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Why Sales Doesn't Have to Be Icky

05/08/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Bring up the topic of sales, and you'll likely get eye rolls from people who believe that "selling" is all about high-pressure tactics, telemarketing calls at dinner, pushy, plaid-jacketed liars and smooth-talking, slick-haired hucksters peddling snake oil out of their trunks.

In a Gallup annual honesty and ethics poll, salespeople consistently rank below Congressmen and lawyers. Only lobbyists scored lower.

Ouch.

I've been in sales for most of my career, and when I tell people that I do seminars for sales people, the reaction I often get it, "Oh god, I could never be in sales," said in a tone generally reserved for discussing prostitution, gun-smuggling or mucking manure out of sheep stalls.

It's kind of weird. We readily accept the idea that excellent communication skills are an important part of professional and personal success. But for many, the notion of selling is just plain gross. It's as if once you start to sell something, you cross the line from merely being persuasive to being obnoxious.

Some believe that selling is about getting other people to do something they don't want to do. I suspect that's why so many people say they don't like to sell or be sold to.

But I'd like to suggest that perhaps it's not sales itself that's icky; it's the people who do it badly.

They're the ones who give the profession a bad name and who make the rest of society think it's somehow immoral to sell something. I've observed thousands of sales interactions, and I can tell you, the bad ones are truly painful for all parties involved.

Here are the three ickiest behaviors of bad sales people and how the great ones do it differently:

1. Bad sales people have mouths but no ears.

They yammer on and on about themselves, their products, their warranties, and what they had for breakfast. Yet when the customer tries to talk, their eyes glaze over, and they cut off comments faster than you can say, "Let me tell you more about our endless features."

Great sales people, on the other hand, ask sincere questions about the customer, and then they actually listen to the answer.

2. Bad sales people start closing when they say hello.

There was a horrible 1970s sales training program called "The ABC's of Sales" that taught "Always Be Closing." Sadly, many graduates of the program continue to use the model in the vain hope that it will one day work.

However, great sales people have mastered the subtle art of honoring the customer's decision-making time frame and moving their sales process ahead at the same time. They don't pressure you; they make it easy for you to move forward.

3. Bad sales people covet quick cash.

Bad sales people are all too eager to sell you the product they can make the most commission on, whether you need it or not. That's why they rarely get repeat business, and they're more likely to sell cheaper, low-end products that don't require much thought.

Great sales people don't convince people to buy stuff they don't want; they help people figure out what they do want. They help schools find the best textbooks, they help hospitals select the equipment that saves lives, and they help businesses choose the products and services that will help them grow.

Sales doesn't have to be icky. If you have a cause, message or idea that's important to you, don't be shy. Strap on your charisma and sell it, baby.

Because there's nothing immoral about helping people.

Download a free copy of 5 Secrets of Sales Superstars - The 5 mindsets that differentiate the merely competent from the simply stellar (and how you can turn your average performers into superstars by tomorrow morning) Click here.

Lisa Earle McLeod is a keynote speaker, author, columnist and business consultant. Her newest book The Triangle of Truth has been cited as "a blueprint for how smart people can get better at everything." Visit www.TriangleofTruth.com for a short video intro.