To sell is human, whether you like it or not

  • Posted: Sunday, January 27, 2013 12:01 a.m.

What springs to mind when you hear the word “salesman?”

If you’re like most, you probably think pushy, aggressive, and sleazy.


Best-selling author Daniel Pink conducted a survey to find out what people thought of sales and selling.

Pushy and yucky were at the top of the list, along with difficult, slimy and annoying.

To put it into perspective, the only group that ranks below members of Congress is car salesmen.

Imagine Pink’s surprise when he assessed his own time and he found that he was, well, I’ll let him tell you.

“I opened my laptop, clicked on the carefully synched, color-coded calendar and attempted to reconstruct what I’d actually done over the previous two weeks. I catalogued the meetings attended, trips made, meals eaten and conference calls endured.

“I tried to list everything I’d read and watched, as well as the face-to-face conversations I’d had with family, friends and colleagues.

“Then I inspected two weeks of digital entrails — 722 sent emails, four blog posts, 86 tweets about a dozen text messages.

“When I stepped back to assess this welter of information — a pointillist portrait of what I do and therefore, in some sense, who I am — the picture that stared back was a surprise. I am a salesman.”

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics one in nine Americans works in sales. That’s more than 15 million people earning their keep by persuading someone to make a purchase.

Pink digs even deeper to reveal a more startling truth: one in nine Americans works in sales. But so do the other eight.

“Whether we’re employees pitching colleagues on a new idea, entrepreneurs enticing funders to invest or parents and teachers cajoling children to study, we spend our days trying to move others,” he said. “Like it or not, we’re all in sales now.”

I’ve spent my entire career in sales and I have never understood why a few overly aggressive, poorly trained outliers on a car lot have been allowed to besmirch what I believe to be a noble profession — sales.

In “To Sell is Human,” Pink reveals three truths those of us in sales have long known:

• Everyone is in sales.
• Selling is not easy.

• You can learn to “sell” without being icky, pushy, loud or arrogant.

Pink says that most people don’t think of themselves as “salespeople” because there’s a disconnect; people are surprised to discover how much of their time is spent trying to “move” others.

The other reason fueling the public’s disdain for sales says Pink is that, “we like to think of ourselves as a higher, more priestly class, not these money grubbing salespeople.”

“There’s a bias that sales is not intellectual,” he said. “Most people have no idea what salespeople do.

“They don’t understand the skill and intellectual acuity it takes to be a good salesperson.”

Persuading and moving others isn’t just the driver of business, it’s the linchpin of progress.

After I thanked him for validating my entire profession, I asked Pink what his hopes were.

“I believe that if people learn how to persuade and influence ethically and more effectively that it will improve the world,” he said.

Amen. Sell it, brother.
Lisa Earle McLeod is a sales leadership consultant. Companies hire her to help them create passionate, purpose-driven sales forces.

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