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The Secret Shame of Selling
by Frank Lee

"Sales is a wonderful game," Bob stated positively. "In fact, it is the best thing that has ever happened to me. I love to sell!"

Dan, his sales manager, had asked Bob to meet with him and me at their plush offices in Washington. Although his sales performance was stellar, his manager had started to detect some evidence of burnout in Bob. Wanting to prevent a good salesperson from going bad, he had asked me to administer the Sales Preference Questionnaire to Bob. The results showed he had very little Sales Call Reluctance—except in one area. Bob had significant amounts of Role Rejection Call Reluctance.

After I had explained what this meant, Dan had shaken his head and smiled. "This is not Bob," he said. "Bob is the proudest salesperson in our office and his figures support this." He had asked me to visit with them both to see if I could pick up on something that he had missed.

After 20 minutes, I was beginning to think that the test had gotten it wrong this time. Bob was upbeat, positive, and showed absolutely no sign of the secret shame of being in sales that is characteristic of Role Rejection. I would have hired him as a salesperson in a heartbeat!

Then Bob dropped the bombshell on us. Unexpectedly, he leaned forward and spoke in a low voice.

"How would you feel," he asked, "if every day when you got home, your wife tells you how ashamed she is of you? How would you feel if you heard every single day of your life that your wife was ashamed to talk about you to her friends because you were a salesman? How would you feel if you were told every day that you needed to get a decent job?"

He leaned back, his face drained. Dan looked at me in shock. There was a long silence.

That Fragile Positivism

I don't know what had prompted Bob to implode that way. All I know is that the shame and guilt about being a salesperson had finally surfaced, and we could now deal with it.

Role Rejection Call Reluctance is very difficult to detect because it hides behind a positive façade. However, the positivism is fragile and can be shattered. Role Rejection Call Reluctance occurs when salespeople feel secretly ashamed of being in sales. Even though intellectually they know that sales is a great profession, emotionally they still feel as if they are letting someone important down. They cover this secret shame by acting overly positive and by deflection.

I'm Really Not A Salesperson

The first defense of the Role Rejected salesperson is deflection. They use deflective identities and behaviors to disguise the fact that they are in sales. They describe their jobs in flowery terms. Instead of calling themselves salespeople, they prefer other descriptors. One used car salesperson I know has a business card that describes him as a "transportation consultant."

The life insurance industry is rife with Role Rejected salespeople. Perhaps it is the industry itself that encourages this. They have moved away from "salespeople" to other, more exotic terms, such as "financial advisor," "estate planner," or "advisor to the galaxy." The funeral industry is not far behind. They call their salespeople "pre-need counselors." This industry seems to breed Role Rejected salespeople.

The message these and other like industries are sending to their salespeople is that there must be something wrong with selling, otherwise why disguise it. By clothing their sales force with these deflective titles, they seem to be saying that selling is bad. As a result, their salespeople continue to hide the fact that they are in sales and then begin to feel shame associated with selling.

Actually, Selling Is a Great Career—We're All In Sales!

A colleague in Australia told me about meeting a friend in a bar one evening. They had not seen each other in years. When asked what she did for a living, the friend went off on a 10-minute ramble about her job, thoroughly confusing her companion. Then it dawned on her and she said to her friend, "Oh, you're in sales!"

Once exposed as salespeople, these people tend to swing the opposite way. They then defend the sales profession and declare it to be the noblest of all professions. They are quick to remind us that everyone is in sales and that the business world would not function without them. They don't realize that the amount of passion they put into describing a simple job is a dead giveaway as to how much Role Rejection Call Reluctance they have.

The Cost

Role Rejection Call Reluctance may not initially cost the salesperson money. As long as they have strong motivation and goal levels, they can usually perform at very high levels. The bigger cost is comes on the emotional level. These folks simply do not get the same amount of pleasure from sales as other salespeople do. They have to psyche themselves up every morning to continue to perform at high levels. It takes a great deal of emotional energy to get going and to keep going.

Eventually, the financial rewards no longer compensate for the emotional distress they experience every day. That's when they walk. Without much notice, they simply up and quit. This is what George Dudley and Shannon Goodson call the "QWS" syndrome: Quit While Succeeding. It usually comes as a shock to managers and colleagues. Many times, these salespeople do not understand it themselves, but they know they must get out of the sales profession anyway.

Another financial cost to the salespeople still in the profession is the cost of buying motivational tapes and books. They need these to prop up their fragile façade. George Dudley calls them motivational junkies.

What Can Be Done?

The good sales manager should be on the lookout for Role Rejection Call Reluctance. This is one of the more compelling reasons to test veteran, high-performing salespeople for Sales Call Reluctance. If it is lurking there, and the sales manager knows it, then corrective action can be taken. Sometimes, simply explaining it to the salesperson is sufficient to arrest its further development. Sometimes a workshop is recommended.

In their book, The Psychology of Sales Call Reluctance; Earning What You're Worth, Mr. Dudley and Ms. Goodson tell a story called "The Parable of the New Eldorado" and how a salesperson uses possessions to obtain the approval of people who really don't matter. I have seen this poignant story bring tears to the eyes of salespeople with Role Rejection Call Reluctance. The story shows how dependent some salespeople become on the feelings of others and how this affects their sales behavior. When they can rid themselves of this dependence, they begin to control their Role Rejection Call Reluctance. The result is a salesperson who finally enjoys selling.

What Is the Outlook?

In Bob's case, this emotional outburst was all it took to get him to acknowledge the accuracy of his test results. Once he took this first step, he was able to accept other logical steps to eventually get rid of his Call Reluctance. It also helped that his manager was able to speak to his wife.


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