Why selling gets a bad rap

I think selling is a noble profession. I’ve sold during my entire professional career. However not everybody shares my view.

Selling in general gets a bad rap. That’s because salespeople have one of the worst human qualities… They are dishonest pieces of shit.

I know because I’ve been there myself. There were a few times that I lied to make a sale. It wasn’t because I wanted to add another $100 to my commission check. It’s because I wanted to keep my job.

The few times I did it, I didn’t feel great. Two times the customers came back and it totally bit me in the ass. After the last time, I swore I wasn’t going to sell like a scumbag again.

What’s even more alarming is when my supervisors found out, they kinda didn’t care at all. I think in the back of their minds, I was just doing my job and being a good company man.

Which is an uncomfortable truth about selling. A lot of the top salespeople and even executives are liars. I haven’t worked for one company where the top reps, or even top executives, were nothing but snake oil salesmen

I’ve even worked for two companies where the Presidents got canned for abusing funds or embezzlement.

My all-time favorite Dan Kennedy book is his collection of autobiographical essays called, My Unfinished Business, in which he talks about lying to get ahead.

In the book, he talks about how he lied to get his first sales job. He also lied to a customer about his portfolio, showing a client his own piece. Miraculously, the client knew about the portfolio piece, didn’t care, only cared about getting results and worked with Kennedy for years.

Anyways, Kennedy has this to say about lying:

The dirty little secret behind the start of a lot of hugely successful careers and enterprises is that they were ignited by lying, or at least stretching the truth, padding the resume.

I assure you, I’m not alone. If you read autobiographies and interviews a lot and look for these admissions, you’ll discover plenty of successful entrepreneurs confess to lying to get ahead. Hugh Hefner, one of my entrepreneurial heroes, tells of starting out in business with two different letterheads. One for the fledging magazine that preceded Playboy, called Stag Party, the other for his fictional distributing company boldly named Nationwide News Company. When he needed to be the publisher or editor or VP of Advertising of the magazine, he used the first stationary. When he needed to be the President of the magazine distribution business, he used the other. His actual business consisted of a typewriter on a card table, vision, balls and not just one, but two big lies.

The shocking, rarely mentioned, nearly universal secret behind great successes: they’re liars. They have deliberately, intentionally lied to gain advantage. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone actually endorse or advocate this. But this is a reality. Make of it what you will.

Of course, I prefer telling the truth. Telling it, selling it, hearing it. But honest enough to tell you, there are times when nothing but a lie can do the job. Any entrepreneur who insists otherwise, well, he’s a liar.

Of course, there are a few key reasons to tell the truth while you’re selling.

One, which is obvious, is to avoid any legal trouble.

There’s an HBO movie that was recently released called Bad Education with Hugh Jackman as a Superintendent of schools in Long Island. Later in the movie, his school finds out he expensed all types of crap: Fancy clothes, first-class trips, plastic surgery, and financed his lifestyle with taxpayer money.

His supervisor asks him pointe blank when this started and Jackman’s character said one day he paid for a slice of pizza with the wrong card, the school’s card, and he was going to reimburse the school the following Monday. Then he added, Monday came and went and nobody cared.

That’s an example of how one bad one little lie can cascade out of control. It happens, and Presidents and CEO’s feel completely justified until it snowballs and gets completely out of hand.

The other reason is it’s just good for word-of-mouth. Telling the truth makes you credible and trustworthy to do business with. I’ve worked with handfuls of sales reps that I wouldn’t trust to sit near my lunch.

And if we’re on the brink of another economic recession, it’s more important than ever to find trustworthy people to do business with.

There’s a saying, “If you can’t hide the family skeleton, at least make it dance.” If you can’t hide behind a lie, at least tell the ugly truth and stand by it. It might not paint you in the best light, but I assure you pretty much no one gives a shit.


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