Sales is of the devil. That’s what I would have told you at the beginning of last semester. It was my first time dealing with sales then because I was taking a Personal Selling, a class for which I had no expectations. I figured I just had to get through it and move on; try to keep it from contaminating me as little as possible. I just didn’t like the idea of being in sales. But something changed. Over the course of the semester, and as I thought about what it is I want to do, I found sales might actually be the best position I could get into. Sales doesn’t have to be the evil money-grabbing trade I thought it to be; no, sales can be the discipline where someone else is helped the most in finding the best solution for them. You just have to be intentional about it.
Before getting into a rough version of my thoughts on this, I will say that I’m exploring the extremes of sales here. I do believe these things are the case, but in terms of how they exist in society, they are more tame. Each salesperson’s behavior exists on a continuum from really bad to really good. I’m exploring the two ends in order to build a framework upon which real-world experiences hang.
Now, let’s start with why I thought sales to be just THE WORST. The point of business is to make money. Yes, we help people by giving them products and services they want, but ultimately if there isn’t any money in it, the invisible hand of the market wont lift a finger to help you.
Some aspects of a business can be full of inspiration and creativity, like the research and development department or the marketing department. Solutions and products do have to be sustainable, but it’s more about making something cool, regardless of what it is. There is care in the manufacture of an iPhone, craftsmanship in the design of a toilet, and art in improving the efficiency of an engine. It’s as you move away from the heart in a product that you find that uglier parts of business.
Corruption, corporate scandals, and a general disregard for the wellbeing of others stems from the greed of wanting money, and sales can be the worst offender. The desire to make profit can in many situations override the morality of these decision makers, like when child labor is used to reduce labor costs, when cheap food ingredients are used in food you thought was better quality, or when oligopolies use their power to provide subpar service for exorbitant prices just to get more money. The focus on the customer is sidestepped in order to earn more revenue. You can see this in lots of places like with the CEO who has a private jet or the CFO who goes on one too many “business trips” to Hawaii, but sales has it especially bad because of it’s main purpose – get people to spend money.
That premise for a job description – make money by selling things – is morally dry. Unless it is enveloped within a stable ethical framework, you can justify anything in order to make the sale, including using the customer to get more money out of them. The buyer isn’t so much a person as they are a repository of funds. In the game of sales, your job is to get as much money out of the fleshy ATM as you can. You sell what you can get away with selling; it doesn’t matter if they need it or not. Just make money. Obviously most salespeople have some kind of worldview that limits what they are willing to do to make a sale, and if they are not, the market certainly won’t let them get away with everything. However, sales seems to start from a negative position and move up into something more redeemable or useful. It’s still off putting to talk with someone who is really only after whatever money you have available, but it’s a reality nonetheless.
Now I think sales can be fantastic. Keyword: can.
If the focus of sales is shifted from that of making money to that of honestly helping a customer, it can become a very rewarding proposition. One of the things I learned in my Personal Selling class is that honest sales should be more consultative. The contemporary salesperson should be a resource and expert in advising a customer on the best course of action for that specific need. As a salesperson, you should advise the best solution, with compromises in mind according to the customer’s pain points. The goal of this kind of consultative sales is to actually help the customer. By taking on this role, you become a contact for them in the future and develop a relationship that ends up being beneficial for both parties. In fact, the whole thing is rewarded by the market as your company earns revenue while the other company moves on to its important business. This sounds great to me!
I don’t want to be part of a discipline whose focus is one of using people to get at their money. I don’t want to dehumanize folks. With this different philosophy to sales, I’m looking for the opposite of the old view; I’m hunting down real people to see if I can help them out with their real problems. I can express a genuine concern for them and their business, and make recommendations and sales that honestly reflect my care.
This more friendly approach to sales is not inherent to sales, however, which is why I say that sales can be fantastic. If the salesperson can look past the bottom line to really help a customer, they can apply the consultative approach. The money-grabbing instinct is still inherent to sales, though. I redeemed sales in my mind by deciding to be a positive force in the market, with an honest eye for the consumer, rather than a default negative force with an eye on the money. If I can help folks, that’s an exciting thing for me, and I’m more than happy to do that.
So that’s how my thought process changed. Taking everything that goes into sales into account, a fundamental shift in the purpose of the job changed the whole prospect for me. I now see it as an opportunity to do cool stuff. Can it still be a sneaky and unfortunately misguided vocation? Yes. In many ways that comes with the territory. However, I won’t let the bare minimum standard of conduct define for I how as a person should behave with another, in business or otherwise. Now I get to geek out about cool products with people who can actually use them for something productive.