Are sales teams driven by greed and desperation dying out?

The other week, one business development manager (BDM) from my sales team called the sales director of a business that sells advertising in industry magazines to speak to him about his priorities for his telephone sales team. We had been referred to this sales director by the managing director of the same company.

After a brief introduction and explanation about the reason for the call, the BDM from Barrett asked the sales director about his priorities in the ‘selling better’ space to see if Barrett could help them. The sales director hit back saying:

“Listen mate, I run a tight sales team here.

“I set the strategy and my sales managers must meet with me every day to tell me how many sales their teams have made, or else. We have very tight KPIs and if people don’t meet them they are out.

“So whatever your angle is I’m not buying it. I’m not going to tell you anything. So you just tell me what you can do for me or go away.”

That was that. Our BDM simply explained that our only ‘angle’ is to be open and transparent, find out what is important to people and see if we can help them with our expertise, experience, and assets to sell better. Our BDM explained that without understanding his priorities we couldn’t help him at all because we would be only guessing and that’s not good selling.

This sales director was defensive from the outset looking for the trick, the gimmick, the angle, as if our BDM was trying to get something at his expense.

This told us a lot about him and his sales culture. You may think we are being presumptuous in inferring this man’s defensiveness reflects that this ‘trick or angle’ tactic is what he expects and wants from his sales team.

However, the industry he works in has a mixed reputation, with many businesses opting to run transactional, low salaried, high commission sales teams who ply their ‘angles’ to get more and more sales.

The way these businesses train their sales teams is to show them how to use a range of tactics, gimmicks and angles to manipulate people into buying what they have to offer even if it will not benefit the client.

Many of these sales team become adept at using their charm, inflated or false stats and figures, last-minute offers or else-it-will-be-gone tactics, and grandiose storytelling to persuade, convince, and even bully customers into buying.

In these businesses selling is purely a numbers game driven by money making and lead by charm, manipulation and, at worst, deception.

While the industries where these types of toxic sales teams exist may not be illegal, many of their sales practices are certainly skating on thin ice or close to the ethical and moral edge, which would make any reasonable person think twice about working there if they knew up front what they had to do to make money.

So how do businesses like these attract people to sell for them?

The angle that is ‘sold’ to these people is the promise of success and the ability to make great money. They often prey on the desperate and ambitious.

Little do the unsuspecting know that they are entering a ‘cult’ of greed and desperation.

The jobs advertised usually promise great money in a great team environment, but little else is mentioned. This appeals to people because who wouldn’t want to make great money, especially in the era of big mortgages and high costs of living? But what is usually not advertised are the things you have to do to make great money.

It all looks shiny and wonderful at the beginning, but many of these people don’t know what good selling is and before they know it they are using dodgy sales tactics to sell, compromising their own values and standards just to make ends meet and feeling deeply ashamed about what they do.

And if they are good at making lots of money by plying these ‘angles and tactics’ they find themselves in an ethical bind that messes with their moral compass – ‘the money is good but…’ – and with no better money making alternatives that they can see on the horizon, they live with the consequences of their actions and convince themselves that it is okay when they know deep down inside it is not.

This is why most people who work in this environments react so defensively when someone else tries to ‘sell’ to them. They don’t want to have happen to them what they do to others. No wonder the profession of selling continues to have such a poor reputation.

I want to hope that sales cultures driven by greed and desperation are dying out; however, they are still out there plying their dodgy sales tactics to customers and drawing in the unethical along with those unsuspecting, often desperate salespeople looking to make money and be a ‘success’.

Many of us have aspirations of being a success and making good money, but what does ‘success’ look like in these toxic sales cultures?

  • Self-serving and only focused on making a much money as possible
  • Highly internally competitive, pitting salespeople against each other
  • Dominant, overbearing sales managers who micro-manage the activities and results of the sales team and use fear to control people
  • No coaching, just command and control and bullying tactics applied to people
  • Anything goes to get the sale over the line
  • Favouritism shown to those faithful followers who get the results, and exclusion to anyone who questions or speaks up about ethics or doing the right thing
  • A monoculture of greed

These organisations are ONLY focused on making as much money as possible, often at the expense of their customers and the majority of their sales teams. They are certainly not client centric or focused on a fair exchange of value.

Here is some of the feedback we have garnered from some of those conflicted salespeople over the years, many of whom finally escaped these toxic sales cultures:

I’m sick and tired of using false/ untrue reasons to get people to buy from me. I don’t like lying to people and deceiving them.

I feel bad but I am under so much pressure to get sales results every day that if I don’t do this I can’t keep my job.

I’m paid such a small base that if I don’t do whatever it take to make these sales I will not earn the commissions that pay my rent and bills.

I am feeling stressed, anxious and I have to leave my good conscience at the door. I have to become someone I never thought I would be. I feel ashamed.

In our business it’s the survival of the most cunning, the most ruthless, the most desperate so we will do almost anything to get a sale.

Our sales bosses push and push, press and press us for more. Our sales culture is fuelled by greed and desperation. I don’t like it, but what else can I do?

Would any of us want this for our children, our friends, let alone ourselves? Most of us would not. But the sad news is that there are still industries where this type of selling is the norm.

There is an overwhelming number of these toxic sales teams in the B2C call centre and tele-sales environment in industries including:

  • Energy
  • Insurance
  • Financial Services
  • Telecommunications

The B2B industries tend to be:

  • Industry conferences and events
  • Advertising mainly for magazines, directories, etc.
  • Website development/maintenance

NB: there are good businesses operating in these sectors, but they are the exception at the moment.

Sadly, these type of sales cultures don’t look like disappearing anytime soon. However, the more we can expose them to the light for what they are by speaking out about them and calling them on their actions, the quicker we can replace them with better selling practices and cultures and offer better client outcomes and sales career options to people looking for honourable professions that make them feel proud.

Our work is not done.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and CEO of the innovative and forward thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education & resource platform


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