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What is selling?

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I looked up the word sell in the dictionary. This is what it said:

“To persuade (another) to recognize the worth or desirability of something.”

This definition assumes value. It assumes that you recognize the value of whatever it is that you are selling. Inherent in the definition is the concept of worth or desirability.

I also looked up salesperson, saleswoman, salesman, sales clerk and, my favorite, sales talk. The definition for sales talk was, “a line of reasoning or argument intended to persuade someone to buy something.”

Whenever I do a workshop or teleconference, I frequently ask participants, “What are the words that come to mind when you hear the word salesperson?” Invariably, I hear back words like, manipulative, dishonest, unethical and sleazy.

In the dictionary, however, when I looked up all of the above sales words, none of the definitions referenced manipulative, dishonest, unethical, sleazy or anything particularly negative. The language in these definitions was actually quite neutral and several of them spoke of value.

Unfortunately, in our culture, the words sales and sell are viewed with disrespect. The words no longer simply mean to persuade someone of the value of what you are offering. Instead they carry the baggage of images of untrustworthiness and deviousness. This is a misconception that does an enormous disservice.

Far too often, entrepreneurs, business owners and sales professionals buy into this stereotypical image of sales and see the activity of selling as negative and untrustworthy. They feel that if they are selling (or being perceived to be selling), they are doing something that is not quite right or that has the potential to be not quite right.

It’s as if there is a line drawn someplace, but they don’t know where that line is or when they’ve stepped over it. It causes them to be cautious and careful and worry about how they are perceived. This anxiety puts them, in their own minds, at a disadvantage and on a lower level than their prospects and customers. This is a difficult place to be. And it stops many from taking action.

Since the definition of the word sell used the word persuade, I looked up that word in the dictionary. It said:

“To prevail on a person to do something; 2. To induce to believe; convince”


The definition of sales encompasses persuasion based on value. (Photo: iStock)

Again, nowhere in that definition do we find the words manipulative, dishonest, unethical, sleazy or anything particularly negative. As with the word sell, the language is quite neutral.

The bottom line: Selling is persuading and convincing people to buy your products and/or services. That persuasion is based on value. If you cannot persuade and convince people to buy your products and/or services, then you do not have a business.

If you believe that selling is manipulative, dishonest, unethical and sleazy, this belief will not support your ability to build a business. It is very difficult to sell (persuade and convince) while believing that selling (persuading and convincing) is wrong. It is time for entrepreneurs, business owners and sales professionals to change their beliefs about the words selling and sales.

The truth is that most entrepreneurs, business owners and sales professionals are honest, ethical and believe in the value they have to offer. And that is where the focus should be.

Here are some questions to ask yourself:

  1. Do you believe in the value of your products/services?
  2. Do your products/services provide a benefit to your customers?
  3. Do you believe in the value of what you are selling?
  4. Are you doing the best you know how to ensure that your customers get what they need?

If you have answered yes to the above questions, then you are proceeding with integrity. If you are proceeding with integrity, then obviously you are not being manipulative, dishonest, unethical and sleazy. You can persuade, convince and sell with your head held high.

If you answered no to the questions above, then get out of the business. It’s not a fit for you. Find something else to do in which you can believe.

Let’s reclaim the words sell and sales. Let’s redefine the words to mean, “To persuade and convince with integrity.” Let’s remember that value is inherent in the definition. Then everyone would understand that as long as they proceed with integrity and as long as they believe in the value of what they are selling, selling is an ethical and moral act.

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