Selling is not a dirty word

We are not born with our beliefs or values, they are taught to us. Our thoughts, feelings, views and opinions about the world are shaped by our experiences of many people and many things. They are coloured, rightly or wrongly, by our perceptual filters which we learn from others.

‘Watch who you let near your mind’ is a statement that is often quoted in my articles and for good reason. It takes between six to eight weeks to unwittingly pick up and adopt another’s views, beliefs and perceptions and own them as your own, if we do not question and thoroughly examine the consequences and impact of these beliefs and perceptions on our own thoughts, feelings, behaviours and actions.

Without accurate definitions and critical analysis we could be lead, metaphorically speaking, down the dark alleys and tunnels of misinformation and faulty beliefs which can affect us in many ways. We see this happen every day where people are lead astray and adopt practices which are life threatening, morally threatening and unhealthy.

One of these dark alleys is the myth about selling being something bad or dishonourable. For more years than I care to remember selling has been much maligned. It is an act or career choice that is looked down upon with disdain as something distasteful and dishonourable by too many, often ill-informed, people. ‘I don’t sell’ or ‘we’re not called sales people here’ or ‘we don’t have to sell’ are some of the statements we hear from organisations that cannot reconcile their beliefs about selling with the actual act of selling.

The irony is that these very same people, despite their predications, rely on the profession and skill of selling for their livelihoods every day yet they are in denial about this important capability in their businesses. They dance around the topic trying to call it something else, all the while people feel a sense of unease about something not being quite right. There is a misalignment, a dissonance and no one can put their finger on it.

We came across one leadership team of a business recently, who could not bring themselves to mention the word selling without feeling as if they had uttered an expletive. ‘We do not sell, we never want that word mentioned, that is not what we do…’ came across loud and clear.

Their vehemence and disdain for selling was palpable. Some looked visibly ill. The energy expended to defend their stance and justify their opinions was a waste in our view. The customer culture that they had created was one of shame not pride. It was like everyone knew that selling was part of what they needed to do but no one could admit it. It was the elephant in the room.

Selling by its definition is the ability to influence another’s decision. Aren’t we, by default, all involved with selling then? What human being, by one means or another, doesn’t influence another’s decision in some way every day? A child cries out for comfort or food, a person offers a helping hand to someone in need, a new idea is born and the creator offers it up for our consideration, a challenge arises and we seek support to understand and address it. Whether we choose to respond or not to these situations will be influenced by our own views and priorities and how well the other person(s) was able to influence us to engage, participate and collaborate with them.

The issue this leadership team needs to address is their beliefs, perceptions and views of selling and the ethics around why they do what they do, not the act of selling itself. Perhaps their beliefs and views of selling were born of bad experiences, actual or relayed. Perhaps they had the mishap of engaging with others whose intentions and actions, via the act of selling, took undue advantage of them at their own expense. Perhaps they were tricked into believing something that was not in their best interests. The subprime market scandal is a case in point.

Any action can be tainted with unethical, illegal and dishonourable intentions, actions and behaviours. The act of selling is no different. Selling, itself, is not a dirty word. It is the aggression, intimidation, bullying, lies, deception and cheating that people choose to employ in place of ethical selling practices that is the real issue we need to address.

If you want your people to be able to proactively and ethically listen, show interest, find common ground, resolve issues, find solutions, work collaboratively, and influence others to make better, more informed decisions then you want your people to be able to say with pride when asked what they do ‘I am in a sales career, aren’t we all?’.

Remember, everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett practices as a coach, advisor, speaker, facilitator, consultant and writer and works across all market segments with her skilful team at BARRETT. Sue and her team take the guess work out of selling and help people from many different careers become aware of their sales capabilities and enable them to take the steps to becoming effective and productive when it comes to selling, sales coaching or sales leadership.To hone your sales skills or learn how to sell go to


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