer.

Finding a job, which more of us have to do more often these days, is a huge sales challenge for most people. The job seeker tries to sell a number of years of his time in exchange for a salary. This can be an extremely difficult for someone who looks down on the sales process.

Getting noticed by the bosses at the office is also a selling job. Almost everyone has at some point in their careers noticed that the top performers are not always best at climbing the corporate ladder. That's not because managers are unfair or stupid. It's just sometimes tough to effectively evaluate who the top performers are - especially if the criteria are subjective. Imagine trying to evaluate who the best is, in a room full of librarians. How would you judge, by how many books are filed per hour or by how many reference requests are handled? The sales process is extremely important to employees explaining their contribution to the organization.

Of course the ultimate sales job is finding a life partner, and convincing them that the two of you are compatible. You want the best looking, richest, most educated and funniest mate you can attract. After all, if the search is successful, you'll have to live with this person for decades.

That's why many women, who look down on dishonest sales people, would not think twice about putting on makeup to bring out their good points and camouflage their bad, even though this misleading sales technique could lead to serious misinterpretation as to the quality of the underlying product.

The same thing goes for men, who in their single years often lease flashy sports cars that they can't afford, only to trade them in for an old clunker once a suitable mate is attracted. In fact many of the techniques used by lovers in the average courtship ritual make the average salesman look like a man of the cloth.

Understanding how we use sales techniques in our daily lives is an important step in perfecting those techniques. And along the way we are far more likely to give salesmen the respect they deserve.


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