I have a complaint with how the entertainment industry portrays the sales profession. Willie Loman, the main character in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman was a cheater who ultimately betrayed his family. The movie Glengarry Glen Ross depicts salespeople as a desperate group of life’s losers who will resort to anything to make money. In The Big Kahuna, the main character is an angst-ridden salesman who regrets wasting his life in sales. In About Schmidt, Jack Nicholson plays Warren Schmidt, who profoundly hates his daughter’s fiancé, an underachieving mullet-wearing waterbed salesman. Whether the movie is Tin Men, Tommy Boy, or Cedar Rapids, the sales profession is portrayed negatively. These stereotypes are enough to make parents feel like complete failures if their son or daughter work in sales.
However, those aren’t the type of salespeople that I know. My friends in sales are generally upbeat and have an incredible sense of humor. Since they value relationships, they are loyal friends who always put family first. They’re not a group of disillusioned characters; they’re entrepreneurs who have the great responsibility and joy of running their own businesses. And, they are usually the best of these businesspeople at their companies.
Unfortunately, our society holds the sales profession in very low esteem, and a survey by the Gallup Organization years ago confirmed this attitude. When the most honest and ethical professionals were ranked, those in occupations based upon selfless service, such as doctors, nurses, teachers, judges, firemen, and police officers, were ranked the highest. Meanwhile, vocations that involve selling dominate the bottom of the list as it is perceived they are based solely upon serving self-interests.
Is this stereotype honestly deserved? Based upon my experience working with thousands of salespeople, I don’t think so. The overwhelming majority of salespeople that I have met through the years have been ethical, intelligent, hardworking, and friendly. Frankly, I liked them all and enjoyed their company. I suspect the ratio of bad salespeople to good is no different than the ratio of bad to good people in our society as a whole.
Now It's Time for the Truth...
Finally, the truth about sales is on film. I want to encourage you to watch the Salesforce.com documentary THE STORY OF SALES More importantly, share this link with your friends, family, and clients so they can watch it and truly understand what you do for a living.
About the Author: Steve W. Martin is the foremost expert on “Sales Linguistics,” the study of how salespeople and customers use language during the decision-making process. Steve is a noted sales researcher and the author the “Heavy Hitter” series of books on the human nature of complex sales. He teaches at the University of Southern California Marshall Business School MBA Program and is a frequent contributor Harvard Business Review. Visit www.stevewmartin.com for more information.