Never Apologize for Selling or Being a Sales Professional!


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I have to admit I get just rip roaring pissed off with a lot of the rhetoric–some from very smart people about selling and sales people. “We should stop selling and start serving… ” “We need to stop selling and be helpful…” “We’re not trying to sell you something, we’re trying to solve your problems….”

The madness goes on to what we call ourselves or refuse to call ourselves. We don’t want to be called sales professionals, but rather relationship managers, account managers, customer service managers (as opposed to real customer service people), business development managers, partners, and the list of creative names that avoid the “S” word is really astounding.

All of this is simply horse shit! It may draw eyeballs, it may create readers, it creates great sound bites and tweets, it may sell seminars and workshops, but it’s just crap and does our profession a disservice. It plays to and reinforces all the stereotypes about bad selling and salesmanship. It lumps all of us together, demeaning us, and avoiding the real issue, bad salesmanship and bad sales practice.

When are we going to stop apologizing for who we are and what we do?!

I am a sales professional. I’m proud of being a sales professional, I’m proud of the value I create for my customers and clients. I want them to recognize that value and I’m proud to ask them to pay me for the value we create. (And they are happy to pay.)

There is nothing incompatible about selling, serving, and being helpful. Professional selling has always been about helping customers improve and serving them. Whether it’s helping them realize opportunities they are missing, whether it’s identifying and solving a problem they are having, whether it’s helping them achieve goals, business and personal. Great selling has always been focused on being helpful, serving our customers, building great and differentiated value that’s meaningful to them.

But we have more responsibility than just being helpful and solving problems. We are accountable for creating revenue, keeping our companies in business, and the people who support us by designing, building and supporting the products solutions and services we sell employed.

We shouldn’t be wasting our time on people who don’t want our help and service. We shouldn’t be wasting our time on organizations whose problems we aren’t the best in the world at solving. We shouldn’t be wasting our time on people who don’t want to change and improve, or whose focus is on other priorities. We shouldn’t be wasting our time on organizations who are not prepared to invest in the value we create.

There’s really a perverse irony. If we are spending our time being trying to be helpful and serving those people—then we are probably wasting their time. We are spending their time on things they don’t care about or aren’t a current priority. We are spending their time on things in which we offer little value or which they don’t value. In the end, we really aren’t being helpful or of service, we are being just the opposite (Kind of funny how that works, isn’t it?).

The issue we are avoiding by playing these word and title games is bad salesmanship and bad sales practice! We’ve got to confront that head on, not avoid it by changing what we call ourselves, playing word games about servicing and helping and not selling.

We have to root out and extinguish bad sales practice and bad salesmanship. It has to be unacceptable in our own organizations, both because it’s bad for our customers and it’s bad for our companies. We have to set personal examples to our people, our peers, and most importantly to our customers about truly professional selling. We have to educate them about what great professional selling is about, so they don’t let the hackers waste their time.

When you think about it, we’re the only people who haven’t figured that out. Our customers have already figured it out. They really want to see good sales people and to buy–because their act of buying means we are creating value and helping them achieve, improve, and produce results.

They tell us this every day, by who they choose to see, by where they invest their time, and what they choose to buy. There’s tons of market research from the leading analysts reinforcing this. Customers value sales people who help solve their problem and who help them improve. And they welcome investing in those things that create great return and results for them.

All these articles and stuff about stopping selling aren’t written for buyers, they are addressed to sellers. Rather than have us confront the real problem, they promote avoidance and distract us from the core issues of what professional selling is about.

Anyone ashamed of being a sales person, is not addressing the core issue, they’re just trying to mask it, perhaps even use it to manipulate customers. Bad salesmanship and sales practice is bad salesmanship and sales practice, whether executed by a sales person, a business development person, a relationship managers, or a partner.

So let’s stop playing word games, let’s stop avoiding the issues that confront us, our companies, and our customers. Great selling creates great value. Bad salesmanship, manipulative, deceptive, pressure based tactics and practices are simply unacceptable and have nothing to do with being a sales professional. Bad salesmanship, not listening, not probing, not exploring, not challenging, not engaging, not understanding the customer or their business, being poorly prepared, not following up, not learning and improving is wasteful of our time and our customers’ time and needs to be eliminated. Being focused only on what we get, regardless of the value the customer gets is wrong and an embarrassment to our profession and our companies.

Bad salesmanship, bad sales practice is simply unacceptable. We should call it what it is, we should address it head on, and we should eradicate it. Playing word and title games is nothing more than mental and verbal masturbation.

