The Motivations of Sales


  • Service Provider

    This comes up a lot and seems to need a lot of clarification. In other realms, we understand how buyers and sellers agents work especially with real estate, there are laws and unions that govern this to ensure that there can be no mistakes. We know that the salesman at the used car lot is trying to get us to buy a car we do not need, we know that the guy at Best Buy has to try to sell us a television. We know that people are generally paid on commission or at least they get paid based on their ability to sell things.

    But there is often a break where we forget how sales people are motivated and what they ethical position is. We often project ideas of trust or good behaviour on them using a bizarre and inappropriate personal perspective that is both inaccurate and illogical. In doing so, sales people become confusing at best and seemingly evil at worst, even when acting exactly as they should.

    There are two fundamentals of sales people: first that they are compensated to make sense; second that they expected to make sense when they can.

    The entire purpose of selling things is to be influenced by the sale. In selling something, the salesman receives something that they value (money.) If there was no value in selling to them, they would not do it, it would make no sense.

    This means that salesmen are going to sell, or at least attempt to do so. This does not imply anything more. It does not imply deceit, lying, pressure or anything else. There is nothing unethical in doing sales and sales people are insanely obvious, unless they are hiding things from you. Once you know that someone is a salesperson (any person with a financial gain from making a sale) you have a known social contract where they are ethical free to make a sale and you are ethical obligated to understand what that means and not to assume that they will act solely in your interests. Caveat emptor.

    There is a bizarre feeling amongst many people that "good salespeople" will be looking out for your interest above and beyond their own and that of their employer. This is, of course, nonsensical. The feeling here is that it is somehow "ethical" to go out of their way to do work for you, for free. Of course, it is not. The hierarchy of the obligations of the salesman are to honour his work commitment to trying to make a sale, his financial self interest to earn a living (and provide for his family in most cases) and if those two are met, to assist you if it makes sense to do so. It is not that a salesperson does not want to help you, but he has two vastly higher ethical obligations that come before your needs and because of the social contract that you have, you have an obligation to understand this.

    The idea that a salesman might be "nice" and would be both self sacrificing and violate his employment obligations makes no sense. This is based on the false belief that doing what is right for the customer is "ethical" when it is not and based on the illogical feeling that the salesperson will feel a false obligation to a customer violating a social contract instead of feeling the real obligation of an employer that pays him.

    Assuming that someone will break clear and self serving ethics to help someone against their self interest is simply not logical. People do not act this way. Many people are willing to hurt others to further their self interests, this is a normal lack of ethics. But going out of their way to hurt themselves to really hurt the people to whom they have an ethical obligation is outright evil. Do evil people exist who would give up their own interests just to hurt others? Yes, but they are very rare. And in none of these scenarios - the ethical, the non-ethical or the evil does the logical result of that ethical stance result in the expectation of helping the customer unless that help aligns to some other goal.

    This behaviour doesn't make salespeople bad, it makes them good. Salespeople are open and predictable. Of course you will meet people in any walk of life that lie and lying salesman bring extra risk because of the position that they are in, but there is also more recourse for damages in many cases.

    But accepting how the motivation of sales works and being open and honest with ourselves makes dealing with sales people suddenly clear and easy. The worst thing that we can do is lie to ourselves and convince ourselves that sales is a free ticket to engineering or a way to make friends. Your salesman might be the best person ever, but the better they are as a person, the more they are looking out for their top level ethical obligations, not your interests.


  • Service Provider

    Of course to make a sale, often a salesman will push something that is a reasonable product for you and often your needs and their needs align, at least to some degree. A salesman will not do well trying to sell products that make zero sense for a customer. So the assumption that it will be obvious when we are being sold something that we do not need doesn't make sense.

    But there is no way to know after a sale, based on what was purchased, if you were "sold" an item or not. Only if you do full research on your own to know that what you bought was the best thing for your needs will you know this.

    There is an emotional human reaction to "reverse justify" decisions. Salesmen know this. After a sale, their customers, even ones that have been really screwed, will almost always become emotionally aligned with the salesman because to not be means admitting to themselves and to others that they were fooled. People don't like to admit this, to the point that most can't even identify it when it has happened.

    Because of this, you can often find people who have been sold something that is obviously not a good fit for their needs defending not just the purchase, but the purchase process of trusting a salesman in a way that makes no sense to try to make their decisions seem rational (normally to themselves.)

