The Gist:

  • The decades-old stereotype of a high-pressure salesperson is no longer accurate.
  • While some sales organizations still use legacy approaches, none of them are based on high-pressure sales.
  • The greater pressure is internal, the result of a role that provides more autonomy and more responsibility for individual results.

Some years ago, I taught a class on Professional Selling at Capital University. During the first minutes of the first class, I asked each of the twenty-five or so students to write down a word that describes salespeople. Every quarter, the class filled the whiteboard with a very similar set of words, none of them positive. Once they finished their assignment, I asked the students to raise their hand if one of their parents worked in sales. Typically, two or three students had fathers in the profession while another couple had mothers there.

Once I had that data, I asked the students whose mothers worked in sales whether their moms were self-oriented, pushy, smarmy, aggressive, and money-grubbing. Naturally, each one got defensive: “my mom is nothing like that,” “her clients love her,” and “she has great relationships with her clients” were common refrains. So I asked my class one more question: other than your parents, what direct, personal experience have you had with a salesperson? None of them could cite anything other than buying a used car.

Recently, the Wall Street Journal published an article titled: “The Pay Is High and Jobs Are Plentiful, but Few Want to Go into Sales.” The subheading reads: “The work has changed in recent years, but young workers may associate it with high-pressure tactics; ‘talent is limited.’” Indeed, in the past decade Manpower’s Talent Report has listed sales roles in three of the top four roles with high demand and too few people. One reason for this gap is the negative stereotype of deceitful, high-pressure salespeople. The modern sales approaches we practice today would be unrecognizable to salespeople who helped the profession earn that stereotype decades ago.

High-Pressure Techniques

High-Pressure Techniques

When I started selling, I was provided with a book that provided these tactics and was instructed to use them whenever possible, mostly to get past gatekeepers when prospecting. I will not disclose the name of the book or its author, because doing so would harm good salespeople and enable bad ones. The high-pressure tactics worked exactly as the book promised, but they also gained me a lot of enemies among the gatekeepers. After almost losing a large deal before I even sat down with the decision-maker, I abandoned the approach. That’s when I started to recognize the legacy approaches and their inadequacy, and when I started looking for better strategies and tactics.

In workshops, I have asked professional salespeople to demonstrate a high-pressure technique that they have been taught, trained, or used to win a deal. So far, not even the most, ahem, venerable salespeople have been able to produce anything close to a stereotypically aggressive pitch that you might call a hard sell. Younger salespeople, most of whom had not been trained in remotely high-pressure tactics, have no reason to believe that pressuring someone to buy is just part of the job.

Under (Internal) Pressure

Under (Internal) Pressure

It is doubtful that any salesperson alive has made more cold calls than I have. My index finger should look like Schwarzenegger’s biceps by now! However, my sales jobs have consistently been what is now called “full-cycle,” meaning that I made calls, booked appointments, and met with the prospective clients myself. I was not an SDR or a BDR or some other title that limits the activity to booking meetings for another person. What made the hours on the phone worthwhile was securing a meeting.

There may be other pressures that cause young people to avoid sales roles, starting with how their slightly older friends describe their experience of entry-level sales. There is little chance that these potential salespeople have ever seen a high-pressure sale. It’s more likely that their friends have roles that limit the sales activity to prospecting, so they provide a negative view of sales—especially if they work for a sales leader who believes that activity is all that matters. With those limitations, sales can easily seem like a dead-end job with lots of pressure. However, I would argue that any SDR or BDR who can book meetings is gaining the most valuable skill necessary for success at next level, as being able to secure a meeting is the starting point for creating opportunities.

Why The Sales Profession Needs a PR Campaign

Why The Sales Profession Needs a PR Campaign

In my experience, most B2B salespeople are far closer to the consultative end of the spectrum than the high-pressure end, even if they do use some methodologies and frameworks from the legacy solutions era (see the series here on the Modern Sales Approach). It’s been ages since selling was something you did to someone. Now, selling is something you do with someone and for someone, helping them improve their results. That means sales requires both autonomy and accountability, which—let’s face it—may not be an attractive combination to many young job-seekers. No one wants to do a job that would make them feel bad about themselves, least of all idealistic young people.

Professional sales needs a Public Relations campaign, to tell the public that the old stereotypes are out of sync with the reality of what B2B salespeople really do. One ad would show salespeople helping clients to better understand the decisions they are making and provide them with the better outcomes they need. Another would show salespeople and subject-matter experts on their team working with their client teams, to make the changes that allow the client to move their business forward. And of course, we’d need to show clients explaining how the salesperson has been instrumental to their success due to their positive relationships and expert advice.

Do Good Work:

  • When you’re hiring for a sales role, hire workers who are already hungry and intrinsically motivated.
  • Ensure that your new salespeople are self-disciplined, to help ensure they can handle the autonomy that comes with the role.
  • Most of all, hire people who are curious and other-oriented; this combination often makes it easier for them to create value for their prospective clients.
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Sales 2021
Post by Anthony Iannarino on July 9, 2021
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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