Why Do We Hate Salespeople?

A recent episode of “Downton Abbey” included a new servant tasked with passing out canapés at a dinner party. “Try one of these,” he quietly suggested to a guest. “I’m told they are quite good.”

He was immediately pulled aside by the Head Butler and chastised. “What are you doing?” the butler exclaimed. “You are a footman, not a salesman!”

Why does the profession of sales generate such an emotional response? I know many business owners who loathe their own salespeople, and regard managing them as a necessary evil. Executive assistants are commonly charged with “Don’t let any salespeople get through to me.” Top-notch customer service and technical employees wither at the thought of combining selling with their support functions.

College surveys asking students about their career preferences don’t even list sales as a choice. That isn’t too surprising. First, direct face-to-face salespeople only account for about 1.5% of the labor force. Second, few young people studying history, philosophy or psychology understand the odds against those degrees providing them with a comfortable living. (And the higher education system has no interest in waking them up, but more on that another time.) Some of those will drift into sales simply because it offers a bigger paycheck than they can earn otherwise. A few will discover that they like it.

As I describe in Hunting in a Farmer’s World, salespeople are hunters in a business culture dominated by farmers. They are linear, driven by goals, vastly preferring forward movement over introspective analysis and bored by process and repetition. They can also be a pain in the ass.

water coolerI picture the tribe of 10,000 years ago. The hunters have brought in a large kill. While the rest of the tribe labors to skin, preserve and cook the game, the hunters stand around the common fire (probably drinking some precursor to latte with an espresso shot) and tell each other what a terrific job they did. The skinners and cooks fume at the hunters’ idleness. They go out and kill a Wooly Mammoth, and they think they’ve done all they need to. They probably won’t do a damn thing until they have to go kill another one.

But despite their resentment, the rest of the tribe knows that the hunters make sure everyone else gets fed. They have a need, and the hunters fill it.

The best salespeople are focused on serving a customer’s need. They are problem solvers. They are the client’s representative inside the company, pushing for new products and services that they can sell. They are practical quality control, sounding the alarm when company offerings don’t meet the brand promise. They are street level R&D and competitive intelligence.

I think the problem lies in their behavior around the campfire. Top performers need recognition, and that often appears the same whether their “outside” persona is driven by genuine concern for customer benefit, or by self-serving “line ’em up and knock ’em down” pursuit of personal income over relationships.

As a business owner, your job is to understand that outside persona. Salespeople will probably always rub their coworkers the wrong way. The important thing is to look beyond their results, and know whether they are presenting your business in a way you can be proud of.

A Note to My Readers

This January marks the start of my seventh full year of writing Awake at 2 o’clock on a weekly basis. Many thanks to the hundreds of you who have commented, and who come up to me at speaking events and say “I’ve been reading your blog for years.” If you read regularly and find yourself nodding in agreement or quoting a column, then I feel that I’m doing my job.

I’m thrilled that I touch so many people, but would always like to reach more. Please help by taking a few minutes to pass along a link to any business owners or advisors that you think might also enjoy an owner’s point of view.

Thank you

If you would like a printable pdf of this column or any other, please let me know at jdini@mpninc.com.

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5 Responses to Why Do We Hate Salespeople?

  1. John H. says:

    If salespeople are hunters in a business culture dominated by farmers, why do I hate being interrupted by ill-prepared, gum chewing, robo-call driven telemarketers? I have managed several very successful sales teams, even started my career in a sales capacity. On a DISC chart I am shown to be a blend of task oriented and influencing. And I am the rainmaker in my own company today, successfully closing introverts and extroverts alike.

    People hate salespeople because (1) most of them really stink at their profession, and (2) the craft is deemed something anyone can do.Don’t believe me? Name the one university in the entire USA that offers a degree program in Sales. Can’t, can you?

    Our nation’s corporations and privately owned businesses all depend on sales people. Every mobile phone store, every insurance agency, every capital goods manufacturer… there are literally tens of thousands of sales positions through out the country. But few of them provide any real or substantive training and fewer still put quality over quantity. And most play the numbers game.

    The real answer- there is simply no alignment between the decision maker’s preference of behavior and the cold call that too many companies still reply on. Cold calling (not so affectionately known as interruptive selling in my office) dates back to a time when the telephone was new and novel, and product or service information was harder to obtain. Add to this today people have to do more with fewer resources (fewer people) and trying to pitch them while they are under a deadline makes little sense.

    Even less if you are unprofessional and ill-prepared.

    At the risk of appearing to steal your blog, here is an article I wrote some time ago, and believe to be accurate today. http://zenmarketinginc.com/just-effective-cold-calling-anyway/

  2. Neil Arthur says:

    John H: as a career salesperson / sales manager / CEO leader I could not agree with your more. Preparation for ‘making the sale’ is sorely lacking in just about every industry. I thought you might like to know that at least one public university does offer sales degrees, http://www.utoledo.edu/business/ESSPS/. I believe I have heard of others. Can’t vouch for any of them but that they exist is a good sign for raising the bar.

  3. Harry says:

    This statement in your post summarizes it – The best salespeople are focused on serving a customer’s need. People hate sales people because they forget this and try to push their products or services down customers throats without understanding their needs. Those who ask questions first and understand customers issues and needs before offering them the products are the ones who will be loved by customers.

  4. John Hyman says:

    Maybe it’s because 20% of people in sales are professionals, do their research, and have polished their skills. The other 80% are going through the motions, always in ‘sales” mode, and lack any real training. The bottom 80% are also unsupported from a savvy marketing team, and generally work for companies (or owners) who insist on following a sales process they themselves don’t even respond to (cold calling).

    Did you know there is only one university in the USA offering a degree in sales? Yet how many sales people do you know? Society places a minuscule importance on this profession (Lost a job? Why not go into sales?) Anyone can do it.

    Find a business owner who fully understands the entire sales process, invests in marketing, has realistic goals setting, and properly rewards achievement (results and motivation) and you’ll find those 20% of sales people.

  5. John Hyman says:

    Hey Merv… what can I say? Haters gonna hate.

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