Would you buy a used car from this man?

I’ve just been talking to Dawn Bratcher (@dawnbratcher) about a blog post I’d written about how sales people tend to sell despite themselves. And Dawn made a typical comment, one I hear almost every week. ‘I hate thinking of myself as a sales person.’

It’s not surprising that people think like this there days, but it is a bit sad I think.

I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m a sales person. I think it means something. It means I can achieve things. I can get people to do things / buy things. I think it implies I’m successful in some way? And given how long I’ve done it, it also implies I’m well-regarded. (I think!)

But I do see why people don’t want to think like that. Whats the typical view of sales people? Well, there are probably a number of stereotypes.

Back in the day (for our younger viewers) there was the Terry of Terry and June fame. Stuffy, pompous and typically, as was Britain’s want in those days, acutely aware of his social standing, and desirous of a higher one, to ‘hilarious’ effect.

Then there’s the more modern David Brent type, a bit geeky, a bit pathetic maybe, in the literal sense. All crumpled shirt and ‘Ford Mondeo’ company car. A low achieving figure who is generally ignored or pitied rather than anything else.

Or the Gareth Cheeseman type. Steve Coogan’s genuinely hilarious character sums up the public perception of the ‘hard selling’ corporate monster.

Or there’s Arthur Daley. George Cole’s legendary portrayal in ITV’s classic drama ‘Minder’ of a seedy, and outright dodgy geezer, perfectly captures the traditional view of the slightly crooked second-hand car sales man / ‘entrepreneur’. So dodgy in fact, he needed Dennis Waterman’s character to look after him and keep him out of trouble!

All figures of fun, and all slightly sad, sightly pathetic characters. No wonder we don’t want ourselves held in such ‘esteemed’ company.

But hang on a minute, in America at least, sales and selling, is seen as an aspirational career. One that’s demanding and tough to get in to, and one that pays handsomely for the right candidate. Which incidentally, is the reality of the situation in the UK too.

So whats different? Well, maybe there hasn’t been a succession of comedic characters assassinating the reputations of hard-working, successful, intelligent, motivated, success orientated people?

Certainly, the so-called ‘American Dream’ is a widely held ambition for many. And certainly, Americans don’t seem to have our knack for knocking those that are successful, as soon as they seem to achieve that success.

There are a succession of American sales gurus all over the web that you can follow and learn from (here’s one of the best) videos, blogs, courses, ebooks, traditional books abound, all promising untold riches for the people with the ‘right stuff’ and the right attitudes. It’s the equivalent of celebrity chef books over here I think 😉

But also, there are a lot of much more famous business men and women, and entrepreneurs of all sorts we hear of, and who have become established in our own consciousness. Warren Buffet, Oprah WinfreyDonald Trump, Bill Gates et al. Fabulously wealthy, successful and highly regarded for their skills, if not their personalities. In the past tales of immigrants that built enduring dynasties with their ability to hustle and to sell, and their heads for business have inspired us all. People like the iconic Levi Strauss or more recently Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google)

‘Hang on there’, you say? Those aren’t sales people? They are famous business people! So whats the difference? All those guys have done it, lived it. Sheer hard work and perseverance is what has given them the success they have enjoyed. And the ability to tell stories, spin tales, take people with them if you like, or put another way – SELL!

So if we accept those guys are sales people, albeit at the top of the sales hierarchy, what about over here? Well there are plenty of the same sort of examples. And again, I’d argue that first and foremost these people are sales people too.

The brilliant creative and commercially astute James Dyson. The enormously successful Richard Branson. And more popular than ever he was as an entrepreneur, television star Sir Alan Sugar are great examples of British Sellers. There are many more.

So I suppose it depends on what you consider a sales person to be. A shady, slightly pathetic caricature, or a captain of industry. A wheeler-dealer, or a committed and driven entrepreneur.

The great sales people I know are honest, authentic, motivated, engaged. They care passionately about what they do, and doing the right thing for their clients. And I have met far more like that than like any sort of Arthur Daley type. In fact, anyone that doesn’t fit the bill, doesn’t even get on the team.

