Why Do We Hate Salespeople?

Do you remember the last time you were walking through your local Westfield and you were intercepted by someone selling some new wonder product or service or were accosted in the street by an over enthusiastic worker pleading for your donation toward one cause or another? Or how about the time you knew you shouldn't have answered the phone from that unknown number, but you did and ended up listening to a long-winded sales pitch about some innovative new approach to something new? And then there are those pesky door-to-door sellers, usually from utility or telecoms providers that come knocking when we’re about to tuck into dinner with our families. Aaaghhh! No wonder we hate salespeople right?

We probably hate salespeople because we've all been burned before by one, and we're determined to never, ever let it happen again. And what's worse - given you are reading this blog post on a website that’s all about sales and selling - you are probably a salesperson yourself!

So why?

Why do we salespeople do things that make others hate us and why did we even choose this profession in the first place?

In preparing for this post I spoke with a few of my friends who are in sales roles and asked why they decided to become a salesperson, and they told me things like, "I’ve always enjoyed the challenge." or "I just kind of fell into it really." They also told me “I get to meet and work with so many different people" and “It appealed to my competitive nature." or "The earning potential is very attractive." With a sales career spanning almost 30-years now, I can relate to those comments. They have all played a part in my own thinking at various stages in my professional life. 

Our partners at FranklinCovey’s Sales Performance Practice also have a very long history, having trained and coached tens of thousands of salespeople in more than 40 countries. In our workshops, we sometimes start our training with a quick exercise. It goes something like this: we tell the participants that we are about to show them a word and we want them to write down the first two or three things that pop into their heads when they see the word... as I'm sure you've guessed, the word is "SALESPERSON."

The answers are hilarious, and rather revealing. While there are usually one or two noble answers, the vast majority of the participants (almost all salespeople themselves) say that the first thing that comes to mind when they see/hear the word salesperson is something like "liar," "manipulative," "egotistic," "relentless," and the list goes on. I mean, it has gotten so bad that no matter what you put in front of the word "selling"  - consultative, solution, visionary, challenger, value-based. It is still tainted by the association of a person doing something to somebody, rather than for or with them. What's going on here?

May I propose that we, the salespeople, are not entirely to blame for this perception? I'd like to suggest that our tainted reputation is not 100% a result of what we are doing so much as it is a dysfunctional relationship between the buyer and the seller that has been developed over years and years of dysfunctional buying/selling practices.

Let me explain what I mean...

Buyers often fear that a salesperson will talk them into something that is not really right for them, that doesn't meet their needs or create real value. They fear they will overpay or be persuaded to make foolish decisions. This is magnified when the purchasing decision can affect their jobs and the fate of many people in the organisation. Buyers also think that the salesperson is ignorant, arrogant and elusive so they can't possibly understand the context they work within. As a result, they worry they are wasting precious time.

Salespeople, on the other hand, are afraid they won't make the sale. They're afraid of losing, and if they lose too many times, they won't make their sales target, they won't get paid well, and they won't be able to meet their own needs or the needs of those people who are important to them. 

When buyers do not trust sellers, they hide and protect vital information and restrict personal contact. Sellers are forced to guess what would actually work for the buyer, and often they guess wrong which reinforces the perception that sellers can't be trusted - it's a vicious cycle.

The good news is, you can break this cycle. As a sales professional, you are uniquely positioned to replace these dysfunctional selling behaviours and practices with mindsets, skills, and processes that are focused entirely on helping your clients succeed. You can actively promote and create an environment where you and your clients feel able to talk openly and honestly, and work together to make informed, intelligent decisions about whether or not it makes sense for you to work together. If it doesn't make sense, that’s OK. But let's find that out quickly, shake hands, and part friends. If it does make sense though, let's do just that and have some fun doing good things that make a real difference to people lives.

A Force For Good 

Generating more of these types of interactions was the driving force behind me taking the leap out of my corporate career to establish a new kind of sales transformation consultancy that’s focused on breaking down the barriers between buyers and sellers. It’s no accident that we’ve partnered with FranklinCovey to share their unique Helping Clients Succeed methodology with our clients on this exciting journey. 

My entire professional life has been lived in sales and selling and I have never been more optimistic about the future of our profession than I am today. I truly believe that every salesperson on the planet can become a powerful force for positive change in the world, yes that means you. But we need to be much more than in the past.

In a world where people are so often in conflict, you have the opportunity to connect. Where once hidden agendas and ulterior motives undermined trust, you have the opportunity to be completely open and authentic. Instead of having an intent that focused only on your needs, you have the opportunity to shift your focus to meeting the needs of others. 

Rejoice my friends, for you have the power to unlock a higher level of purpose, prosperity, and growth through your interactions than just about any other profession. So, stand tall and be proud of what you do. As our world has become more volatile, uncertain and complex your clients need you to help them navigate through all the fog and complexity now more than ever. 


Ian J Lowe is the Founder & CEO of eccoh, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation pioneering a movement to change the way the world thinks about and experiences sales. Ultimately our goal is to break down the barriers between people. In my view sales is the most effective vehicle to achieve that objective. Salespeople touch more lives every day than just about any other profession, consequently, we have more opportunity than most to bring value to those interactions, whatever the outcome. 

By working together to overcome challenges, build relationships based on trust, authenticity and genuine care for our fellow human beings inside and across workplaces throughout the world, we will eventually see a natural flow of that goodwill into our communities and throughout society as a whole. Salespeople can be a powerful force for collective good in the world - now that's a purpose I can believe in. If you can too let’s talk. Maybe we can make it happen together.

Image Credit: The Avengers movie, Marvel Studios 2012.