    The book "Predictable Irrational" talks about this very thoroughly and people that understand this concept know that their worst-treated customers will often be their most loyal supporters, feeling the need to go over the top to defend and protect their sales relationship in order to make their decisions justified in their minds or to their employers.

    This understanding is critical so that we know that just because someone else says that their salesman treated them well and didn't oversell them, that we know that there is no reasonable chance that that is true or likely. It's just something that we expect people who have been oversold to say. It's predictable, and irrational.


  • Service Provider

    Sales people are an important part of any ecosystem. They have a lot of value. What is important to us is that we understand their role and obligations and what their bias is. In understanding them, we can have a good relationship with them. If we do not understand them and project our desires upon them, we make ourselves vulnerable in a way that the predator is ourselves.


  • Service Provider

    If we only were going to buy the right products for our needs, we would not need sales people. We would simply research what we need, or talk to someone who has produced a matrix that would tell us what is best for our needs, and buy that thing. Resellers and vendors would not employ sales people, often at very high cost, because they would add no value.

    In the real world, sales people drive the purchasing of products. People and even companies rarely buy based on their needs, but rather based on sales tactics! It's hard to believe that the world at large is that irrational, but it actually is.

    Whether a salesman finalizes a sale that might otherwise have walked away, increases the size or scope of the sale, increases the price through negotiations, bundles in additional products or services, creates a long term return relationship or whatever sales people create value because they increase the money that customers spend.


  • Service Provider

    To look at it mathematically as a customer, think about a salesman's salary, let's say $100,000 per year. Then divide that into the amount of time spent dealing with you, your company, your needs. Then add in the time between you and the next customer. And add in the time and costs of acquiring you as a customer. Don't forget taxes, fees, real estate, and so forth. Then divide that up. That's the amount of money, on average, that the sales person has to earn on top of the sale from over selling to you, to cover their cost of existing.

    Let's assume a large sale requiring a week of sales team effort to sell you a product that you may or may not need. Let's say it is selling you a $50K piece of equipment. To pay for the salesman, he has to increase the total profit on that sale by $4,000 - $5,000 dollars. Assume profit margin is 20%. That means that he has to oversell you by $20K - $25K just to cover the cost of his time, without him earning anything for the reseller! So assume that you need to double that number again. So $40K - $50K.

    It is pretty trivial that for a $50K product sale, $50K of additional sales must exist to cover the overhead of selling. As an extremely rough number, a sales person might need to double the average spend of a customer to justify having a job. And any customer that doesn't overbuy or doesn't buy at all represents a loss that needs to be covered by other customers.



  • It's that known situation where the company is purposefully employing tactics that they know you will fall for to buy more than you need that, to me, makes the company/sales person seem unethical. They are aware of a flaw in people and they are purposefully exploiting it.

    I'm looking forward to your explanation of how this is different from hackers who hack into your network. Ok before you call me a quack- I know that with the sales person they are getting you to act against your own best interests and the hacker is taking advantage of a flaw you might not even be aware of, etc. so just roll with h me on this one if for no other reason than to give you another way to prove your point.



  • From the sounds of it, a properly run company should never talk to a sales person. I suppose the exception is to get purely factual data out, but even that is very difficult because "the facts" can be presented in a way to seem like they are saying one thing but really not.


  • Service Provider

    @Dashrender said in The Motivations of Sales:

    It's that known situation where the company is purposefully employing tactics that they know you will fall for to buy more than you need that, to me, makes the company/sales person seem unethical.

    But it isn't. Being illogical falls to no one but the buyer. By your description, just making a really good product would be unethical, obviously that is not the case.

    There isn't anything even slightly unethical about promoting a product.


  • Service Provider

    @Dashrender said in The Motivations of Sales:

    From the sounds of it, a properly run company should never talk to a sales person.

    A properly run one would not be influenced by one. In between bad and ideal is reality. In reality, only people who are competent to deal with sales people, know how and when to deal with them and properly understanding their own ethical responsibilities should do so. Salespeople have value, but only to logical, researched people.


  • Service Provider

    @Dashrender said in The Motivations of Sales:

    I'm looking forward to your explanation of how this is different from hackers who hack into your network.

    Hackers break in where they are not invited. Sales people are invited in and asked to take what they want. Totally opposite things. Hackers take what you don't want them to take. Sales people take only what you request that they take.

