Death of the Sleazy Salesman

The Beginning of Sleaze

A long time ago in the land of sales, sleaziness prevailed.

Snake-oil salesman ran amuck from town to town in hopes of finding their next sucker. In some perverse way, it seemed as if a loyal following of sleazy sales tactics seeped into real industries. This was a time when large enterprise sales weren’t even around. Instead, quick transactions dominated areas of sales. Books titled: 101 Sure Fire Ways to Irresistibly Close Any Sale could be found at local libraries. Door-to-door salesmen were instructed to use every “close” available: there was the “assumptive” close, the “alternative” close, “last chance” close, the “order-blank” closes and many more. To make matters worse, nothing changed for decades. Using these tactics worked because there was very little relationship developed, one-time and lower transaction characteristics, and no other information available to the buyer.

The mixture of minimal academic research and the admiration of aggressive arrogance relegated the sales industry into a suspect profession. This sucks. Too many noble men were branded inferior by others because of their trade. In short, a few very bad apples casted the first 100 years of the sales industry into a poor light. Even today, the term “salesperson” is often exchanged with the preferable “account executive” or “biz dev” — tomatoes, tomatos. Not to mention, iconic sales scenes performed brilliantly by Alec Baldwin taking names in Glengarry Glen Ross or Vin Diesel’s eloquent wordplay in the Boiler Room continue stimulate the stigma. In reality, they’re entertaining, but no self-respecting salesperson would actually work in a sales environment like that today.

It wasn’t until a few researchers from the Huthwaite Research Group began to change the perception of sales.

The Eye Opener that Was SPIN Selling

Neil Rackham, author of SPIN Selling, was the first researcher to take a deeper look into the science of sales. Published in 1988, Rackham spent years studying all kinds of sales organizations and ultimately all types of sales. This was one of the first times sales was broken down into two parts: simple sales (one time transactions) and complex sales characterized by longer sales cycles, normally multiple decision makers, and likely higher price points.

Why did it take so long for this research? Generations prior, there was very little business to business selling because there just wasn’t enough of them. Heck, it’s only be a hair over a 100 years that Rockefeller’s Standard Oil was forced to divide into numerous, competing entities. It’s tough to sell to businesses when there’s only three of them and they’re controlled by the wealthiest three individuals in the world: Rockefeller, Carnegie, and Morgan. There was no market.

By the 1970’s, there was enough commerce and innovation where sales transitioned from the door-to-door car salesmen to the complex sales requiring more sophistication on the seller’s side.

One of Rackham’s most profound conclusions was “closing” techniques may increase the chances of making a sale with low-priced products but with expensive products or services, they reduce the chances of making a sale. The reason: buyers are insulted when sleazy-sales tactics are attempted — especially with high-priced items. Add to the equation, most high-priced buyers are sophisticated and a transactional sales rep using transactional sales approaches will find themselves quickly escorted out of the door.

Could sleazy salesmen still prevail in this complex sale world? Yes. The lack of available information still put the seller at a significant advantage. Only they knew certain information and at their choosing could contain or release it. However, complex selling requires much more advanced interpersonal skills than the average door-to-door salesmen. The skills to identify the customer’s needs through investigation, demonstrate capability, obtain commitment and much more of Rackham’s findings can all be learned but it takes discipline and study.

Then the Internet Brought the Hammer

The advent of the complex sale started the path of killing the sleazy salesmen, then the internet brought the hammer. Before the internet, salespeople could get away with hiding certain information. If a new, cheaper copy machine was just released from a competitor, do you think a sales rep would relinquish such data? But now the power is in the buyer’s possession. A buyer in the market for copiers can find the best copier for the lowest price in the span of 30 minutes of research. Reviews, customer testimonials, buyers guides and more lead the prospect down the path so when they pick up the phone to place an order, now all the sales rep does is help them facilitate the order.

HubSpot’s Mark Roberge states it best:

“Before the Internet, it used to be OK for sales people to just memorize the price book, competitive benchmarks, and a few sales scripts. Today, prospects can find out everything about your product, your competitors product, your price, customer testimonials (both good and bad), service quality, and can even often try your product for free without ever talking to a sales person. So what value does sales bring to the table? We need to be business consultants. We need to truly understand the problems of our prospects at a deep level and bridge the gap between our product capability and their specific problems. Make extra effort to get your sales people to feel the pains that your prospects feel and your product solves.”

What This Means for the Future of Salespeople

Certain trends will occur from this continual transition in sales and it brings great satisfaction to write them out:

Sleazy salespeople will be expelled by either their buyers or their other team members: if there is a bad apple in the bunch, the sales manager will either fire them or their poor performance will get them fired.

Traditional, limiting factors in sales will not be as prevalent: women, minorities, and anybody outside of the All-American white guy will have the same chances of success as anybody else.

Those who win over the customer online will win the deal: salespeople will have to become technically savvy. Social selling and utilizing content marketing is essential to educating the buyer through their buying process.

People who never considered “sales” as a career choice will consider it: a big fear many have getting into sales is the necessity too be pushy or sales-y. Being business consultants doesn’t require to be any of those. The world of sales will open to many more.

There is significant amounts of money to be made: here is a good by-the-books compensation model for an inside sales team.

Sales is finally starting to get the type of respect it deserves.

WideAngle is One on One meeting software used by companies including General Electric, IBM, AT&T, Google, and many more to make sure One on Ones happen, are productive, and documented.

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