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How to be good at sales without being a bad person

Posted by Chad O'Connor  January 8, 2014 06:00 AM

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As a sales professional it’s always interesting to observe people’s reactions when I tell them I am “in sales”. Often times their reactions (whether verbal or non-verbal) communicate the same thought – “Oh, you’re one of those guys.”

If you’re skeptical search the web for the term: “why we don’t like sales people”, then search for the term: “why we like sales people”. The results for both terms are a compilation of blog posts, articles, and lists about all of the behaviors sales people engage in that elicit negative emotions in consumers and commercial buyers.

To be clear, I’m not arguing that those behaviors don’t exist. At the beginning of my career I was guilty of many of the behaviors mentioned in these lists. Furthermore, I think consumers and business leaders are right to feel the way they do when they have a bad sales experience, I’ve felt that way myself. However, I don’t believe this has to be the way the buyer/seller relationship has to work, and I certainly don’t think it merits the negative social perception sales people sometimes get.

In my opinion, there are a few reasons this perception exists:

1. There is a continuous influx of young and inexperienced sales people who are going to make mistakes (which the buyer unfortunately has to suffer through).

2. Carrying a quota (especially monthly) puts significant pressure on interactions and predisposes sales people to being selfish.

3. Sales people get plenty of training on how to “close a deal” but no training in interpersonal relations which makes us come off as uncaring and greedy.

There isn’t much that can be done about the first two points above. Inexperience in any career path will always pre-dispose individuals to making mistakes, and businesses will always have numbers and shareholders to please which means quotas have to be ruthlessly enforced.

However, the third point can be controlled by the sales person, and I believe is the key to changing both how individual sales reps are perceived as well as the profession in general. To address this two concepts need to be mutually understood between buyers and sellers:

1. Both the buyer and sales person agree that the end goal of an interaction is ultimately for the buyer to decide whether they are still interested in purchasing or not, or vice versa for the sales person to ask whether the buyer wants to purchase.

2. The sales person has to understand that the buyer is a human being who is taking either personal or career risk when deciding on whether to purchase or not.

The first point is self-explanatory, however I think critical to state. Sales people often make interactions more awkward than need be because they don’t proudly own the fact that their job at the end of the day is to sell, and more importantly fail to understand that buyers and prospects are both aware and accepting of this. Being timid or convoluting the purpose of a sales interaction only serves to confuse the situation, and frankly could come off as dishonest, which then impacts credibility.

The second point above is where I think successful sales people separate themselves from poor and average sales people. The “human element” is not often talked about when in sales, but it should be, as I think it impacts everything from a sales person’s ability to generate new revenue opportunities to how accurately they forecast to their management and business.

A sales person’s ability to empathize with a buyer, understand their business/personal challenges, and ultimately understand from the buyer’s point of view what their barriers to purchase are is essential to success. It is imperative that sales people understand that if you’re asking someone to purchase your product or service there are consequences associated both for consumers and business leaders.

Consumers (unless they are wealthy) are generally not spending money on something else if they are purchasing your product. What type of impact does that have on their personal life? Find that out and you are in good shape to understand how realistic their purchase is, when they would be in the best position to buy, etc.

Business leaders' risk is compounded because they have to consider both career and commercial risks of sponsoring a purchase. Generally, business leaders have to convince others within the business to push a purchase through and take budget away from other priorities to fund the purchase. What happens to their career aspirations if the solution you are proposing fails? What priorities is their department or the business as a whole not executing because they are allocating budget to your purchase? Often times this situation can be further complicated by the challenges a commercial buyer has to purchase (i.e., procurement, steering committees, etc). Truly understanding where the buyer as a “human being” is coming from then significantly impacts your ability as a sales rep to understand when and how it is appropriate to engage. More importantly it allows you and the prospect to mutually agree on what the timeline for that engagement should be.

Developing the ability to put yourself in others' shoes is difficult, especially with inexperience and the pressures of quotas. However once mastered it can be the catalyst for significantly overachieving against sales quotas. People may even think you’re a good person despite being a sales guy.

Juan Molina has been in B2B technology sales for the past 7 years. He is part of the enterprise sales team at HubSpot. Read more from Juan at

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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