“Sales sucks.” (Or at least, why you think so.)

By Josh Petersel

Ultimately, ironically, you might argue that salespeople have done a terrible job of selling "sales" as a concept. In my best estimation, here are the four biggest reasons why you, why schools, and why the business community at large all think that sales sucks.

First problem: It's not “sexy.” Heck, it’s not even “neutral.” We look down on salespeople. We use descriptors like greedy, untrustworthy, you name it.
My two foremost experiences with sales professionals really stick out in my head. On the one hand: Willy Loman in Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman, whose job leaves him lonely, delusional, lacking many real skills, and altogether out of touch with reality. On the other: Mr. Wormwood, the dad in Roald Dahl's Matilda, who is slimy, dishonest, and basically the worst dad ever.
Who'd ever want to be a salesperson with this as a foundation? I don't think I've even once read a story where a salesperson saved a life, was a hero, or even just did something remarkably creative and fun in their line of work.

Second problem: There's a notion that sales is kind of exclusively for people who really, really care about money. You can aspire to pretty much any other job (even ones that pay exceedingly well) without money being your number one priority. Does every Private Equity financier care exclusively about their bottom line? I think the majority seek this line of work because it's a language and a setting they're comfortable with.
Sales jobs all seem to all rely very, very heavily on commissioned compensation structures, metrics, and quotas. It seems like it's very hard to just do sales because you love to work with customers and love to uncover and solve their problems.

Third problem: The notion that it’s hard to teach sales and far more effective to just go out and practice. I really don’t see how this is any truer for sales than it is for marketing, for entrepreneurship, for strategy, for coding, and probably for finance, too.
For sales, you have frameworks and tools which you can teach and can help guide students’ thinking. How to write a call script. How to do an elevator pitch. How to go from cold call to initial visit to closed deal to follow up. How to write emails that prompt readership and timely response. All theories which are admittedly sort of half baked. They’re effective in a vacuum, but only applicable in a limited capacity in any real-world environment—for sure, you wouldn’t create the same sorts of scripts whether you sold kids toys or financial planning.
Isn’t this the same stuff as the 5 C’s and 4 P’s of marketing? All we’re missing is for somebody clever to come up with neat acronyms. (Better than Alec Baldwin’s A.B.C.)

Fourth problem: The notion that you’re either a born sales person or you’re not. The reality: nobody is a born salesperson any more than they’re a born doctor. Just like everything else on the planet, you learn how to do sales through exposure and practice. Probably for months or years. Some people seem like natural salespeople because they practiced on the playground in grade school. I think it’s natural for us to be afraid of sales, for much the same reason I’d be terrified to perform surgery in an operating room.

Conclusion: I guess if you were to take the above at face value, you might think I’m suggesting we need to blow up the entire sales ecosystem. We’d need to write children’s stories, create completely new compensation structures, and develop entire lines of academia so that we might begin to award sales doctorates.
I’m not that crazy.
For now, all I hope that we might take away is a better understanding of why sales is given the rough shake that it is. From that new perspective, I hope we might become more open to learning and working with an incredibly powerful set of trade skills.
Forget “sales” as you know it. Learn how to be a Customer Problem Solver, instead. Start by picking up Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends & Influence People or Spencer Johnson’s One Minute $alesperson.


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