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Opinion

Do you work in sales? Thank you.

No matter what the rest of us do all day, our paychecks and prosperity rely on the efforts of salespeople.

By Mark Lange / September 9, 2009



San Francisco

Had enough of the recession? Next time somebody pitches you something – whether or not you open your wallet – at least say thanks.

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Because economic growth is a story we tell one another. Transactions are its dialogue. And the authors of both are the master storytellers: salespeople.

Before you tune out, consider this: Nothing happens until somebody sells someone something. And no matter what the rest of us do all day, our paychecks and prosperity rely on the efforts of salespeople.

At some level, of course, everyone sells. Authors and academics (if they hope to have impact), the yard guy across the street, the young woman shilling for Greenpeace in front of Target, even President Obama. None of us succeeds without applying the art of influence, in the best sense.

But front-line, all-day salespeople are the connective tissue between what we have and what we need. Their work demands a rare mix of audacity and humility, hope and realism. They take rejection and abuse that would crush the spirits of most. Yet they bounce back with the resilience of Tigger and the patience of Job.

Especially in harder times, selling compels tremendous creativity and a humble heroism. This isn't to say all salespeople are heroes. Some get a bit too creative, while a (very) few are desperately dishonest. But that's not sales. It's fraud.

While political campaigns come and go, salespeople practice the politics of hope every day. They live by faith – faith that someone, somewhere needs what they have.

Critics accuse politicians of being salespeople. If only that were true: Good salespeople can actually explain what they're trying to sell.

Everyone else in an organization can grumble and grouse, play office politics, soak in a bath of righteous cynicism. Salespeople don't have time for that. They only get paid when somebody outside the cubicle cocoon is moved to act and demonstrate one of the truest measures of trust – parting with their money.

The good ones, along with intellect, have impressive integrity. They focus on your interests, not theirs, because they know that if they're clear about yours, their own will follow.

Rather than spray you with words, they ask you questions, and listen carefully to what you're really saying. They bring your authentic interests into sharper focus.

They really don't want to waste your time, because they make a living on theirs.

Not buying? Try just saying "No thanks – but keep honing that pitch." Better yet, offer a pointer to raise the level of their game. And if something about their approach annoys you, coach the manager who set both of you up for frustration. That's a public service.

If the world is divided between builders and complainers, there's no doubt that salespeople build – confidence, companies, and gross domestic product. They make the potential, actual. They move minds. Build trust. And motivate the transactions that keep us all fed.

Don't be too hard on them, especially now.

Mark Lange is a consultant and former presidential speechwriter.

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