canada-flagCanada has more to sell than iron ore, copper and oil, and more buyers to sell its goods and services to than buyers in the United States and China. However …

… until we shed our 1960’s concepts of ‘selling’, which are ostensibly desperate and selfish, we are doomed to retain our mediocre G8 ranking.

Salespeople, upon whom our companies depend to attract and retain customers … to bring new ideas, options and opportunities to the world are, illogically, the most avoided business people in North America. If systemic avoidance were not enough, selling remains one of the most transient, misunderstood and misguided vocations in Canada and often the vocation of last resort. If you can’t find a job become a salesman.

The time our companies squander avoiding salespeople … hiring and firing them … winning them from, and losing them to, their competitors … and the time salespeople waste inflicting their outmoded selling tactics and habits and desperation upon people sworn to their rejection is not only sheer lunacy, it weakens our economy with losses in the tens of billions of equity, opportunity and productivity dollars annually. So where are we going ‘wrong’?

Pervasive North American selling wisdoms still advocate that … ‘The only good salesperson is a hungry salesperson’… ‘The most talented salespeople know how to sell ice cubes to the Eskimos’ and ‘Great salespeople possess the gift of gab.’ Couple these myths with salespeople still making door to door cold-calls  … still being remunerated with commission instead of a salary … and still sent for sales training if they are not closing enough sales; only begins to explain the ‘wrong’, the avoidance and the rejection that contributes to Canada’s weak economy.

Weakness in any society begins with a lack of education. You may have noticed I did not say … a lack of ‘training’. There seem to be plenty of sales trainers serving Canada, most of whom trade on old-school selling methods that perpetuate desperate, selfish selling. The word ‘training’ itself calls logic into question as it applies to selling. ‘TRAINING’ works wonders in the world of sports … vocal training … obedience training … potty training … driver training, anything that demands honing motor skills or developing the most basic forms of human socialization.

Selling demands intellectual agility, empathy, logic, creativity, a working appreciation for (ideally a degree in) psychology and a fundamental capacity for selflessness. Yes, I said selflessness.

‘Selfless’, now there is a word few would argue should be synonymous with selling. It is a word we neither hear nor imagine being associated with salespeople. Instead the word ‘FORCE’, as in ‘sales force’, receives common play in the vernacular of selling. It has an aggressive, military/paramilitary vibe popular with old-school, hard-sell, guts’n glory bosses. The problem is, today’s buyers are not buying it. They have little time, respect or patience for mercenary sellers who barge in with their business cards … ambush them with their cold-calls and sales presentations and who believe ‘force’ and ‘sales’ go hand in hand. No one appreciates being forced.

‘COMMISSION’ is another word synonymous with selling. It refers to how salespeople are financially compensated each time they close a sale. Unflatteringly similar to the way animals are trained and rewarded each time they perform a trick successfully. Imagine court judges being paid a commission per conviction … doctors paid a commission for every prescription they write. It is remarkably easy to see how commission selling can lead to the desperate, selfish selling buyers avoid and that weakens our marketing and ultimately our economy.

Arguably the most damning signal that we misunderstand, misuse and frankly abuse selling and those we sell to is the corporately divisive, redundant, nonsensical, and dangerous phrase, Marketing and Sales.

Selling is the quarterback of a marketing mix (a marketing team) without which marketing could not function … no more than a human without a heart or an automobile without tires. The word ‘marketing’ like a football team’s name, is simply an umbrella term that conveniently describes a set of play positions and coordinative functions. We would never say the Denver Broncos and quarterback won the Super Bowl and yet we mindlessly repeat the phrase marketing and sales as if we know what we are talking about. Marketing describes the coordinated functions of a company’s external communications. Selling is one of those functions.

Marketing is selling, is promotion, is advertising and is public relations … not separate from them. The danger of ‘marketing and’ is having us believe that the way we sell does not impact our promotion, advertising or public relations … or our economy. ‘Marketing and’ gives us permission to sell badly, selfishly, coldly, manipulatively, intrusively and even dishonestly … all the reasons we avoid and reject salespeople and selling. Selling in ways that cause avoidance and rejection undermine, injure and can even destroy the good other marketing functions accomplish. Therein lies the danger.

Force, marketing and sales, commission, training is the vocabulary of selling badly … generation’s old, outdated, disrespected. The ‘selling’ buyers avoid and reject. Selling badly is impractical. Selling badly is unsophisticated. Selling badly continues to weaken our Canadian economy.

Sell to increase sales, by all means, but do it in ways that earn respect and admiration. The key to a robust, strong, prosperous and enduring Canadian economy is selling selflessly. That means satisfying customers needs ahead of our own with dignity and grace. As alien as the words dignity, grace, respect, admiration and especially selfless are to ‘selling’, salespeople who embody them sell more.