11 stubborn sales stereotypes we really need to get over
They’re straight out of the 1980s: brash, manipulative egotistical and totally unfair to sales professionals today. Here’s why we (literally) need a new image for sales
December 5, 2017
Human beings can usually recognise a ridiculous caricature when we see one. We know when something is too over-the-top and stereotyped to possibly reflect reality. Unless, that is, we’re thinking about sales.
When it comes to sales professionals, we’re still hopelessly addicted to grotesque characterisations that are straight out of 1980s movies. These clichés are offensive and unfair. They’re perpetuated in films, TV shows and perhaps most frustratingly, in stock photo libraries. Endlessly repeated as B2B marketing visuals, they can do some real damage.
Stubborn sales stereotypes prevent both colleagues and customers from seeing the very real value that expert sales teams continuously add. They’re a significant barrier to more effective sales and marketing alignment – and to recruiting the type of curious, open minds and strategic savvy that businesses need driving their revenues. People who deal directly with sales teams know that these clichés are nonsense: 79% of buyers agree that negative portrayals don’t do the sales profession justice.
Our Real Faces of Sales profiles go below the surface to explore the actual experience of working in sales today. We carried out a series of interviews with sales professionals across different sectors, and created a sales photo library showing what the experience of working in the profession is actually like. It’s an alternative to those lazy clichéd images – and our Real Faces of Sales photos are available for free download whenever you need them.
Why are we so committed to consigning the lazy stock image of sales to the scrapheap? Here’s why. With contributions from our Real Faces of Sales interviewees, these are the 11 most stubborn and pernicious sales stereotypes – and how far removed they are from the reality of the profession today:
- Motivated purely by money
- Will do anything for a commission
Ask any top-performing sales professional, and they’ll tell you that personal greed is actually a very poor motivator. Most sales professionals take great pride in the unique role they have within a business: finding ways to create value for the customer at the same time as creating value for their organisation. It’s a role that requires generosity far more than it requires greed.
If you’re thoughtful and caring and you listen to what somebody’s telling you, you can provide value. Those are the kinds of salespeople that I think are coming around more, and that’s how I hope to train others.”
Amy Slater, founder of Amy Slater consulting, who has more than 25 years experience in sales
At the end of the day, selling is about asking the right questions and determining the best ways for you to solve problems. In general, people only buy things when the value they can derive from that thing is greater than the cost of obtaining it.
If you’re able to put a solution in place for somebody, most times you are going to be saving them money or time, and that value is going to far exceed the cost of anything you are selling them.”
Wade Morgan, Stanford Graduate and LinkedIn Account Executive
Larry the Liar
- Makes wildly unrealistic promises to close a deal
- Covers up the flaws in his products
Lying is usually a disastrous approach for sales professionals to take – it swiftly undermines the trust that is essential for modern sales to operate, and it removes the power of recommendation that opens up so many opportunities. In an age of social media and instant feedback, honesty and authenticity are the only routes to sustainable success.
If we do the wrong thing or lie to the customer, then they won’t come back, and they’re certainly not going to recommend our business. So it’s all about doing the right thing for the customer.”
Daniel Barragan, Enterprise Account Executive at Zoom Video Communications
A big part of sales is being honest and earning the prospective client’s trust. So if you can be honest and credible upfront, you know what you’re talking about, and you have proven that you’ve done your research on the prospect’s needs and desires, those things are going to leave a positive impression.”
Jack Veronin, Sales Development Manager at EverString
- She’s not there – because in the world of sales stereotypes, this is a man’s job
It’s one of the most pervasive of all sales stereotypes – and one that we’ve acknowledged in our list of gruesome sales caricatures, by making all of these sales clichés men. It’s a reflection of the lazy stock image of sales – but it’s not a reflection of reality. And it’s certainly not a reflection of how the future of sales should look.
Given that Gartner data shows women in sales are more consistently effective at achieving quota than their male counterparts, there’s no reason why only 39% of sales positions should be held by women, and there’s certainly no good reason why only 19% of sales leaders are women. The myth that sales effectiveness is somehow linked to the Y chromosome is hugely damaging – and it’s no more grounded in reality than the other sales clichés. It needs to stop.
Yesterday I spent some time with my oldest daughter who is almost 23, and she’s in her first career job and works in sales. She had to write something the other day about why she went into sales, and who made the biggest impression on her. I’m happy to say that she said it was me, and it was really nice that she said that. She’s always watched me working hard and making a difference.”
Maurice the Motormouth
- Never stops talking
- All about him or his product
- Won’t let you get a word in edgeways
Any sales professional who can’t listen eliminates the opportunity to add value for a client. In today’s social selling world, Maurice the Motormouth is increasingly isolated.
Today’s salespeople are generally very good people. They have empathy and understanding, they care, they spend more time listening than speaking. I had an old boss and a trainer who used to say, “You have two ears and one mouth for a reason, you need to spend more time listening.”
- The snake-oil salesman
- Charming, slick
- Pretends to care about your issues – when only interested in shifting product
Convincing people to buy things they don't really need: for too many people that’s part of the definition of sales. However, trying to manipulate buyers in this way is actually an incredibly inefficient selling strategy. Modern sales professionals use the data available through platforms like LinkedIn to assess genuine need, develop a tailored proposition to help meet it, and ensure they are using both their own and their buyers’ time as efficiently as possible.
Some people can put us in the used car salesman category. They think we’re always using cheesy sales lines, doing whatever it takes to make a dollar. The reality is that we’re trying to do what’s right for the customer.”
“I think when you generally think about sales, you’re usually thinking about somebody who is selling you something you don’t need. You don’t think about that person being a true consultant. You think about somebody really trying to be very pushy, even kind of sleazy.
