Nobody Wants to be a Salesperson


Okay, maybe somebody started out their career wanting to be a salesperson, but I haven’t found that someone yet. When you ask a kid, “What do you want to be when you grow up”, have you ever heard, “When I grow up, I want to be a salesperson!”? In my Principles of Marketing class at Montana State University, I ask my students, “How many of you plan to pursue a career in sales after graduating from college?” It’s very rare that someone raises their hand. My marketing students typically answer that they want to go into advertising, social media, digital marketing, or, occasionally, marketing research. Rarely (never?), does anyone answer, “Sales.”

Nobody Wants to be a Salesman

Is this who you wanted to be?

The Low Social Status of Sales

I think much of this is based upon a lack of knowledge about the field of sales as a career opportunity, and secondly (and more importantly), a negative societal bias against the profession of sales. There are many reasons for this. Let’s unwrap a few of them:

  • Movies and plays negatively portraying salespeople (e.g. Death of a Salesman, Glengarry Glen Ross, etc.)
  • Stereotypes of dishonest salespeople (e.g. used car, door-to-door, etc.)
  • Phone scams and unwanted telemarketing calls
  • Buyer’s remorse after being sold by a pushy or overly persuasive salesperson (Anyone ever buy a timeshare condo or a gym membership they never use?)

Society places a relative degree of respect on every profession. Some professions enjoy very high public esteem: doctors, nurses, scientists, firefighters, and military officers according to a recent poll. In another recent study, salespeople ranked slightly above politicians, garbage collectors, taxi drivers, and prostitutes. It’s a well-known fact that being a salesperson is not a highly respected profession. But, these polls do change over time. So, I think it is possible that the profession of sales can improve. Maybe we’ll never be up there with doctors, nurses, and firefighters, but hopefully somewhere considerably north of politicians and prostitutes.

The Consequences of the Poor Reputation of Sales

So, what are the implications of sales’ poor reputation as it relates to the field of consulting and professional services? This fact leads to a few important outcomes:

  • A general lack of support for quality research and education by universities
  • A lack of opportunities for quality educational opportunities within our organizations
  • A disdain for anything relating to sales within many professional services firms
  • A general lack of senior support for firm-wide marketing and business development activities
  • A scarcity of highly knowledgeable marketing and sales leaders in consulting and professional services organizations

The sum effect of all of these headwinds has led to a dearth of thought leadership on the topic of sales within the service professions. Over the past 25 years, I have come across very few worthy books that have helped me in my effort to sell my firm’s services. David Maister’s book, Trusted Advisor, is one exception. David is best known for his writing on the topic of managing professional services firms. But, he did dive into client matters on occasion, and his perspective on this topic helped develop my thinking considerably.

Next time we’ll pick up with Obstacle #4: It’s harder than ever to sell professional services.