(Aren’t you glad I don’t feel strongly about this?)

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave, do you feel better now? 🙂

    Since we both worked at IBM at similar times, I’m sure that you remember IBM called sales professionals “marketing reps.” What was that, if not an apology for “selling”?

    And this coming from a company known for the highest standards of sales professionalism.

    That said, I agree with you that sales reps should not apologize for selling. It’s an honorable profession.

    Unfortunately selling has a negative tinge. All it takes is one bad sales experience for a buyer to proclaim “I don’t want to be ‘sold’ again.” That leads to creative new names to try to disguise the fact that someone is actually trying to, um, sell something.

    A few years ago I wrote about sales reps that do a great job. What made them great is the way they go about it. Helping me to make a good decision, not trying to manipulate me.

    Customer service doesn’t have the best reputation, either. Leading some companies to call it “customer care.” Zappos calls their call center reps, “customer loyalty reps.”

    I hope the sales profession evolves to where it doesn’t have to apologize or invent new names, because the old one is just fine.

  2. I absolutely admire anyone who can sell. There aren’t that many of them out there these days, and I think that is what gives sales a bad name. Ninety nine out of a hundred sales calls I get are absolutely terrible. But, when that one in a hundred comes along (that is exceptional) I always take the meeting. I actually feel that the best sales reps DO want to help their clients. However, they also want to make money. That is why the best sales people effectively qualify bad prospects out early (unfortunately, bad sales people disqualify great prospects out on the basis of BANT or some other nonsense – don’t get me started…). Dave, I think you hit the nail on the head! Great stuff!

  3. Dave: your perspectives made me thirsty. For more. And for a conversation on the topic.

    On you core point, re: the need for better sales practices + an end to masking it with terms that cloud what those practices require? Completely agreed.

    Only thing I’d add: today’s [successful salesperson] = [[creates value] +[by getting offerings in the hands of buyers] + [which, in the buyer’s hands, drives better results in the buyer’s business]]. The 1st two parts of this equation have been constants. The last piece? Hmm.

    It’s becoming more and more obvious, from what we’re seeing, that improvements in business results is what buyers are most looking for. It’s also what sellers most struggle to deliver. Either they don’t know how to. Or they don’t have the proof that they’ve done so. Either way, it inhibits their success.

    IMO, the old name for selling is just fine; the old ‘game’ of selling isn’t.

    The proof? The rare ‘we’ victories vs. the many ‘me’ losses that
    emerge from the foggy value of sales activities every day..

    – John

  4. I agree with you – there’s way too much loathing of sales professionals.

    Unfortunately, the individual salesperson has become the lightening rod for everyone else’s disgust – ironically, most of this vitriol is not directed at his or her boss, manager, VP, or CEO. But, lately, it seems the most prominent detractors of the sales profession are not customers, but those who position themselves as sales experts. A trend that prompted me to write a recent post, “Salesperson Quits Job After Reading Article Explaining Why He’s a Loser.’

    Look at articles by Zig Ziglar, Brian Tracy, and Dale Carnegie. These writers and other early pioneers of sales training thrived by building people up, rather than by beating them up. Their approaches were to empower, not shame. Sadly, that’s changed 180 degrees, and many people find it personally advantageous to pile on. I don’t question that it’s justified (a bad buying experience = a bad buying experience, period), but I do question whether it’s truly helpful in fostering positive change or improvement in the selling profession.

    There’s much to love about salespeople and selling. I’ve written about this – and will continue – in a series of articles, “But Wait, There’s More . . . ” about inspiring salespeople who did change the world.

  5. Dave, I am sure that getting that off your chest felt good. And I am equally sure that you said what needed to be said.

    The relabelling – and in the process, demeaning – of the sales profession is just another example of the political correctness that seems to pervade so much of our lives today.

    Sales people exist to sell. But in today’s socially connected world, sales people that succeed by cheating, manipulating or misleading get found out, and so do the organisations they work for great harm.

    Today’s customers expect more, and they deserve more. If we educate (and I believe that great sales people are also great educators) we educate for a purpose – to find prospects that have problems for which we have solutions that are superior to any other options that is available to them. We are not consultants for consultancy’s sake, but for a purpose.

    It’s good sense – and sound business practice – to qualify out, politely and early, “prospects” that we have no change of helping, or who could not see sufficient value in what we bring to them. And it’s proper that we earn the respect of the customers we succeed in helping.

    The bar has been irreversibly raised. The “always be closing” sales mentality popularised by the Glen Garry Glenn Ross deserves to be buried. Many sales people who seemed successful in the past will fail in the future (many have already been found out).

