Try to think of the typical image associated with the moniker “salesman”. Not a pretty mental image, right?

For most people, images that represent greed, selfishness, hustling, pressure, and unethical behavior come to mind when they think of salespeople. I woke up one morning to find this poll question on my Twitter feed.

POLL: If a seller feels his service is in the client’s BEST INTEREST, do you feel it’s ethical for him to compel (force) them to buy?

Force them to buy? That paints a horrible picture of sales professionals. The very idea that it is even possible to “force” someone to buy and not break a few physical assault laws in the process goes to show how off the perception of salespeople is compared to the reality. To be clear, I am the first to admit there are some really unethical sales people out there. There are also some unethical doctors, police officers, lawyers, bakers, bankers, teachers, engineers and none of those professions are viewed in such a negative light…..ok, ok, maybe the lawyers are. 🙂

Even unethical salespeople don’t “force” anyone to buy. They might “manipulate” or “pressure” someone into buying, but that is not the same thing. Manipulation is also used by extremely ethical sales people as well, and that’s the rub, because just like “salespeople”, “manipulation” often gets a bad brand image.

I’ve defended manipulation before, most recently in THIS post, where I covered the damage that a mindset of equating manipulation to evil can do to your sales efforts. In retrospect though, I think that post was incomplete because it didn’t cover “intent”. Intent matters. That is another element that is important to discuss on this subject. The intent as it relates to the desired outcome.

If you are an ethical and professional sales person, you do not manipulate to force a sale, you manipulate to force a decision, yours or theirs. Either party holds the right to determine if the next step is yes or no. That key difference in your thinking changes everything!

I think of it this way. I do not enter into a sales conversation with the intent of getting the prospect to buy anything. I enter into a sales conversation with the intent of getting a prospect to open up so we can determine if there is a need that can be addressed by buying. My pushing and pulling using sales techniques is designed to qualify or disqualify a fit for my product/service. Either answer is acceptable. In other words, there is a large difference between listening only to “make the sale” after asking a series of manipulative questions, and listening to determine whether or not they should even buy. There is another name for manipulation with the right intent, it’s called LEADING.

Show me a sales manager or director who believes that every client should be sold, and I’ll show you a business person who mistakenly believes that there is a shorter path to long term profits than finding real need and addressing it. Don’t be that person, and try not to work for that person. That is how you avoid turning into the cliche image of a sales person.

Yes, as a sales professional, you need to be able to influence, even manipulate people. Sometimes you influence them to buy and sometimes you influence them not to buy. Having that mindset is a foundational building block of being a true sales professional.