I have no idea why the negative perception exists in the UK, but I for one, will continue to be proud of what I do, and proud of the way I and my teams have conducted themselves. Authentic sales people who consider selling to be helping and teaching, in terms of the product mix they have sold.

What about you? Can you see where I am coming from? Or have I got it fundamentally wrong? Leave a comment, or even email me directly if you’d like! [email protected] I’d be happy to discuss further!

  1. mrsmoti
    mrsmoti says:

    Now I could have a rant about this… am sure we hugely underestimate how hard wired it is into our DNA to make stuff, and to trade in it – and that this is at the heart of market and a vital part of community . It’s exchange, showing appreciation to each other… but then I would think that, as someone whose granny was a market trader ( 2nd hand haute couture, don’t you know.. including make-up.. eurgh…) and who grew up on market stalls…

    Like shoddy surgeons, librarians, professors and lawyers, of course there are shoddy salespeople, but we have some very odd ideas about the role in the Uk…

    Great piece and good food for thought, as ever Tony.

    • Tony Dowling
      Tony Dowling says:

      I know right! You and Mike have made the point even better than I did I think. It’s an amazing phenomenon when people are derogatory. Yet at the same time hold these examples, and others up as some sort of paragons

      Thanks Pippa, love it!

  2. wagbrunothedog
    wagbrunothedog says:

    Tony on the money…

    I think we are all in sales, it is all around us, wives, partners, children and colleagues, we are always selling or being sold to.

    I give my time twice a year to the national radio school, one of the exercise amoung others,is I get them out of the classroom to go and talk to a min of 5 people , appraoch them, and ask them “what makes a great salesperson?”

    When they arrive back in class, they have a difference perspective than what they had when they went out.Funny that.

    I am proud to be a professional salesperson because I get paid to practice what I love.

    I have been blessed to have okay at it.

  3. James Loy 07775 030961
    James Loy 07775 030961 says:

    The bad reputation comes from most people being sold something by a salesperson who simply lies because their product is not one you would buy had you known the full facts. I have been in a position where I had been miss sold a companies image and solution and was then expected to sell the poor solution by selling in a vague way and hoping the buyer didn’t ask to many questions.

    Suffice to say I did not sell much for this company as it went against my ethics as I am an honest person and only sell something I see someone benefiting from. I left the company and have always mystery shopped any employer I have worked for in my 17 year sales career.

    This is why I now work for Regus as they have excellent soltutions to businesses problems/needs and if I would have no hesitation in using them if the need arose in the future. I am very proud to tell people I am a Sales Person and accept a fair amount of banter from friends and family that I am therefore “dodgy”. However my financial advisor friend robs the wealthy, my council working friend takes corporate back handers and my accountant friend is boring all incorrect perceptions.

    This can not be said by many a salesperson who simply sell because its their job and they have to sell xyz amount to get paid or face unemployment.

  4. Joanne Kerley
    Joanne Kerley says:

    I agree with this blog, my partner picks up on this more than i do that sometimes when meeting new people say on holiday, like few weeks ago in Thailand – when in new company of a lecturer, a business owner and a lady who was married to a very wealthy man…. i felt a little shy when saying what I did for a living, very mad isnt it!! Dont even know why I do it as i am very proud to be fortunate enough to work in sales, a job that has no limits !

  5. David James
    David James says:

    Hi Tony, interesting blog yet again. Our friends in the blog clearly fall into 2 camps; you have Direct Sales people (Terry, David, Gareth & Arthur) who are – “you say anything for an order” merchants (I would include cars and double glazing into this category), and then there are us ‘Professional Sales People’. Most of us don’t attract the glamour or limelight of our colourful friends above so are operating under the radar. When we do (James, Richard & Alan) we can’t possibly be sales people, so get labelled as entrepreneurs. Just for the record I am proud to be a Professional Salesman, but if I become successful, I hope I will enjoy being a Businessman just as much.
    Whichever way it goes, I won’t be offering you a second hand motor!!

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