    But the sales people that remain – the ones that succeed in an increasingly demanding world – deserve the rewards. And they deserve the simple title “sales person”.

  6. Bob T, yes I feel much better 😉

    I think you may be right about the “marketing representative” title. If you think back, Mr. Watson, Sr. came from NCR where many of the sales people/tactics were very disreputable (at that time). He may have been purposefully distancing the IBM sales person from that perception, hence the name.

    I don’t know, I’m just guessing!

  7. Andy: It’s fascinating to look at the “greats” in sales and how much they both respected the profession and the high expectations they had of those who practice it. A great example for all of us to strive for. Love your accompanying post.

  8. Bob A and John: Great observations–relabeling just change bad practice, changing bad practice, eliminating it, finding it unacceptable is what changes it. We don’t heed to find a new word for what we do, we just have to execute well.

  9. Dan: You’ve hit such an important and what should be obvious issue, too many forget. Helping customers AND making money is what creates thriving economies, drives business and trade. Isn’t that what business is about? So why should we apologize for it?

  10. Andy:

    >> … much to love about salespeople and selling …
    Couldn’t agree more.

    >> … inspiring salespeople who did change the world …
    Brilliant list. Healthy historical reminder. The 2014 list? Succeeding from practicing effective practices, IMO. As per this example:

    >> … too much loathing of sales professionals …
    The loathing, IMO, is for unexpectedly poor sales performance. In places where there’s a focus on fixing the problem [performance] rather than the blame, sales professionals are valued [for their perspectives, not just their quota-attainment]. I wrote of a recent example, here:

    – John

  11. Dave — Like you, I am proud to be in sales. However, the vast majority of the population finds it a disgusting, degrading, slimy and manipulative profession. No matter how much you say, “That’s only how bad salespeople act,” it doesn’t matter. The image is imbedded into their brain.

    Additionally, when any professional puts on their “sales hat” to “pitch” their product/services, they because a caricature of the worst salesman/woman in the world. It makes me sick to my stomach to see them behaving in a way that virtually guarantees that they’ll fail. But that’s what they do when the “sell.”

    Rather than fighting a never-ending battle to improve a tarnished image, I am strongly in favor of changing the name. Personally, I think most of the salespeople I deal with today are business improvement specialists — for both their clients and their own company.

  12. John – thanks for your comment. I liked your article about the America’s Cup and the advantages of transferring those ideas into the sales arena. It seems that if sales executives, sales organizations, and salespeople themselves adapted to customer need, pejorative sales stereotypes would be far less prevalent.

    Which brings me to Jill’s comment. I appreciate your perspective about the futility of battling negativity about salespeople. But I think more has to change than just the name of the functional role. Many companies have ‘rebranded’ the selling function with blandy titles like ‘Consultant’ and ‘Associate.’ All of which is still SSDD. I buy your idea about ‘business improvement specialists,’ but if it’s just a name change with continued quotas, commissions, and income-at-risk, will anything really change in the buyer experience? Not at all, until companies examine carefully the best way to conduct revenue generation, and adapt – as John points out.

    Traditionally, companies have organized to enable revenue generation with an internal entity called ‘Sales,’ but it doesn’t to be anymore. It takes open, creative minds, a capacity for risk and failure, and drumming anyone who says, “well, no company has never done it that way,” out of the room.

  13. Here’s a fun read on How to spot an old IBMer

    1) While showing a powerpoint presentation they keep saying they are showing foils (despite having not seen an overhead projector in over 10 years).

    2) They refer to disk storage as DASD (pronounced Dazz-Dee).

    3) They still call a Sales Rep a Marketing Rep (check out Buck Roger’s book The IBM Way to see why).

    see the post for the rest.

  14. @andy — I totally agree that a name change only is insufficient. There has to be actions to back it up.

    I’m just back from speaking at HubSpot’s INBOUND14 conference and LinkedIn’s SalesConnect event. Things are changing dramatically in this profession. Any organization who fails to adopt inbound marketing, social selling, leveraging context, embracing collaboration, sharing insights — and more, will soon be irrelevant.

    I say we retire “salesperson” and replace it with something that showcases the professionalism and deep knowledge of those who do it well.

  15. Sorry to be slow following the discussion. I guess my knee jerk reaction is ” A Rose By Any Other Name Is Still A Rose.”

    The issue is less what we call sales people and more a focus on professional execution. Top sales professionals always behave and execute differently. I know we are pretty much in agreement on those areas. Great discussion by top thinkers.


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