    Also, hackers take without giving. Salespeople have a transaction that only happens if you feel that you are getting the better deal. It is always at your discretion.


  • Service Provider

    @Dashrender said in The Motivations of Sales:

    I know that with the sales person they are getting you to act against your own best interests....

    Not quite. They LET you act against your own best interest. Humans do this with or without sales people. Sales people are just there to make money on people wanting to act in that way.


  • Service Provider

    @Dashrender said in The Motivations of Sales:

    They are aware of a flaw in people and they are purposefully exploiting it.

    You can say this about anything. Food exploits hunger. Water exploits thirst. This is less than how much nature exploits us. It's exploitation of a desire to be illogical. Is it a flaw? That's up to you. But it is a flaw we all control. We control if sales conversations happen. We control if we decide to not do research. We control everything. If the flaw is exploited, it is primarily exploited by the customer.



  • So the example I would like explanation for is ... you are a one man computer consultancy. You set up network and servers for people. While at a client, you notice one of their hard drives is failing, and you recommend they replace it.

    Are you a salesman, since you stand to benefit?

    Are you unethical?

    Should you not be trusted?


  • Service Provider

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Are you a salesman, since you stand to benefit?

    Are you the one doing the replacement? Normally the customer would just replace it. but if you are selling time for you to do the replacement, then sure, you are always a salesman of your services.


  • Service Provider

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Are you unethical?

    There is nothing unethical about sales. How does this question ever come up? I'm so confused where people find the idea that there is even a chance for something unethical to exist (in the sales process.) Of course if you assume he's lying about you needing a drive, then that would be unethical. Or if he broke the drive to make you need one.


  • Service Provider

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Should you not be trusted?

    Trusted to act the role of a salesman, of course you should be trusted.



  • @scottalanmiller said in The Motivations of Sales:

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Are you a salesman, since you stand to benefit?

    Are you the one doing the replacement? Normally the customer would just replace it. but if you are selling time for you to do the replacement, then sure, you are always a salesman of your services.

    You know a lot of customers hiring IT help that would replace their own drive? I don't.


  • Service Provider

    I think that a big problem that arises is the concept of trust. People often use the term "trust" to mean "have faith that someone will act in my interest" but nothing in the word implies that. You can trust a brick to... be a brick. You can trust that if you drop it it falls. You can trust that if you stand on it you'll be four inches taller. You can trust that it won't stab you in your sleep. But you can't trust it to be your technology adviser and to tell you when to change your hard drives.

    Same with a salesman. You can trust them to be a salesman, to act as their ethical and job obligations expect them to do. As much as you can trust anyone, of course.

    Questions around trust with sales are really weird for two basic reasons:

    • The thing that people should trust them to do is act as ethical salespeople which is never what they mean, so the use of trust is nonsensical.
    • People saying this would never just "trust" some random person to be their advisor, yet ask if salespeople can be trusted as if they are all always either totally trustworthy or not as a group.

    Why do we so often single out sales as needing "trust" differently from all other people with whom we interact in life?



  • @scottalanmiller said in The Motivations of Sales:

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Are you unethical?

    There is nothing unethical about sales. How does this question ever come up? I'm so confused where people find the idea that there is even a chance for something unethical to exist (in the sales process.) Of course if you assume he's lying about you needing a drive, then that would be unethical. Or if he broke the drive to make you need one.

    Because when most people think of sales, they think unethical. When you go to a mechanic and they say you need XYZ replaced, and you really don't. I mean, that happen ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL the time. Are they not sales people there?


  • Service Provider

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Because when most people think of sales, they think unethical.

    But... WHY? Most people think of unethical with business people, IT folks, doctors, lawyers, etc. Do we talk about them in the same way?


  • Service Provider

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    When you go to a mechanic and they say you need XYZ replaced, and you really don't. I mean, that happen ALLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLLL the time. Are they not sales people there?

    Of course they are. But the issue is that they are liars, not sales people. Your five year old tells you that they didn't break the TV when you saw them hit it with a hammer. By the implication above, instead of calling them a liar, you'd call them a salesperson?



  • For me, the confusion comes where there is someone like me. If I am doing side work, I don't care about making the sales ... I am looking to help my client. Do I make money? Sure. But I'd prefer to make the money 100% honest than make it like every other thread on SW where the customer gets taken advantage of.



