What The President Thinks of Salesmen - Charlie Warner

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Let me begin with a disclaimer. I voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and supported him for re-election this year. I like his character, I like what he's done in foreign policy, and I like what he did in bailing out General Motors and Chrysler. But I don't like his attitude toward "salesmen."

In a speech in the last week of the campaign, here's what Obama said about Romney:

He's a very talented salesman, and in this campaign he's tried as hard as he can to repackage the same old ideas and pretend they're new. In fact, he's offering them up as change, says he's the candidate of change. Now, let me just say this: We know what change looks like, and what he's selling ain't it.

Obama, or rather his speechwriters, instead of calling Romney a liar, called him a "salesman," which really pisses me off for two reasons: 1) He's using an outmoded, pejorative image of a salesman as a liar and a persuader who tries to sell something defective. It's a 1950s image of a used-car salesman with a wide, insincere smile, in a gaudy checkered sport coat, and with a loud, loosened, Windsor-knotted tie trying desperately to sell a lemon of a car to a clueless customer. 2) He's using an old-fashioned gender-specific word for salespeople that inherently presumes everyone in sales is a man (and a liar).

Obama's speechwriters (and we can assume, Barack, too) haven't read The Challenger Sale, the bellwether book based on extensive research by the Corporate Executive Board that, if its principles are followed, advances the craft of selling to a new level of professionalism.

The Challenger Sale indicates that the most successful salespeople, not "salesmen," are those who give insights to customers on how to make the customers' businesses more successful and who teach customers how to buy and use the products or services the salespeople are selling. The most successful salespeople are educators, are evangelists, are experts in their products, and help their customers get what the customers want – more sales and profits. Successful salespeople are not liars.

In the media, the two best performing sales organizations, according to surveys of sales staffs, including those of Jack Myers, are Google and ESPN. Google salespeople don't sell search to clients, they educate clients on how to use search. They are educators.

ESPN salespeople don't sell spots or banners or pages to clients, they educate clients on creative executions and relevant sponsorships. They are evangelists.

And all of Google or ESPN's salespeople are not salesmen. In fact, ESPN's top salesperson is a woman.

So, come on, let's get real here and stop demeaning a noble craft and remember the old adage that "nothing happens until someone sells something," and that something isn't sold by lying or persuading, but by educating customers, and that something isn't sold just by men.

Until he retired in 2002, Charlie Warner was Vice President of AOL's Interactive Marketing division. Before joining AOL, he was the Goldenson Endowed Professor at the Missouri Journalism School where he taught media management and sales, and he created and ran the annual Management Seminar for News Executives. Charlie can be contacted at charleshwarner@gmail.com.

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