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Taking back the word ‘sales’

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When I teach my undergraduate course on personal selling, I begin the class by asking the students to describe salespeople. Without fail, I hear words such as “greedy,” “selfish” and “manipulative.” I wait until I have gotten a consensus that salespeople are in fact selfish scumbags before I spring my trap.

Once I have listed all the negative stereotypes, I ask the students who have parents who work in sales to raise their hands. Normally it’s about 25 percent of the class. Some of their parents are entrepreneurs, making them salespeople, too.

I ask the question “So, Johnny, your dad is a manipulative, self-centered, dirt-bag salesperson, huh?” Johnny protests “No way! My dad is a great guy. His customers love him. He’s always finding ways to help them.” And, I am certain this is true of Johnny’s father and of all the other family members who sell.

The stereotypes are no longer true. Nor is the negative connotation.

A sense of pride. I sell. I am a salesperson. And you sell. It’s what you do. That makes you a salesperson. Some of us have decided to call ourselves “business development” people in an attempt to distance ourselves from the much-maligned word. But there isn’t any more potent or powerful way to develop business than to sell.

Others have decided that they “facilitate buying decisions” also in an attempt to put some space between what they do and their title. But who is it that “facilitates buying decisions”? Salespeople.

Still others have decided to call themselves “consultants” to avoid the moniker of “salesperson.” Or they instead call themselves “advisors” or “specialists.” They’re still salespeople, and they’re still selling.

The behavior of millions of salespeople over the last few decades has proven the stereotypes wrong. The negative connotation persists only because we allow it to. And if a few bad apples spoil the whole bunch, then every profession must be equally tainted.

Let’s take back the word “sales.” The next time someone asks you what you do for a living, proudly look them in the eye and say “I am a salesperson.”

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S. Anthony Iannarino is the managing director of B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, a boutique sales coaching and consulting company, and an adjunct faculty member at Capital University’s School of Management and Leadership. For more information, go


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