Society’s Unsung Heroes: Salespeople!

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Yes, you read that right.

I know what you’re thinking. Are you kidding? I hate salespeople! They bug me, day and night. They’re constantly at my door, in my TV, on my phone, in my email! Aaagghh!

True enough. But maybe your perspective would change if you had to work as a salesperson. It’s a tough business. It’s not glamorous—unless maybe you’re selling cosmetics to celebrities. But probably not even then.

I have a friend who sells Ferraris to people in Beverly Hills. One day I heard him complain, “I’m barely making minimum wage!” Because, you see, a salesman only gets paid when he, you know, closes a sale. The rest of the time it’s all work and no pay.

But here’s the thing. It’s salespeople who make our economy work. Not big-shot executives. Not factory line workers. Not even the consumers who buy stuff. Because they wouldn’t be buying a product unless someone somewhere had sold them on it.

There’s an old saying: Nothing happens until somebody sells something. It was true then. It’s true now. Think of the telephone, the motorcar, the computer, and my personal favorite—the flush toilet. They’d all be quaint curiosities gathering dust in a dark storeroom if someone hadn’t sold the public on their amazing benefits. And without that where would we be? Riding horses, communicating by letter, and tiptoeing outside in the middle of the night to a cold, disgusting outhouse.

Yes, you say, old-fashioned selling was useful once. But we’re more sophisticated than that now. Modern advertising takes the place of crude salesmanship.

The fathers of modern advertising would disagree. They knew better. As Claude Hopkins wrote in his classic book, Scientific Advertising:

Advertising is salesmanship. Its principles are the principles of salesmanship. Success and failures in both lines are due to like causes. Thus every advertising question should be answered by the salesman’s standards.

David Ogilvy, another advertising legend, put it even more bluntly in his famous slogan, “We sell or else.”

Here’s another bombshell to rock your world: Salesmanship promotes virtue.

How? In several ways.

If you’ve ever had to sell something, you know it takes courage. You face a steady barrage of rejection, ridicule, hostility, sometimes even the threat of violence (Get away from my door before I get my shotgun, you dang huckster!).

But you keep at it, because you have to. That leads to another virtue—persistence. You know you may only get one sale for every hundred encounters. So you patiently slog through 99 fruitless sales pitches. Only then do you get your reward—a single sale.

Here’s another virtue that salesmanship teaches—selfless service to others.

How could that be? Well, to sell anything you must consider the customer’s needs and find an effective way to meet them. The customer doesn’t care about your problems. Your late mortgage, your toothache, your troubled children—all are irrelevant. To sell, you must focus on the other person, empathize with her problems and help her solve them.

So, the next time someone intrudes on your space to sell you a magazine subscription, a solar panel, a software program, a cruise, a business service, a home renovation, or a phone plan—feel free to turn them away. But do it gently. They’re keeping the world spinning in their own little way.

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