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Life Health > Life Insurance

Avoid the dark side of sales

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My father passed away in 1979. I remember going to the funeral home with my mother to help her make the arrangements for his funeral. It was one of the most obscene experiences of my life.

The salesperson used every trick he could think of to manipulate my mother’s grief and emotional distress in order to up-sell her. I grew up in a working class family. My father was a fire chief for the City of Garland, Texas. He had some life insurance but not much. My mother was facing an uncertain financial future. She didn’t have the money for anything beyond a nice but modest funeral.

A nice but modest funeral, however, wasn’t in the best interest of the funeral-home salesperson. He wouldn’t sacrifice his commission just because he had a working-class widow in front of him.

When my mother picked a lower priced casket, he pointed out that because Dad had known a great many folks and had been well liked, there would be a large crowd at the service. Certainly he deserved a better casket for such a large group. Up went the cost.

When she chose to go with the least expense concrete burial vault, the salesperson described in excruciating detail what would happen to my father’s body inside it. A more expensive lined vault would prevent that horror from occurring. Further up went the cost.

When she chose to have a simple photo of Dad in his department uniform, the salesperson told her how most people prefer to have a large, elaborate mural of the deceased showing his life and relationships. Even further up went the cost.

No matter how I tried to reason with Mom about the need for a more modest funeral, the damage had already been done. Money was now no object as she fought to make sure everyone knew her husband had been loved and treasured.

Last Thursday my father-in-law passed away. To my great disappointment (but not surprise), the exact same repugnant strategies are being used to wring every last penny out of grieving families—whether they can afford it or not.

I would like to think we are making strides to move the sales profession toward higher ethical standards, and in many industries, I think we are. Yet there are still some (such as funeral homes, automobiles, financial services and construction/remodeling, among others), where a good many sellers find it more profitable to manipulate, lie and cheat than to sell ethically.

Many of us try to convince ourselves that things are changing, albeit slowly. Ask yourself, with each transaction, if what you’re doing builds up or tears down the reputation of the sales profession.

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Paul McCord is a best-selling author, speaker and leading authority on lead generation. He has more than 20 years’ experience coaching and mentoring salespeople. For more information, go to


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