Sunday, April 23, 2017

How to Understand Salespeople

This is something I wrote in August 2011, but apparently never published:

Just because you don’t work in sales doesn’t mean you’re not a salesman. In fact, whether we realize it or not, we each sell ourselves every day. Whether pitching ourselves to a date, an idea to a boss, or an invitation to a friend, we each engage in small acts of sales as a matter of necessity.

In my view, what distinguishes a good salesman from a bad one is whether he has his or your best interests at heart. Will he tell you when spending more money isn’t wise, or is he focused on the upsell? Does he invest the time to genuinely understand your needs and tailor his recommendations accordingly, or does he follow Alec Baldwin’s famous admonition that “only one thing counts in this life: get them to sign on the line which is dotted”? Above all, will he be there when you have follow-up questions and concerns, or will his answers become curt and cryptic?

If these frustrations sound familiar, then welcome to my Larry David-esque world. Yet recently, a friend pointed out something I’ve been overlooking: context.

Let’s say Morgan owns his own company. When he sells you something, he puts his reputation directly on the line. If the deal succeeds, you’ll do more business with him. If it doesn’t, you’ll write off not just Morgan, but also his company. What’s bad for Morgan is bad for Morgan, Inc. Thus, it’s in Morgan’s interest to think both short-term and long-term.

In contrast, Chris works for a big company. When he sells you something, while his reputation is at stake, he’s also representing his employer. If the deal succeeds, you’ll credit not only Chris, but also his employer. If it doesn’t, you’ll blame both Chris and his employer.

But if the latter happens, Chris doesn’t get as hurt as Morgan does. Unlike Morgan, Chris isn’t tied to his employer. He can change jobs or even professions.

In this way, Chris’s focus on the short-term — raking in quick commissions without worrying too much about the results — makes a certain sense. No doubt, it’s myopic, but if he screws you, he doesn’t bear the full brunt of responsibility.

The lesson: Hire employees who haven’t seen Glengarry Glen Ross.