In large part to recent posts on Brittany’s blog I have decided to write my thoughts on the industry of sales. Brittany wrote a post to criticize an article published by Kathy Chu in USA Today praising companies such as the Southwestern Company (with whom Brittany had a rather negative experience one summer ago), who set up college students to sell items door-to-door. She published her thoughts on her blog and additionally had a letter published in the Wisconsin State Journal. In response to these comments, a mysterious person calling himself “Tony” has written comments praising sales to no end. His inability to use logic has largely led to this post. Here’s why sales jobs suck.
1) Opportunity, achievement, and situation are three highly correlated variables. Sales people will tell you that your success depends on what YOU do; they lie and say that you and you alone are responsbile for your success. It’s a convienent lie and one they will often come to believe themselves. But examining this in a scientific way, you would learn that a seller in a poor neighborhood and a seller in a better off neighborhood, with the same amount of contact and equally favorable reactions will make more money in the richer neighborhood. Similarly, a seller selling on Sept. 12, 2001, will not have as much success as someone selling just two days earlier. If one works equally hard, with equal opportunity, situation will still dictate their success.
2) Meeting people’s needs and defining people’s needs are two different things. When working in marketing for Apple, I often described my job as working to meet people’s computing needs. It just so happened that I felt those needs could be best met by an Apple computer. But never once did I try to convince a person who did not have a need for a computer that, in fact, they DID need an Apple because they did not have one. I never once defined their need. But a sales person MUST work to define that need. He or she must work to feel the “pains” of the customer. If the customer does not have the product for sale, the sales person immediately identifies this as a pain. But in this day and age of heavy consumerism, if someone does indeed need something, they are no doubt aware of several places where they can fulfill this need. Thus defining the need for a customer is tantamount to inventing the need. This is not, I believe, an honest practice.
3) The pay! Unlimited potential!, they will promise you. Our friend Tony said that he makes $2500 a month, even if his commissions don’t take him over that number. Good golly, Tony, you must really feel like you’re rolling in the dough. Only thing is, I make twice what you do! And I don’t have to pick up a phone and convince someone to buy something. And that job was fresh out of college, working in technology, with a degree in English. And you can’t tell me that should an economic downturn hit (or god forbid another 9/11) that you would still be making the same amount you make any other day. There is never a time in my life I have to worry about how big my paycheck is going to be. So sure, there are no unexpected windfalls, but I also don’t have to work double hours just to pay my rent during a month when things aren’t going so well.
4) Depending on yourself is all well and good, but that’s not the kind of society we live in. If it’s you for yourself, that pits the world against you. And even if you try to phrase it in nice ways (an oyster waiting to be cracked, et cetera), you’re still out there day in and day out just fighting to make some scratch. Is this the kind of daily battle someone should have to fight AT THEIR JOB?! I go to my job and sit in my nice office, put my feet up, and chat to a customer on a conference call. We’re all friends. When I need a question answered, I go ask someone else. When I find out something new, I share it with everyone. In sales, the minute you let information out, that’s just more ammo for the world against you.
There are so many sales people out there that I hope this has gotten up the guile of someone. Confront me, please! But stop trying to defend your job. The more you defend it, the more you sound like you are trying to convince yourself that the above 4 points are not straight truth. I hope you make a rousing success of what you are doing. The underlying question still remains, however. In this world of consumerism, and in working towards a world with greater cooperation, what good can a sales person play in making this country and this world a better place? And in making this world a better place, is there a way the same positive result can be achieved sans a monetary transaction? I think the answer to that question is absolutely yes.