I was out to lunch this week with a very successful and smart woman who started her own television production company in 2001 and has continually grown the business over the past 9 years. She remarked to me that she is thinking about hiring a salesperson since she is not a salesperson herself. I told her – ‘Of course you are’. I thought – ‘Don’t you realize how all the business came to be in the first place?’
I think the word ‘salesman’ may be the root of the problem. Over the years we’ve come up with all kinds of synonyms for being called a salesman. Business Development is now in vogue in particular. Another I hear is ‘Chief Revenue Officer’. Whatever the heck that means. (I don’t think it has anything do with Indians but I am not certain). For nearly my entire career I have been a salesman. When I started more than 25 years ago I too felt that the word ‘salesman’ conjured up images of Willy Loman and the ‘need to be liked’. I did not care for that concept at all.
However although the company I founded almost 15 years ago has changed a great deal and my role has morphed as well, I am still a salesman. And by the way so are all the people that work with me. We are in a service business and every single point of contact with clients is a sales function.
Another problem with the term ‘salesman’ is that it suggests that somehow people are going to be pitched something that they do not want or do not need. And there are plenty of salesmen out there that fit that description to a ‘T’ so the aversion to being called a salesman is not without foundation. In my early days my customers would sometimes refer to me as a ‘vendor’. I really hated that one too. It reminded me of selling hotdogs on 6th Avenue in New York City.
Even if you are not on the line to help bring in business to your company you sell internally all the time. Trying to get others to see your point of view or help complete a project on a deadline. Selling comes in many forms.
Whether you call it sales, business development, or creating revenue opportunities the song remains the same. What people do all the time is attempt to persuade each other to see their own point of view and ideas. Presenting the attributes of a product or service is often referred to as an art form – i.e. the ‘art of persuasion’. And it’s absolutely acceptable to practice it, endorse it and even to like it. In fact it’s not only acceptable, it’s a necessity. Without sales there are no businesses.
I remember a good radio spot for the Wall Street Journal from several years ago – the guy said ‘If I am not a resource, I am just a salesman’. While the ad made a pejorative out of being a salesman the message was exactly right. Every one of us should be concerned with creating value for our customers and that value starts with doing our very best to know the right things to do for each client and then execute on that plan.
So think about it – aren’t we all salesmen?