I had several conversations with both sales reps and sales managers last week on the exact same topic, which for me is a sign that I need to address it the next Wednesday’s sales fix. 

Is Sales a bad word? Is it bad to “sell people stuff”?  This came up in the context of an inbound sales team that was pushing back on their manager because they felt that asking questions of their call-in clients was being “salesy”.

 “Why can’t we just take their orders? Why do we need to run them through our sales process? Can’t we just be helpful give them what they ask for?”

These are all very fair questions, and in certain types of very simple situations, probably not a bad idea to just provide what the client asks for. Sadly, most scenarios are not that simple.

Even in a scenario as simple as walking into a store and asking for a pack of gum not asking questions can be an issue.  If the sales clerk guesses right that you wanted the spearmint flavored gum, there is no issue. But considering the fact that there are now 10+ flavors in most places that sell gum, isn’t asking “what flavor?” the least the clerk can do before he pushes a pack of gum across the counter?

And if your scenario is more complex than buying a pack of gum (which most are) then assuming your client knows what they need is the greatest fundamental misunderstanding of sales there is!

Think about it. Just because I walk into the hardware store and ask the tool guy for a hammer does not mean I know which hammer I need. In fact, it does not even mean I necessarily need a hammer at all. What if the store employee asks a couple questions about what I’m trying to do and hence knows for a fact that I should use screws and not nails for my project? Is he actually being helpful? Is he meeting his obligation or duty as a skilled professional in letting me buy something that he knows will not work? What if it’s a doctor and I just walked in and asked for a specific medication? Should the doctor “be helpful” and just write me a prescription for anything I ask for? 

The fundamental responsibility of all ethical sales people is to take care of their clients needs. Not just to take the “easy sale” when they ask to buy something. If you don’t believe that, we’re not defining ethical sales the same way. You’re likely not going to like what I have to say about sales. 

You are not helping customers when you let them buy the right thing or even when you let them buy without making sure they are buying the right thing. Anyone can order anything simple over the internet these days. If the client is calling you to place an order, chances are excellent they need your expertise on what to order, how much to order, so on. The more complex the sale, the more this is true, but it also applies to a lot of seemingly simple sales scenarios.

When you accepted a job in sales, you accepted responsibility for taking care of your clients. You are expected to know more about your product or service than they do, and you are expected to protect them from making bad decisions to the best of your ability. If they wanted a robot to fulfill orders, then they would have bought online.