'Pushy,' 'Sleazy,' and 'Dishonest'

04/03/2013 05:10 pm ET | Updated Jun 03, 2013

Best-selling author Daniel Pink had presented the results of a survey in his new book, To Sell is Human, in which he asked people the one word that came to mind when they thought of "sales." The title of this blog is just a few of the responses -- but more importantly, out of 25 adjectives, 20 were negative! As a consultant who has made a living training and coaching salespeople, I immediately wanted to discredit the survey and wondered if the same survey was conducted but substituted with the professions of politician or lawyers instead of sales.

But upon further reflection, why didn't I substitute doctor or engineer rather than immediately want to target professions who have obvious perception problems; similar to the selling profession. For the most part, a good physician or engineer will seek to understand (diagnose) prior to presenting their recommendation. Yet most of us have experienced an overzealous salesperson whose idea of a good meeting is "showing up" and "throwing up" without diagnosing the problem first. This leads to a perception that sales, lawyers and politicians lack integrity or trust and most people feel they have their own self interest (money) at heart which is a problem.

When a prospective customer is dealing with a salesperson, instinctively they are asking themselves, do I trust this company and can I trust this person? If we are buying a small-ticket item such as a toaster, there isn't such a significant need to build a trusting relationship since the risk is significantly lower than a larger ticket item such as an automobile or software solution. Also, trust is critical when there is a need for an ongoing relationship (support is needed or there is potential for repeat business).

As we look at trust, salespeople initiate a relationship in what I call the apathetic mode. Meaning the customer doesn't usually care about the salesperson or company they represent. If the relationship stays that way, most likely the salesperson will not get the business or if she gets the business, she will get few precious referrals from this customer.

The goal of any salesperson is to move that customer up the loyalty ladder from preference to loyalist to even zealot. This means the salesperson and company have not only effectively delivered the "must haves" in the relationship but have over delivered value with "delighters" (the stuff the customer did not expect but got anyway). This is when the salesperson perception's of value is high!

But the adjectives at the beginning of this blog spoke to the customer loyalty ladder going the opposite direction, where the customer detests the salesperson or company. Usually this has to do with what I would call integrity challenges. From my perspective, integrity falls into two categories: personal and Professional.

Personal integrity has to do with a salesperson's values, morals and beliefs. Some behaviors that impact a salesperson's personal integrity include: ethical lapses (it only takes one time), misrepresenting the facts (what the company or product can do), dishonesty or not doing what you say you, your product, or company are going to do.

Professional integrity has to do with a salesperson's approach to work such as business ethics and credibility. I mentioned doctors must diagnose before they can address the problem. Great salespeople spend the time diagnosing prior to making product/solution recommendations. Listening and asking good questions builds trust and confidence that the customer is going to get exactly what they will need. Professional integrity also involves not over-promising and then under-delivering, it also includes being prepared for every interaction, making sure you understand your products, develop a sense of urgency (returning emails/phone calls in a timely manner), along with additional behaviors that impact building a trusting relationship.

The sales profession does have a perception problem. It still amazes me that I continue to encounter individuals who want to make a living selling, although they have not taken the time to make the fundamental investments in their own development -- more importantly, they have not learned how to build a trusting relationship. Unfortunately, the perception problem similar to any profession has to do with the exception rather than the norm.