Yielding away from the true role of sales could be devastating for your career.
A recent advertisement heard over the airwaves in the Dallas/Fort Worth market boasts: “Our techs don’t work on commission, so they won’t try to sell you something you don’t need!” There is an implication made in this ad designed to persuade listeners that their “techs” are more ethical than their competitors because commissions lead people to make bad choices. But the research to support this position is woefully inadequate and the perpetuation of this fallacy is harmful to the men and women in the sales profession.
Bad apples do not define an industry.
Every self-employed person in this country works on “commission” and has the right to be fairly compensated. There’s nothing unethical or sleazy about it. Conversely, there are people in every profession that behave in unethical and sleazy ways. Remember Enron? The salespeople weren’t the bad actors in that debacle. The truth is, people from every profession and every industry make decisions every day—some of them are ethical and some of them are not.
In The Hard Truth About Soft-Selling: Restoring Pride & Purpose to the Sales Profession, authors George W. Dudley and Dr. John F. Tanner, Jr., write: “If traditional, product-advocating selling becomes ethically suspect, it’s because of what you do, not what it is. Despite the uncompromising claims of soft-sell gurus, dishonesty and “hustling” are not integral components of selling. They never have been.”
Embrace your role.
Those “techs” mentioned earlier? They don’t get compensation in any form if their organization doesn’t have customers. Neither do you. All of us who get paid—either via a paycheck or from self-employment income—receive a commission of sorts. This is more apparent than ever in the current economic environment. What’s more, companies and organizations with an unhealthy view about the role of sales, may be more susceptible to pay cuts and layoffs. Without the people who are willing to ask for business from customers, organizations can’t fund salaries and people lose jobs.
In our research, we discovered that 26% of salespeople are hindered by feeling ashamed of being in sales. Years of messages which attempt to “cover-up” what they’re doing send an implicit message that what they’re doing must be bad. (“We don’t have ‘salespeople.’ We have ‘solutions specialists.’) But those same organizations, like the HVAC company who doesn’t pay its techs commission (implying that their techs can’t be honest if they’re paid commissions) still expect their techs to sell HVAC units. THAT’S WHY THE COMPANY EXISTS!
Research shows that 36% of salespeople hesitate to do their job because they don’t want their prospective customers to think they are “pushy” or “aggressive” and do what they can to avoid conflict. The number is probably even higher in the general population. (It’s as high as 49% in some industries!)
Avoidance works both ways.
That means it’s quite possible that many prospective customers are simply uncomfortable saying “no.” Consumers who don’t like “conflict” may feel uncomfortable saying, “No thanks, I’m not interested.” Or “Thanks for showing me all of the options, but I’ll stick with the low-end one.” Or, “Thanks for your thorough review of my air conditioning system. Just replace my capacitor today.” This lack of telepathy by the salesperson is not sleazy, unethical or even their problem! Good salespeople are willing to ask for business, and they won’t take it personally when the customer says no.
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Suzanne C. Dudley, CPA, is president and CEO of Behavioral Sciences Research Press. She is also the co-author of BSRP’s latest book Relentless: the Science of Barrier-Busting Sales. For more than four decades, BSRP has been helping organizations and individuals create sustained sales improvements through real science with real results.