There’s a lot more to the process than just going in, saying you have something to sell and hoping that the person signs. There’s an entire discovery process, an entire demonstration process, a negotiation process that is a lot more intricate than what people probably imagine. A lot of it is really figuring out if you can help. If you can’t help, then you have to be honest with yourself.”
- Racing everywhere
- Chaotic, disorganised
- No time for clients
The old-school approach to sales involves bombarding as many cold prospects as possible, in the hope that somebody, eventually says ‘yes’. This becomes a self-fulfilling sales approach. No time to spend properly researching a prospect means that you have to do ever-increasing amounts of legwork before your cold approaches pay off. Modern sales professionals do everything to avoid being trapped in this cycle.
Today’s technology allows our sales reps to be in more places in a single day. Traditionally, you would have to travel out to an office to be on-site, and you would have to build that travel time into your work day. Nowadays, I can just be at my desk and have a video conferencing session. The client sees me, we’re engaged, and that allows us to use our time more effectively.”
- All about the client entertainment
- Runs up huge expenses bills wining and dining
- Strategy revolves around being everybody’s buddy
Golfing Gary is a holdout from an age when sales was all about personal relationships, perks and entertaining prospects. Relationships still matter, of course – but they are now far more likely to be valued by clients if based on real strategic insight into their business needs.
Access to data is changing the way sales is done, no doubt about it. Really, what separates reps today is how they use it. Who is using this data the right way, versus who isn’t? That’s the difference-maker in modern-day sales.”
Ronald the Totally Replaceable
- Off the shelf
- Works in a call centre
- Reads from a pre-prepared script
Ronald is a cold call in human form. Dashing off a pre-prepared script down a phone line before the customer has a chance to hang up. He has no time or interest in learning about that customer or responding to what they say. No sales professional should be willing to settle for this stereotype. In an age of social selling, phone-based sales can involve just as much researching of prospects and relationship-building as field sales.
The thing to remember is you have to be human. A lot of salespeople fall into the trap of reading a script. I think the best interactions are when the client or potential client is talking half the time and you’re talking the other half. There’s actually research coming out that backs up this approach.
It should be a two-way street, and it’s the salesperson’s job to make it a two-way street, to get them engaged on a topic that they care about, so that we can solve this problem together.”
Phil the Flit
- Guaranteed to switch jobs whenever offered more money
- No loyalty
- Always looking for something better
Phil is the lone wolf of sales – out for number one, arrogant and dismissive of other departments, and liable to jump ship without a second thought the moment a better offer comes up. In fact, most sales professionals are very aware of how they depend on others: for the insights to help open doors and demonstrate expertise, for example, or the product development that responds to potential customers’ needs (and can often be refined by feedback from the sales team). They may well have contributed to the strategy of the business they work for – and they are often committed to the long term.
The part I enjoy the most is seeing your ideas come to light. Having been here from the very beginning, there are things I created four years ago, and I’m seeing new sales reps coming into the company and using the same solutions I created. That’s very rewarding, knowing that something I did years ago continues to be so beneficial.”
Teamwork and working together is huge. And that’s also one of the core values here at EverString: We’re one team, with one goal. One of the most surprising things about sales is, I don’t know if I expected to work together in a team so much. We all know that, a lot of times, it’s individuals that get all the credit. But it really does take a team.”
I would say both sports and sales teach you to be accountable for fulfilling your role and doing your job, but they also train you to seek out improvements that serve the entire organization, and not just yourself.”
- Won’t take no for an answer
- Continually emailing and cold-calling
- Beating prospects into submission
The movie Glengarry Glen Ross has a lot to answer for where sales stereotypes are concerned. The ABC of sales? Always Be Closing? Move on immediately if somebody’s not going to sign on the dotted line right away? It’s hardly an approach that’s going to work for the complex solutions that so many sales professionals actually sell. Don't believe what you hear: smartly applied patience is definitely a virtue in sales.
Modern-day sales is about developing a relationship with somebody and helping them create value in what it is that you’re offering. It may not be a sale that you do overnight: Sometimes, sales take years to close because you’re developing a relationship over time. The advice I’ve given to people who have worked on my teams or have been my clients is to establish the relationship first, and don’t be in such a hurry to close the deal.”
The best salespeople are skilled at listening to you, asking you the right questions, and truly assessing if you need their help or not. If you need their help, they will tell you how. If you don’t, they will leave you alone.”
Eric the Extrovert
- Wildly social
- Over the top
- Huge ego
- All about him
The smartest, most charismatic, most alpha personality in the room, succeeding through sheer willpower alone; the life and soul of every party, whom people buy from just to feel connected to. This is no longer the view most sales professionals would like to have of themselves. Their kick doesn't come from dominating others and winning at all costs – it comes from delivering solutions that work for customers.
If I were to Google “sales rep” just to see what’s out there, in general, the images I’ll find are not a good picture of what it’s like to be in sales today. Modern sales is a lot of collaboration, it’s a lot of teamwork. There are times where we’re actually having fun. We like to joke around, and it’s an easy-going culture. But at the end of the day, we want to make sure we’re taking care of our customers.”
The biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is really to be compassionate to the people you’re speaking with, and to be honest with them. I think when you take the approach of trying to sell something to somebody, it has a very different effect than if you approach them like you’re truly seeking to understand their perspective and needs. I think the latter approach enables you to dig a little bit deeper and find the things that you need in order to have a successful relationship.”
It’s time to put an end to the influence of sales stereotypes. Explore our Real Faces of Sales microsite to learn more, download our free alternatives to lazy stock images, and meet the sales professionals delivering value for both their customers and colleagues.