girl holding sign that says "I'm in sales"
girl holding sign that says "I'm in sales"

“What do you want to be when you grow up?”

Possibly one of the most asked questions of a child. Most common answers include teacher, doctor or nurse, police officer, firefighter, ballerina. If you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, the last thing I would have said was “I want to be a salesperson!” “I want to sell those annoying interruptions on TV!” “I want to call people and ask them to talk to me, to meet with me, to eat with me, do anything with me!” 

Noooooo, not me! I wanted to be ON TV. I spent over 17 years taking dance classes and studied theater in college. There were no business, sales, or other similar classes in my liberal arts education. 

A brief internet search shows that I am not alone. Omitting ‘Salesperson’ from the “what do I want to be when I grow up” list seems to be quite common. Flash forward [an incoherent number of] years – and here I sit with not only YEARS of sales experience, but years of sales experience in advertising and marketing. Gasp!

I want to be in sales!
– said no one ever

A Bad Reputation

If you asked the CEO of most corporations whether their sales department was important to profitability, they would undoubtedly tell you, “yes.” Then why do sales, and let’s lump advertising and marketing into this, have such a bad reputation? We tend to think of people who are slick, fast-talking, pushy, obnoxious, braggadocious. We think of someone who is going to talk us into, no – TRICK us – into buying something that we don’t want to buy. There are some pretty good reasons why we are able to conjure up this image that fills us with a desire to avoid these professions.

There are sales and marketing professionals out there with far too many bad habits. Some misbehaviors include:

  • not respecting gatekeepers
  • not honoring boundaries
  • being overly eager
  • being disingenuous
  • using obviously contrived tactics
  • pushing for the close
  • coming across as a know-it-all

But the biggest offense is not taking the time to understand the other person’s business. This creates a lack of trust and leaves the other person feeling like you only care about making the sale. There are many articles about bad salespeople and why they give sales such a bad reputation; Hubspot’s blog post titled 5 Bad Sales Habits and How to Break Them in 2021 is a good one, for starters.

Marketing Gets Snubbed, Too

As I mentioned earlier, it isn’t just salespeople getting a bad rap. Marketers and advertisers can be grouped into this category of professions to avoid as well. A coworker tells a story about being at a dinner party and announcing she was in advertising. Suddenly the people surrounding her made faces as if she had burped at the table. What is it that sales, marketing, and advertising have in common? They are attempting to persuade you into doing something or buying something. Often, they are promising “the world on a silver platter.” According to Steven Star, author of Marketing and Its Discontents:

“Business sometimes has a bad name, and marketing is particularly singled out, especially advertising. Even businesspeople often hold marketing in deep suspicion. It is widely suspected of trying, with all the intelligence, technology, and cunning it can command, to get people to want what they don’t need, of overpromising and exaggerating what can be delivered, and worst, of exploiting people’s vulnerabilities to get them to value, want, and expect the unattainable and undesirable.”

WOW. Just reading that gave me a stress response. Daniel Doan addresses the stigma of marketing in his article Marketing has a pretty bad reputation. Here’s why… stating that “this stigma keeps so many talented people from working with some truly remarkable marketers who could potentially change a company’s luck around.”

Sales People are Leaders

Despite the stigma, sales & marketing professionals have the potential to be leaders. Did you know that many well-known CEOs got their start in sales? Warren Buffet, Mark Cuban, Howard Schultz, and many others listed here: Top 10 CEOs who started as Sales Reps. Leadership traits that make a person a successful CEO also happen to be traits that make a successful salesperson. That’s right! Strong communication skills, strategic thinking, ambition, integrity, passion for business, a keen perception of customer needs… wait, what? I’m not seeing slick, pushy, obnoxious, etc. It just so happens that when you research traits of successful salespeople, you do not see the terrible traits we so commonly associate with the whole profession. Instead, you see honesty, consistency, empathy, integrity, curiosity, listeners.

Look at this list of commonly shared traits for a good marketer in Cintia Miranda’s blog 10 Traits of a Great Marketer. According to the blog, good marketers are:

  • remarkable observers
  • extremely curious
  • good salespeople (Wait, what??)
  • not afraid to try something new
  • eternal students
  • good planners, but even better doers
  • able to spot red flags from afar
  • bluntly honest
  • involved with their communities
  • able to keep their ego in check
  • accountable

Now that is a list I can get behind!