Boiler room blues Featured

9:42am EDT July 22, 2002

I went to see “Boiler Room” and was troubled by comments from my colleagues about salespeople after the movie. One woman said she would discourage her kids from pursuing a career in sales. As a salesperson, I was hoping you might have some ammunition that I could use to defend our trade.

There is no more important role in the business world today than that of salespeople. Salespeople are more important than doctors, scientists, engineers, CEOs and lawyers. A scientist or a doctor may discover the cure for cancer, but nobody is saved until the cure is sold to the patients who need it and the physicians who treat them.

Personal computers have revolutionized the way we do business, but they sat in a research center until Steve Jobs and his contemporaries took the technology developed by engineers at Xerox and sold it to the American public. While Thomas Jefferson and other founding fathers crafted our nation’s Constitution, the real work was done by Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton and others who “sold” it to the colonies and obtained their ratification.

Unfortunately, “sales” often is a dirty word in our culture that conjures up images of con artists in plaid jackets. Although nothing could be further from the truth, this is how we are portrayed in movies, plays and songs. This winter, while fighting the flu, I went to the video store to load up on videos. I chose movies about salespeople: “Death of a Salesman”; “Glengarry, Glen Ross”; “Tin Men”; and “Cadillac Man”. After “Glengarry, Glen Ross”, I had to turn off the VCR. No wonder people think of salespeople the way they do.

Sure, there have been and will continue to be a few bad apples that stain the image of the professional salesperson, but name a profession that doesn’t have its share of miscreants.

To set the record straight and to support the countless salespeople who daily help turn the wheels of commerce, I am setting forth the Salesperson’s Bill of Rights. You have the right:

1. to your dreams, desires and expectations;

2. to like yourself as you are;

3. to change that which you don’t like;

4. to fail;

5. to decide how you use your time and energy;

6. to ask questions;

7. to disqualify prospects before they disqualify you;

8. to ask for a decision;

9. to get a decision, as long as one option is no;

10. to be successful — once you have paid the price.

Along with these rights come responsibilities. It is your responsibility to our profession to hold yourself to the highest standards. I measure this by whether the salesperson who follows you had an easier time with the prospect because of you. Here are your responsibilities to your brethren in sales. You are responsible for:

1. avoiding excuses;

2. not wasting a prospect’s time;

3. being polite;

4. how prospects feel when they are around you;

5. telling prospects what to expect from you;

6. making your questions meaningful;

7. helping prospects “discover” for themselves how you can help them without beating them up with features and benefits;

8. guiding the prospect to make a decision;

9. accepting “no” from a prospect;

10. keeping your mindset and skills at the highest level possible through a commitment to ongoing learning and training.

I hope that, armed with these rights and responsibilities, we can overcome the negative stereotypes and elevate the concept of being a salesperson to the level that an entrepreneur holds in today’s public eye. After all, isn’t that what an entrepreneur really is?

Find me an entrepreneur who isn’t a salesperson and I will show you a business owner who failed.

Larry Lewis is president of Total Development Inc., a Pittsburgh-based consulting firm specializing in sales development and training. Reach him at (724) 933-9110 or by e-mail at