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Would you buy a used car from this man?

I’ve just been talking to Dawn Bratcher (@dawnbratcher) about a blog post I’d written about how sales people tend to sell despite themselves. And Dawn made a typical comment, one I hear almost every week. ‘I hate thinking of myself as a sales person.’

It’s not surprising that people think like this there days, but it is a bit sad I think.

I’ve always been proud of the fact that I’m a sales person. I think it means something. It means I can achieve things. I can get people to do things / buy things. I think it implies I’m successful in some way? And given how long I’ve done it, it also implies I’m well-regarded. (I think!)

But I do see why people don’t want to think like that. Whats the typical view of sales people? Well, there are probably a number of stereotypes.

Back in the day (for our younger viewers) there was the Terry of Terry and June fame. Stuffy, pompous and typically, as was Britain’s want in those days, acutely aware of his social standing, and desirous of a higher one, to ‘hilarious’ effect.

Then there’s the more modern David Brent type, a bit geeky, a bit pathetic maybe, in the literal sense. All crumpled shirt and ‘Ford Mondeo’ company car. A low achieving figure who is generally ignored or pitied rather than anything else.

Or the Gareth Cheeseman type. Steve Coogan’s genuinely hilarious character sums up the public perception of the ‘hard selling’ corporate monster.

Or there’s Arthur Daley. George Cole’s legendary portrayal in ITV’s classic drama ‘Minder’ of a seedy, and outright dodgy geezer, perfectly captures the traditional view of the slightly crooked second-hand car sales man / ‘entrepreneur’. So dodgy in fact, he needed Dennis Waterman’s character to look after him and keep him out of trouble!

All figures of fun, and all slightly sad, sightly pathetic characters. No wonder we don’t want ourselves held in such ‘esteemed’ company.

But hang on a minute, in America at least, sales and selling, is seen as an aspirational career. One that’s demanding and tough to get in to, and one that pays handsomely for the right candidate. Which incidentally, is the reality of the situation in the UK too.

So whats different? Well, maybe there hasn’t been a succession of comedic characters assassinating the reputations of hard-working, successful, intelligent, motivated, success orientated people?

Certainly, the so-called ‘American Dream’ is a widely held ambition for many. And certainly, Americans don’t seem to have our knack for knocking those that are successful, as soon as they seem to achieve that success.

There are a succession of American sales gurus all over the web that you can follow and learn from (here’s one of the best) videos, blogs, courses, ebooks, traditional books abound, all promising untold riches for the people with the ‘right stuff’ and the right attitudes. It’s the equivalent of celebrity chef books over here I think 😉

But also, there are a lot of much more famous business men and women, and entrepreneurs of all sorts we hear of, and who have become established in our own consciousness. Warren Buffet, Oprah WinfreyDonald Trump, Bill Gates et al. Fabulously wealthy, successful and highly regarded for their skills, if not their personalities. In the past tales of immigrants that built enduring dynasties with their ability to hustle and to sell, and their heads for business have inspired us all. People like the iconic Levi Strauss or more recently Sergey Brin (co-founder of Google)

‘Hang on there’, you say? Those aren’t sales people? They are famous business people! So whats the difference? All those guys have done it, lived it. Sheer hard work and perseverance is what has given them the success they have enjoyed. And the ability to tell stories, spin tales, take people with them if you like, or put another way – SELL!

So if we accept those guys are sales people, albeit at the top of the sales hierarchy, what about over here? Well there are plenty of the same sort of examples. And again, I’d argue that first and foremost these people are sales people too.

The brilliant creative and commercially astute James Dyson. The enormously successful Richard Branson. And more popular than ever he was as an entrepreneur, television star Sir Alan Sugar are great examples of British Sellers. There are many more.

So I suppose it depends on what you consider a sales person to be. A shady, slightly pathetic caricature, or a captain of industry. A wheeler-dealer, or a committed and driven entrepreneur.

The great sales people I know are honest, authentic, motivated, engaged. They care passionately about what they do, and doing the right thing for their clients. And I have met far more like that than like any sort of Arthur Daley type. In fact, anyone that doesn’t fit the bill, doesn’t even get on the team.

I have no idea why the negative perception exists in the UK, but I for one, will continue to be proud of what I do, and proud of the way I and my teams have conducted themselves. Authentic sales people who consider selling to be helping and teaching, in terms of the product mix they have sold.

What about you? Can you see where I am coming from? Or have I got it fundamentally wrong? Leave a comment, or even email me directly if you’d like! [email protected] I’d be happy to discuss further!