Calling All Salespeople: Are You Shining a Light or Casting a Shadow?

In my early days I clearly remember learning that my job as a salesperson was to “dig holes” by identifying the many problems my prospective client faced. And to keep digging until those holes (problems) became so deep (big) my despairing client felt so overwhelmed and fearful they would want to grab my solution as a metaphorical ladder to help them clamber out of their dark damp pit of despair.

I’m sure many of you reading this can relate, but my reason for writing this post wasn’t to debate such practices. It was to highlight the need for sellers navigating the complexities of today’s new sales and business environment to stop seeing themselves as hole diggers, fear creators, or doing anything that might add to the already heavy burden leaders carry.

Time poor senior executives are already faced with a seemingly insurmountable mix of both internal and external challenges in today’s VUCA world. Constant change, internal politics, hidden agendas, digital disruption, a volatile political and business environment, low trust, disengaged workplaces, ravenous competition, price pressure, long working hours, lack of quality time with family, and so on.

The list is endless and the stress and pressure these factors create are pushing many to their very limit and in some cases beyond. No wonder we’re seeing dramatic increases in associated illnesses such as depression, coronary vascular disease, diabetes, obesity and a whole suite of both inflammatory and autoimmune disorders. The last thing leaders need or want is annoying, self-serving salespeople pestering them trying to "make sales"!

According to the American Psychological Association - stress is becoming a public health crisis.

Rather than behaving like a harbinger of darkness and doom obsessed with problems and intent on pointing out all that’s wrong with your clients business. Try being a bringer of light and hope by adopting a more positive mindset that focuses on what’s right. Invest your time and resources to become really smart about your customers business, their strategies, market trends and dynamics, competitive landscape and so on. Armed with a much deeper level of knowledge and insight you'll be well equipped to identify new and exciting opportunities for you customer. Plus you'll also stand out from the noise created by sellers taking short cuts.

By focusing on your customers outcomes and the many innovative ways you and your organisations people, products, and/or services could help to achieve them, you’ll engage in a much more positive way and therefore be much more likely to see your conversations progress toward solutions that actually deliver powerful results.

To illustrate I want to highlight Psychologist Martin Seligman and his colleagues who pioneered a shift away from psychology’s decade’s long focus on mental illness, psycho-analysis, and negative thinking - or what’s wrong with people. Rather than follow this well-trodden path Seligman and others believed they should be more concerned with “Eudaimonia - the good life” and that by focusing on happiness, well-being and positivity - or what’s right with people. They could unlock what holds the greatest value in life. In doing so they started a global movement now widely referred to as Positive Psychology.

"It's my belief that, since the end of the Second World War, psychology has moved too far away from its original roots, which were to make the lives of all people more fulfilling and productive, and too much toward the important, but not all-important, area of curing mental illness." - Martin Seligman

You could say the sales profession has similarly moved away from its original roots, which can be traced back to mankind’s earliest interactions, where the need to trade goods and services and to form connections across the seas saw the human race flourish. I’ve always loved the way Bob Burg and John David Mann share the origin of sales in their book Go-Givers Sell More. They explain the word “Sell” came from the old English word “Sellan” – which meant “To Give”!

Nikolaus Kimla, CEO of Pipeliner CRM goes much deeper. He believes that sales, or trade between parties, has a peacekeeping element. Nikolaus further explains that when two or more parties engaged in trade with each other they cannot engage in war. If they do, the trade, which is benefiting both sides, ceases. Hence you can see that trade, in addition to many other benefits, greatly assists in keeping peace.

I especially enjoyed his comments on Fair Trade. He says:

“You might notice that today there is a great amount of attention not just on trade, but on fair trade……Fair trade, by its intrinsic definition, would mean honesty, fairness to people purchasing the product or service, and fairness within the marketplace.”

I want to emphasise a key point Nikolaus makes above, and that’s for sales or trade to prevent conflict, "it has to benefit both sides", which simply doesn’t happen as often as it should. No wonder sellers and buyers find themselves ducking and weaving rather than collaborating. Unfortunately fair isn’t a word that many would associate with sales and salespeople, neither is trust, integrity, or authenticity for that matter. We’ve worked hard to cultivate the negativity so many feel when they think about sales and salespeople, and we need to work even harder if we’re going to shape a brighter future. It will take some time for sure, but each and every one of us has the power to be the change we need to see.

By finding ways to shine a light rather than cast a shadow you'll create positive, uplifting, and energising experiences for your customers at every phase of the sales/buying journey. You’ll connect at a much deeper human (rather than buyer/seller) level. And gradually, as you follow through on your commitments, as you demonstrate your trustworthiness, deliver on your promises, and create terrific value - you’ll shape new beliefs. Again in Go-Givers Sell More Bob and John write:

“When people know they can always count on you to deliver the same quality of experience, no matter what, you become an oasis of stability within their personal sandstorm of change.” Go-Givers Sell More

In today's low trust, disengaged world we know for sure that so many of our fellow human being are overwhelmed at work. Given this reality, can your customers always count on you?

Do you agree that by working to create such experiences those you meet and interact with would be much more likely to want to get to know you and do business with you? Or at the very least become an advocate for you and actively refer you to others. And would you also agree that those interactions and experiences would be so much more meaningful and fulfilling for you and for your colleagues?

Let me know what you think in the comments section below. I would love to know what you will either start or stop doing in order to be a bringer of light. Thank you for reading.


Ian J Lowe is the Founder and CEO of eccoh, a sales transformation, coaching and consulting organisation pioneering a movement to change the way the world experiences and thinks about sales. The selling environment has radically changed and yesterday’s attitudes, mindsets and cultures are no longer relevant. To succeed we need to be much more than in the past. Our mission is to harness the collective energies of every salesperson on the planet as a force for good in the world.

Image Credit: Lord Of The Rings movie, 2001, New Line Cinema