  • @scottalanmiller said in The Motivations of Sales:

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Because when most people think of sales, they think unethical.

    But... WHY? Most people think of unethical with business people, IT folks, doctors, lawyers, etc. Do we talk about them in the same way?

    No because no one other than you (with the exception of lawyers who everyone hates) thinks any of those other groups are unethical.


  • Service Provider

    Do you see the difference? People in all walks of life lie. All kinds of people are unethical. Doctors, lawyers, teachers, mechanics, politicians, salesman. But people in all those professions are honest and ethical, too. Associating a generic career or job function with honesty makes no sense. Life doesn't work that way.

    By that logic, we would be forced to say we are all unethical scum because so many IT people are exactly that.


  • Service Provider

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    @scottalanmiller said in The Motivations of Sales:

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Because when most people think of sales, they think unethical.

    But... WHY? Most people think of unethical with business people, IT folks, doctors, lawyers, etc. Do we talk about them in the same way?

    No because no one other than you (with the exception of lawyers who everyone hates) thinks any of those other groups are unethical.

    That's not true, and you know it. People randomly distrust all of those people all of the time. And loads of people don't just trust salespeople, many swear by how much they trust them. So your logic doesn't hold. Because in the real world, many of those groups, especially business people, take more general distrust than sales people.

    Again using "trust" here makes no sense, it's a bad concept because it doesn't mean what you think. And trusting or distrusting people in a profession makes no sense. You need to trust or distrust individuals, not careers.



  • @scottalanmiller said in The Motivations of Sales:

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    @scottalanmiller said in The Motivations of Sales:

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    Because when most people think of sales, they think unethical.

    But... WHY? Most people think of unethical with business people, IT folks, doctors, lawyers, etc. Do we talk about them in the same way?

    No because no one other than you (with the exception of lawyers who everyone hates) thinks any of those other groups are unethical.

    That's not true, and you know it. People randomly distrust all of those people all of the time. And loads of people don't just trust salespeople, many swear by how much they trust them. So your logic doesn't hold. Because in the real world, many of those groups, especially business people, take more general distrust than sales people.

    Again using "trust" here makes no sense, it's a bad concept because it doesn't mean what you think. And trusting or distrusting people in a profession makes no sense. You need to trust or distrust individuals, not careers.

    People trust doctors. YOU don't (and that can be forked to a separate thread) but many do. I know many people who have had their lives saved. They trust.


  • Service Provider

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    People trust doctors. YOU don't (and that can be forked to a separate thread) but many do.

    And many don't. Exactly like salespeople, hence the point. If you think they are different, that's the issue. YOU are seeing one as a unique untrusted entity instead of as normal people. OR you are seeing the other as trustworthy in a completely irrational way.

    You don't "trust" or "distrust" any profession. If you do, that's the problem. That's illogical and means you have an issue to deal with. Sure, some professions attract people under less than ethical circumstances and some professions might require doing some things that can be seen as unethical to be allowed to do them. You can make arguments for those professions not being trustworthy because of those shared factors. Sales is not one of those, everyone is a sales person sometime, everyone. So replace ALL of your thoughts of "salespeople" and "trust" with "humanity." Does it still make sense?


  • Service Provider

    @BRRABill said in The Motivations of Sales:

    I know many people who have had their lives saved. They trust.

    I know lots of people sold a SAN that they think saves their business and they trust sales people. That people make bad logically correlations isn't in question.



  • Getting back to Bill's question.

    You are hired to maintain a server.
    You don't have authority to replace hardware.
    You see a drive fail. What do you do?

    In a private conversation, someone said they simply inform the customer. If the customer says nothing more you just walk away.

    If the customer asks you to handle it - are you now a salesperson? Or are you still a consultant?

    Let's move this up a scale... while doing maintenance on the server, part of your contract is to watch performance logs and report when the reaches thresholds that make it appear it's time to upgrade. Assuming they ask you to bring them options...
    So are you now sales or are you a hired consultant?
    As I'm writing this I'm thinking that we need to have that conversation--- are you hiring me to find the solution for you? My rate is x, etc
    But maybe I'm wrong.


  • Service Provider

    @Dashrender said in The Motivations of Sales:

    If the customer asks you to handle it - are you now a salesperson? Or are you still a consultant?

    You are both, of course.


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