There is a certain variety of sales experts who write as if salespeople, sales managers, and sales leaders are all from central casting for movies like Glengarry Glenn Ross or Boiler Room, movies that define the sales stereotype of self-oriented, manipulative, and high-pressure sales. They write as if salespeople don’t know how to sell, as if all their leaders exhibit bad behaviors and bad beliefs, treating their sales force as nothing more than a means to an end.
Like any profession, there is a small percentage of people in sales who are truly horrible. In any place where you find leadership, you will find some part of the population has no business leading others. However, these do not make up the majority of the population, and it is a mistake to paint with such a broad brush.
Salespeople Don’t Suck
Those who write about sales as if all salespeople are selfish brutes don’t spend a lot of time with salespeople. If they spent time with b2b salespeople, they would quickly discover that most are other-oriented, caring deeply about helping their clients. The very behaviors these writers suggest are commonplace in sales are so detrimental to success in b2b sales, consultative approaches, and the complex sale that they are rarely employed.
Let me confess that I believe it is an enormous mistake to start a sales conversation by talking about yourself, your company, your products, your solutions, and the logos you have captured, especially when there are better approaches available to you. It’s hard to convict a salesperson of being awful for practicing sales the way it was taught and trained for decades. The evolution of any profession takes more time than most imagine, especially when it requires changing beliefs and behaviors.
When these writers publish things about how pushy salespeople are, accusing them of forcing their products on their prospective clients using high-pressure tactics, you have further evidence that they don’t spend any time observing salespeople sitting across from their clients. You are not likely to know how to use a high-pressure, hard-sell approach, having never seen anyone use these approaches, and having never been taught or trained to do so.
The probability that you would have the strategy, vocabulary, or talk tracks to pressure your client is almost zero, a number very close to the odds of you winning your client’s business through force.
Every day, salespeople call on their prospective clients, gain meetings, spend time helping them explore change, collaborate on a solution that will work for clients, and win deals. There is overwhelming evidence that the vast majority of salespeople know how to sell, even though anyone in consultative sales recognizes they have room to improve.
Managers Are Not Tyrannical
Occasionally, you’ll bump into a sales manager who didn’t have a good manager themselves, and because they have never experienced good sales leadership, they mimic their sales manager. They care only about activity and know too little to help their people improve their overall effectiveness. Because they don’t know how to produce the financial results and the outcomes for which they are responsible, they conflate everything to the simple idea that more calls, more proposals, and more contracts being sent is what is necessary to grow sales.
Most sales managers do not resemble the sales leader stereotypes of writers. They are rarely tyrannical despots bent on oppressing the salespeople that make up their team, an approach that would cause them to lose their people to companies that would provide them with better leadership.
If you spend time with sales leaders and sales managers, you’ll find that they know the people in their charge exceptionally well. They know their spouse’s names, as well as their children. They know about their past, how they grew up, where they went to school, and what they care about most. They know their strengths, weaknesses, and liabilities. They also know what they need from them as their sales manager. In short, they care about the salespeople that make up their team.
Much of what these mostly young writers suggest as bad leadership practices are simply the methods of accountability of building high-performing sales teams.
You would have a difficult time identifying a sales manager that doesn’t want their team to succeed, who refuses to provide their team with the resources and help they need to create and win new deals, and who isn’t actively engaged in all of these things every hour of every day.
The Problem with a Straw Man
The problem with setting up a straw man against which to rail is that it isn’t tough to criticize the very worst of behaviors and much more difficult to help the best get even better. Generalizing that all salespeople resemble the worst, is not only inaccurate, it is also insulting. The same is true of believing that managers and leaders care only about the numbers, another straw man argument that doesn’t begin to recognize the areas where sales managers might improve.
Setting up a “steel man” is a better approach, believing that the people you write about are already great and on their way to exceptional. This approach helps those who are already doing good work, and it helps those who are woefully behind, for whatever reason, including not having yet had time to develop.
It’s time for those who write about sales to stop reinforcing the negative stereotypes, especially since they haven’t been true for a long time.
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