Matthew Ferrara, Philosopher

You’re a Sales Person. Embrace It!

Abraham Lincoln said, Whatever you are, be a great one. It’s an important lesson for salespeople who want to be called anything but. Here’s why.

Of all the people I’ve met and taught in the last twenty years, the most common characteristic amongst them was a clear understanding of exactly who they were. What their job was every day. What it meant to sell. While most had written business plans, with clearly articulated their goals, the overriding trait was a clear vision of their role as a salesperson in their industry.

No great salesperson I’ve met has tried to be something else.

Which is why it amazes me to hear so many salespeople try to be pseudo-attorneys, proto-financial advisors and neo-consultants. They twist themselves in knots attempting to be known by nebulous names: Advisor. Consultant. Solution provider. They go wide-eyed with shock when it’s assumed they sell their products and services to customers. NO! they scream, I provide service! I don’t sell!

Time to see a psychologist.

Why do most people in sales positions fear being called a salesperson? They have tragically misunderstood their career choice. They themselves see salespeople in terms of popular caricatures: Slick, slimy, sneaky. They deride sales as trying to “convince people to buy things they don’t want” or “trick them” into making a purchase. They protest that they couldn’t possibly deliver great service to their clients if they were selling all the time.

What a shame.

Because great salespeople never act in these ways. For a few reasons: First, great salespeople know that no customer – anywhere, any time – is ever going to buy something they neither want or need. Customers simply aren’t that dumb. It shows little understanding to think they could be, too. Especially when salespeople themselves are often other people’s customers: Are they so gullible? Of course not.

Salespeople are not con-men. No salesperson acts like a mugger unless they have a gun. Most customers voluntarily take out their wallets or walk away. You can’t even try to talk someone into buying something these days: They invented the Do Not Call List for that very reason. And Yelp and TripAdvisor and Twitter and Consumer Reports.

Great sales is not a trick.

Great salespeople understand that selling means fulfilling people’s wants and needs. When they sell their product or service, they do so with full, ethical confidence that their offering is the best choice to fill the customer’s needs. Why? It’s totally self centered: All salespeople live and die by referrals. No customer who feels they were tricked will refer them to their friends or family.

Selling, by its very nature, must involve mutual benefit.

Third, salespeople are just like the rest of us. They aren’t out to harm others. Just as we don’t expect the coffee barrista to spit in our coffee, or the pharmacist to put poison in our prescriptions, the idea that salespeople, by definition, are something bad for society is tragic. Some of our greatest contributors and leaders have been natural salespeople. President Roosevelt or Reagan were salespeople who sold their vision of the future and were elected and re-elected with landslide support. Donald Trump and Jack Welch and Steve Jobs and other captains of industry constantly sell their products to lined up and loyal customers; it’s the salespeople that make it possible to employ millions, create shareholder value and build globe-spanning companies. Musicians need people to sell their music to fans. Artists survive on the sales of their pieces. And yes, even the insurance company your sister works for sells its policies to help your friends have financial security.

Would we call any of these people anything else? No. They are sales people.

They aren’t advisors or consultants or anything but people who believe in their offerings, and seek to help clients achieve their goals. Do they wear sunglasses or slick their hair back (maybe Trump should?) and say smarmy things like a line from Fargo? No; They listen and probe and demonstrate how their products fulfill a customer’s needs. Do they close hard – trying to somehow trick the customer – or simply ask for the sale, when it’s abundantly clear that there’s a match and a mutual agreement on value?

They deliver value; but they sell their products and services. 

If you want to improve your sales outcomes, start with the most important step. Look in the mirror and say to yourself. I’m a salesperson, and I believe what I do is good. No amount of techniques or technology will help someone who doesn’t believe in what they do. No amount of marketing will support someone who can’t support themselves during a prospecting call. How will you sit across from someone and not sell your services and still expect to fulfill their needs? Or earn your living? Worse, if you represent a client who expect you to sell their goods – like a stock broker or real estate agent – how do you expect them to hire you if you keep telling them you’re a salesperson who doesn’t sell?!

