Published On: Mon, Feb 4th, 2013

“Nothing Happens Unless Somebody Sells Something”

By: Gerald J. Sherman

I was very upset and disappointed concerning the derogatory statements that our politicians have made about salespeople during this past presidential campaign.

Both sides of the aisle have made insulting remarks about salespeople. Such statements as referring to President Obama, “He’s just a salesman, he’ll promise you anything.” Or what a liberal congressman from the south said in a disparaging manner about a statement made by Mr. Romney during the past presidential campaign,“Oh Romney, he’s a salesman.”  Theses remarks although aimed at an individual show their disdain for salespeople. This utter disrespect for a profession that has contributed so much to our society is shameful and unfortunately is echoed by many well-known people.

The bad rap that salespeople have received comes from the misinformed. It is not fair to judge a few, when we have a history of great salespeople in this country. The following is a short listing of just a few of America’s greatest salespeople.

  • John H. Patterson, the founder and CEO of the National Cash Register Co., was also the father of modern sales training.
  • Dale Carnegie began by selling a series of public speaking classes that were frequented by many budding salespeople. His landmark book, How to Win Friends and Influence People instructs readers how to become more effective communicators.
  • Mary Kay Ash was a successful salesperson in Dallas. She planned to write a book, but her notes became instead a business plan for a beauty and cosmetics company that relied on women to sell merchandise to their friends and acquaintances through direct sales (otherwise known as multi-level marketing). She also pioneered the use of sales incentives, turning her company’s signature pink Cadillacs into a sign of women’s economic self sufficiency.

Successful salespeople operate with integrity and a high standard of ethical behavior. Salespeople are the engine that keeps goods and services moving through the pipeline, even in bad economic times. And so, I am devoting this column to the professional salespeople of today and yesterday because, “Nothing happens unless somebody sells something.” (Red Motley)

Ethics and the Salesperson

The Pulitzer Prize winning play, “Death of a Salesman” (1949) by Arthur Miller portrays the problems that arise when a salesperson strays from ethical values. Although the play conveys an indictment against sales people (and the corporations they represent), it also is a typical example of the wrong person selling.

In a few instances, the play mimics the author’s own life. His father, who was a successful manufacturer in New York City, lost his business when Miller was 13, and the family had to move from their plush residence near Central Park to a small house in Brooklyn. Miller worked as a salesperson for his father who was trying to get the business started again. This was not what he wanted to do and he grew to hate selling.

Willy Loman, the main character in the story, is a tragic figure because of his unethical and personal life style of using people, lying and cheating on his wife. Loman exemplifies all the myths and misconceptions some people have about “professional” sales people. Ethical sales people must be truthful, keep the commitments they make to their clients, associates and their management. That is the only path to a long-time relationship with the people they do business with. The hit ‘n’ runs approach is self-destructing because it builds nothing.

To assure your commitment, it behooves the salespeople to familiarize themselves with the companies’ inner workings such as shipping, production, finance, and the lead time necessary to meet deadlines…so that when a promise is made to a client, it is based on a realistic expectation of what can be done and what can’t. Accepting orders with no regard for deadlines, or knowing that the delivery can’t be made on time, is unethical and will backfire. It is better to lose the sale than a client.

Of course, in life, there will always be the possibility of unavoidable situations. The salesperson has the obligation of telling the client that their order will not be delivered on time, while encouraging the customer to keep the order in place, despite the late delivery. There should be no lying or placing a negative light on her/his company; apologies are always appropriate, and make every effort to expedite the order.

The importance of understanding ethics and adhering to its path cannot be overstated in the field of selling. While ethical conduct is not a guarantee for success (a salesperson must also be trained in selling techniques, actively seeking prospects, and properly closing the sale), it is nonetheless a requirement for success. In other words, a salesperson must do more than be ethical to sell successfully, but without ethics, he or she will never succeed in the long term.

John F. Kennedy’s Statement of Consumer Rights is a broad-termed, common sense guide to customer relations, which when applied to a sales situation, sheds light on ethics in sales. According to the Statement, a consumer has:

  • The right to choose freely
  • The right to be informed
  • The right to be heard
  • The right to be safe

A salesperson should strive to respect these fundamental rights and act in a manner, which facilitates the fulfillment of these rights.

Excerpts from the book, The Real World Guide to Fashion Selling & Management, Gerald J. Sherman & Sar S. Perlman, Fairchild Books, Division of Conde Nast Publications

Gerald J. Sherman, MBA, DBA of Sherman & Perlman LLC, was a former Vice President of Sales & Marketing for public companies, Marketing Planner, former Adjunct Professor, is an author, marketing and public relations consultant and has written several books and articles on these subjects. 561.715.2788

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