Why do some people feel ashamed of being called a salesperson?

Why do some people feel ashamed of being called a salesperson?

Do you feel ashamed of being called a salesperson? Are you aware that your view of selling (the way you think and feel about it) can affect your success or failure as a salesperson?

Over the years, I have met many sales people who are really good at selling, have all the ingredients, write great sales results and are highly valued by their companies, yet they never feel satisfied in their sales career. The afflicted sales person just feels a sense of unease and guilt about being in sales – they feel that their career is somehow inferior to others.

They feel ashamed to be called a salesperson of any description – this leads them to find substitute titles to hide the fact they are in sales at all. Confused? Conflicted? They sure are.

Often times these sales people will insist upon non-descriptive terms such as ‘technical representative’ or ‘product consultant’ to disguise what they do. However, the two worst substitute titles I have heard for a bona-fide sales role are ‘pre-need counsellor’ and ‘solutions facilitator’.  Go figure.

Whatever they call themselves, these people wake up every day feeling ashamed (often beneath the level of conscious awareness) about what they do and carrying that unresolved guilt with them wherever they go. It’s exhausting.

Always looking for greener pastures as a way to resolve this feeling, sales people afflicted with this issue often quit highly successful sales careers to go into management roles or something else that doesn’t require selling. If they go into management roles these people often pass on their affliction and discomfort to others by speaking derogatively about sales, selling and sales people in general. They say “We don’t call ourselves sales people here… we are counsellors (or whatever other title they can find to disguise selling)” and you can often hear these sentiments being endorsed in non-sales departments too.

If this faulty belief system is left to fester the issue becomes institutionalised and perpetuates the whole cycle again by instilling mistaken (negative) beliefs about selling and creating doubt and shame about sales in a whole new group of people. And no-one questions why? Just go into some professional services firms or non-sales departments of business and listen to how they talk about and deride sales and salespeople. It is not helpful.

So why do these people feel this way? Are they basing their view of selling on bad business practices? How did these people develop such poor and misinformed views of selling?

One reason is the legacy of bad selling practices in the 20th century that still litters our minds and the market places today. Our whitepaper, “The History of Sales Methodologies – why some work and other don’t”gives you a very good insight as to why some of these negative views of selling still exist.

You can understand why good people would not want to be associated with unethical, immoral methods demonstrated by bad selling practices. However, based on sound evidence we know that there are good and bad selling practices. So if you can separate out the good from the bad in your own mind and see that what you are doing is honourable and you can gain enjoyment and satisfaction out of being in a sales role then you are not afflicted by the issue we are talking about here.

Limiting beliefs and thinking errors

Despite the large range of evidence based information about effective, ‘good’ sales practices, some people are still emotionally unable to accept a career in sales.

This cognitive dissonance (internal conflict) creates huge problems for sales capable professionals.  Like a needle stuck in the groove of a record, their negative (often unconscious) thoughts about selling tell them that selling is somehow dishonourable; that they are unworthy or even evil for being in a sales role.  

They suffer from distorted thinking – faulty perceptions that lack substance. They are usually holding onto old beliefs that they deem to be true despite the evidence. Our ability to make realistic self-appraisals is influenced by how accurately we interpret situations. We can have blind spots that block out information that can be helpful to us.

Despite the evidence at hand these people are often choosing (usually unconsciously) to listen to old messages from significant others (such as parents, elders, people in authority, etc.) who tell them how things are or should be, often with no objective basis to these ‘wise words’. It is a real challenge to find and tackle these limiting beliefs.

Limiting beliefs usually lead to thinking errors. These thinking errors lead to a reinforcement of distorted (usually negative) beliefs and thoughts. Thinking errors interfere with this process and can be unproductive to us.  Some common thinking errors are:

  • Arbitrary Inference: Drawing a conclusion in the absence of sufficient information.
  • Selective Attention: Focusing on one aspect of a situation while ignoring more important (and more relevant) features.
  • Overgeneralisation: Applying a conclusion to a wide range of events or situations when it is based on isolated incidents.
  • Catastrophising: Dwelling on the worst possible outcome of a situation and overestimating the probably that it will occur.
  • Black and White Thinking: Things are black or white, good or bad.  We have to be perfect or we’re a failure.  There is no middle ground. e.g. “I must achieve all my targets otherwise I am a failure”

The good news is that these limiting beliefs and thinking errors are learned which means they can be unlearned.  At Barrett, we have spent much of our professional career helping people rearrange their thinking and understanding about what good selling actually is and helping people to feel proud to be in sales.  

Your view of selling is critical to your sales success

If you have a view of selling that is positive because you know (facts) and believe (values alignment) selling helps sales people and companies understand and identify what their customers’ needs are, then helps them fill their needs in an ethical and professional manner; that selling allows for a fair exchange of value and ongoing viable business relationships then you are on the right path to leading a successful sales career.

Whether you have the skills or not to sell, you shouldn’t be afraid or ashamed of what good selling actually is. Sales is an honourable career we can’t do without.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is a sales expert, business speaker, adviser, sales facilitator and entrepreneur and founded Barrett Consulting to provide expert  sales consulting, sales training, sales coaching and assessments.


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