Defanged, Declawed, and Emasculated. Meet Your Next Generation Sales Rep!

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If you’re a salesperson, here’s your daily dose of self–loathing:

“Telling is not selling.”
“Don’t act like a pushy salesperson.”
“Be interested, not interesting.”

On a recent LinkedIn discussion, one manager wondered whether it was good to use sales in a job title, given the word’s negativity. Another LinkedIn discussion asks whether the Internet is turning salespeople into dinosaurs.

Exuberant? Smack! Not anymore!

Still have your sales mojo? Now this: your ego isn’t welcome either.

As the late comedian George Carlin said, “it’s all [untrue], and it’s bad for you.”

Want a kinder, gentler sales rep? Bambi with a business card? Be careful what you wish for. As much as we don’t need manipulative and deceptive sales practices, we don’t need apathy. You can add bland to the list, too. It’s easy to slap a newbie rep and say “shut up and listen,” but a salesperson who can’t engage in persuasive dialog can fail as surely as one who can’t refrain from talking. Did you ever buy an expensive item from a poor communicator, or from a person who seemed disinterested? Me neither.

What can motivate one person’s exuberance can appear to another person as claws and fangs. Sales commissions create buying pressure? Eliminate them, like Best Buy. Sales pitches reek from overblown claims? Stop pitching—buyers have information power anyway. Job titles containing the word sales create buyer fear? Soften them with meeker words like Associate. Remove fangs and improve outcomes, the reasoning goes.

Such changes are important, because for vendors, creating an environment where vendor and customer can collaborate nicely has become a valuable strategic differentiator. But they’re also emblematic of a profession in an identity crisis. We’re concerned our image isn’t good, but we aren’t sure exactly what it needs to be.

As with other thorny problems, subsidiary discussions blaze new trails. Are salespeople sufficiently humble and empathetic? How can salespeople bring “real value” to the buying process? In sales, how does one distinguish between coercion, manipulation, and persuasion? In a social-selling world, do salespeople need to excel at persuasion or facilitation? Both? Or neither?

Dave Brock’s Partners in Excellence blog recently hit a raw nerve on persuasion—and whether Ogilvy’s World’s Greatest Salesperson Contest (in which contestants pitch prospects on buying a single brick) is out of touch with the realities of selling today. Some readers understandably felt the contest drags the sales profession back to the Neanderthal, when “getting the prospect to say ‘yes’ three times” was the penultimate step to signing on the dotted line. Others found it little more than a self-serving gimmick for Ogilvy.

I understand the points. But Ogilvy’s contest is positive for our professional identity. Even as shifting information power impacts buyer/seller relationships, prospects still value persuasive salespeople. Attempts to dull the persuasion fang will backfire. Why? Because persuasion requires doing things that complement and improve the process of buying. Building rapport. Fostering transparency and trust. Creating shared visions. Proving a choice or action will yield the best possible outcome. Leading change. Until persuasion becomes an unimportant selling skill, we should laud it when it’s done well.

Will the emerging social and business environment favor Bambi-like salespeople versus ancestor quota-driven predatory sales hunters? I’m not sure. But before we methodically defang and de-claw individual sales contributors, we should understand what capabilities enable salespeople to eat, and what causes them to get eaten.

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