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A Thing The Green Sheet Issue 010501-
Issue 010501-
Table of Contents

First Union and Wachovia to Merge

Ariba Update

Check's in the Mail ... Even if the Order is Online

Get the Word Out With Your Web Site

ISO Hill Street Blues

Help Yourself

Building a Strong Community

In Other Equipment News...

LAN for Lodging

Something to Talk About

Vital to Purchase Capstone Online

Discover the Eagle Eye

Secrets to Success

Setting a Bear Trap


Lead Story:

Selling Ice Cubes to Eskimos

I t is often surprising to me, as it may be to many of you, what it is that sets me off on a rant. But here I go again. Generally, as in this case, when I find that I am apparently out of step with what seems to be mainstream thinking about a given subject and it upsets me, it often also engages me to use my writing to challenge others in their thinking.

On a recent vacation, I was reading a magazine article in which a prominent business writer began his piece by describing an individual in the story as the kind of salesperson who could sell ice cubes to Eskimos. This, of course, put me right at ease, as a reader with a positive sales head-set, as it made me think that I would be reading a story of a talented and capable salesperson whose capabilities were apparently admired by the writer. From this point, I was an enthusiastic reader ready to enjoy a story reflective of the skills of connecting with people. Problem is, this description was not meant to be flattering, but rather dismissive, about not just an individual, but also a broad slam at "sales-types" in general. So there's the beef.

Often writers negatively portray salespeople, but the title of the article, against the backdrop or the sentiment of the writer, was surprising, due to the author's business credentials. Unfortunately, while a number of people see "sales" as necessary, their secret desire would be to eliminate "salespeople" and replace them with some type of robot, as was the case with this writer, and the sooner the better. In fact, this is exactly the line in a wonderful movie about sales (and life), called "The Big Kahuna." (This movie, in my opinion, should be required watching for the business community, and includes some of Danny DeVito's best work.)

But the writer of the article is not only working in an industry that requires high-level and repetitive customer interaction, but is employed by a sales and marketing company. And if respect is not reflected here, in a business that does on a grand scale what every sales professional must do on each sales call on a smaller scale, then where will such respect be shown? My point is that so often the business world has a negative view of "sales types," and I think that it has had a profound negative effect on this much needed profession, often making people who are uniquely qualified to interact with and engage people to describe, and even seem to define themselves, alternately.

I know that we sometimes laugh about the garbage collectors' position being described as an "industrial engineer," or perhaps we may know of a brilliantly skilled programmer, capable of the highest level of code development, who wishes to be referred to as a "systems architect," but in this case I am talking about professional salespeople referring to themselves as "marketing" people, not because they don't know the difference in what these positions do, but rather that they hope that the hearer will. How have we come to take away the pride in a sales profession to such an extent that we are embarrassed to simply say what it is that we do?

Now, the fact that our national commentary about particular professions is a staple comic element of late-night TV also unfortunately helps develop negative stereotypes, which , of course, are not limited to sales. We have similar negative comments for everything from the legal profession to dentistry, but then again dentists do have a high suicide rate and there are a lot of attorneys ... now I'm kidding!

The difference here is that as a nation, we have seemingly accepted that attorneys and dentists are trained, well educated professionals, who happen to do things that we don't like, but that we need and often must endure. We can respect their skill, even marvel at their mastery of tools and knowledge, but we just would rather not be on the receiving end of that education, if possible.

On the flip side of this, we many times describe and interact, as management and professionals in other fields, as seeing sales types as those fit for no other purpose or claim, and who have found themselves marginalized in something that most of us would find too distasteful to do, given a choice. Henry Poincare notes, "We know how cruel the truth often is, and we wonder whether delusion is not more consoling."

Truth is that not only is sales an honorable profession, and some might say the historical engine of commerce in the world, it is truly not for everyone. In my view it is only for the gifted. Yes, it is true that the path to training is not at all like accounting, science or the world of medicine, but I believe it has the creative requirement of art, more science than most realize, and is as much a calling as any of those professions that seek to understand and work with people.

Most of my life, I have been told that I have a natural ability to remember facts, to put them together in unexpected ways, and to talk to anyone about anything. While my first love is art, and my education has taught me an orderly way to attack problems, I guess I have always been a salesperson at heart. In some ways, I think we all are, to some degree. We all must succeed in life based on our ability to sell our ideas and ourselves.

Timothy LaBadie, someone I greatly respect for both his intellect and reflective view of life's processes, and with whom I have had a sixteen- year close friendship, said to me once that my ability to move peoples' thoughts was scary. His comment was meant positively, and even had the additional element of noting to me that I seemed unaware of this element, so I should proceed with caution.

In reflection, I think natural salespeople all find it easy to talk about those things that excite and interest them, and for those who have some skill in this way, and who do not find it too difficult to spend time with individuals, their excitement will elicit action from those they meet. This excitement element is very important to me, as a salesperson. I can't sell what I don't believe in, and I am a ready buyer of that which I do. (There is no one easier to sell to than a salesperson.)

The reverse is also true, and that is that once I no longer believe, I must start looking for the next cause that excites me, because I must be energized. That excitement may sell others, but it makes me go, and without it I feel less than creative, I feel a lack of purpose.

Timothy is right, that enthusiasm can be dangerous, and it is exactly this element that makes so many businesses afraid of us "sales types." If you fire us up, we will ignite others, we will love doing it, and we have little choice over the level of energy. Doesn't the Energizer Bunny have to be bright pink-what other color could it be?

For my money, the creativity available in the sales profession is indeed magical, and for those (self-actualizing types) of us that realize what we are and what we are good at, we thank our lucky stars that we can get paid, and often paid well, for such work as getting to know individuals, and having a chance to talk to them about what it is that excites us. As Aretha Franklin would say however, some R-E-S-P-E-C-T for the profession would be nice.

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