Embrace the stereotype: Leverage the salesperson’s unfortunate inheritance

What if you were to ask a doctor, “How long have you been practicing medicine?” And he replied, “Oh, about 10 years…but I don’t consider myself a doctor.”

Or think of the same question posed to a plumber, accountant, mortician, engineer, or to any professional. How likely are you to hear the same response as the doctor above? Not very.
What if that same doctor introduced himself with, “Hi, I’m Dr. Jones, but I just want you to know that I’m not here to heal you today.” Or the plumber with, “Hi, I’m the plumber. But I just want you to know that I’m not here to fix your drains.”
Yet how often have you said – or wanted to say – to customers, “I’m really not here to sell you anything today.”
We avoid ‘salesman’ association with good reason
Whenever I meet with a new group of salespeople and we’re introducing ourselves, I often ask how long they’ve been in sales. Invariably, one says, “X years…but I don’t consider myself a salesman.” The others in the room often chime in with, “Oh he’s right, neither do I.”
Everyone knows the salesman stereotype is bad. But just how bad is it? And why?
Let’s start with why. One word: trust.
This is where I usually lose people because they think to themselves, “I’m not the stereotypical salesman and I am totally trustworthy, so this doesn’t apply to me.”


No one reading this is likely the stereotypical salesperson. But everyone reading this triggers the salesman stereotype in the customer’s mind; some a little, some a lot, but all unwittingly.
The trust stereotype
If you Google “trust” you will pretty quickly encounter a useful matrix that helps us understand, with amazing simplicity and clarity, how to define trust.
That matrix is shown in Figure 1. As it relates to trust, “competency” refers only to competencies that make my life better. A few examples quickly illustrate the matrix.
If my wife needs brain surgery and she declines my offer to perform the surgery myself, I protest: “Don’t you trust me?” She trusts my character, but not my competency, putting me in the extreme lower right corner as regards her surgery.
Every year, surveys are done to identify the most trusted professions. In recent years, firefighters have almost always come out on top. Doctors are high, but not as high as nurses.
Let’s put these three professions on the matrix.
What competency do firefighters posses? They save lives – the ultimate competency. And character? Well, what is the ultimate expression of character? Giving one’s life for another, especially a complete stranger. This perfect combination puts them in the upper right corner.
Doctors show slightly higher on the competency scale than nurses but nurses show way higher on the character scale than doctors. This is simple to understand: nurses are the ones who will sit through the night with patients while making a fraction of a doctor’s pay.
Salesman is the opposite of fireman
“Your money or your life?” the thug asks comedian Jack Benny. After a long pause, Benny responds, “I’m thinking it over.” Why are most crimes committed? Financial gain. Some people are willing to take another’s life and risk their own for financial gain.
The point? There’s very little difference in the human mind between a competency that makes my life better (or worse) by giving me (or taking from me) my health or giving (or taking from me) my money.
What professional stereotype is at the opposite corner from the fireman stereotype? You guessed it: salesman! In the human’s stereotyping mind a salesman will take my money (“life”) and will go to any length to take it. It’s a primal fear thing programmed into our DNA, no different from a lion’s roar or snake’s rattle.
I get pushback from two fronts whenever I talk about this. First, I hear from salespeople who are insulted. As if I’m accusing them of being untrustworthy.
Second, salespeople say that once customers get to know them, the stereotype problem disappears. No it doesn’t. That’ll take many thousands of years; it’s coded into the DNA.
Embrace the reality
Would you like to take your results to amazing levels and experience almost euphoric liberation in the process? Then don’t fight or be put off by this reality. Embrace it and internalize it. Because so very few salespeople are willing to do that, you have an opportunity to stand out like never before.
Strange as it sounds, it’s actually not that hard. From hello, and second-by-second, in every customer interaction just think: what words would a salesperson use here and how would a salesperson process and respond to this conversation…then do the opposite.
Jerry Stapleton is the founder of Delafield-based Stapleton Resources LLC (www.stapletonresources.com). He is the author of the book, “From Vendor to Business Resource.”

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