If their house will sell itself  to the right person, they would be right choosing not to pay for you.

Abraham Lincoln tried many careers: he was a lawyer, storekeeper, log splitter, postmaster and surveyor. He eventually became President. We know he encouraged us to be the best at whoever we are, whatever we do. He also said something even more important.

A house divided against itself cannot stand. 

Listen to Honest Abe. Be honest with yourself. You’re a salesperson. If you can’t believe it, embrace it, be the best at it, neither will customers.


  • I love the positive reinforcement and it will probably fall on deaf ears (or blind eyes). 

    Sales, per se, is derided by both consumers and practitioners. The media continuously bombards us with reports on the numerous scams and flim flams perpetrated by “salesmen”. 

    Even on the training side with all the “scripts and dialogs” (Yeah, I know. They work.) and the constant chess game of persuasion, it really seems like sales is more of a Kabuki dance than a true “discussion” or “consultation” about a consumer’s needs, goals and aspirations.

    I, personally, try to avoid labels. I have Associate Broker and Realtor on my business cards and marketing material. I’ll let the consumer decide whether or not that means “salesman” or something else.

    I know we “sell” our service – time and expertise – to our own clients, other agents, appraisers, lenders, home inspectors, etc. in order to get to the pay day. It’s just that the term itself has so much baggage.

  • Ken

    Thanks for your comments. I agree; we don’t have to put “salesman” on our business cards. But we have to be SURE that we are one. I’ve always wondered why anybody would get into a business if they thought it was a Kabuki dance – great metaphor! I prefer to think of the power we’d get every morning in our careers when we wake up and say, Today, I’m going to sell my services to some people, sell my listings to other, and sell the public on the importance of my products and services! That’s a lot different than, I’ll consult with some people and deliver them some service. ZZZZ…. :>
    Thanks for stopping by!
    – MF

  • I don’t think agents are avoiding the term “salesperson” because they think it will show them as “slick, slimy, or sleazy.” They just feel that the term does not adequately reflect what they do. 

    For example, when we represent buyers and use the term “Salesperson” I think that is misleading to an already fragile buyer psyche that we are there to SELL them on houses they may not necessarily want.  I know, my actions will dictate differently. But why put myself at that disadvantage in confusing my new clients? I want them to trust that I am not there to SELL them on anything, just answer any questions they have with my expertise and eventually facilitate the transaction.

  • Joe:
    I hear what you’re saying, but I’m not so sure. Most of the agents I hear are the ones who are worried, not the public. I totally expect the person at the car dealer, travel shop and clothes store to be a salesperson – AND to help me by listening and finding the right car, vacation and clothes I’d like to buy. So, I’m really not so convinced it’s the public that is so afraid of this term…
    Sure, we answer questions and facilitate the transaction. But when you get up each day to pursue your career, are you excited to answer and facilitate or to SELL? I’m going with the latter, from what I’ve learned from salespeople who grow their careers and help the most people of any other salesperson in their marketplaces…
    Thanks for stopping by!
    – MF

  • Michelle Spalding


    I was just listening to a Napoleon Hill CD “Selling You” and he says if you don’t sell yourself, you won’t sell your product/service. 

    You’ve hit the nail on the head, witn” If you can’t believe it, embrace it, be the best at it, neither will customers.”


  • Thanks, Michelle:
    The road to success starts in our heads!

    – MF

  • Dirk Zeller

    Matt, we have over corrected in the industry. I agree with your article and have said similar for years. The anti-salesperson undercurrent is more pronounced that I have seen it in more than 20 years. People wonder why they are struggling to make a living or much more in the industry. It is the industry wide aversion to being “salespeople” and lack of sales skills. You could have been a ham sandwich in the go go years and made sales.
    I am not advocating a return to the verbal judo techniques of the 70’s, but good selling is as you mentioned in your post. It is solid questioning technique to understand the needs, wants and expectations of the client. The ability matching your service, value and benefits to service that client well. Advocating that position and belief that your SVB are higher, better or more complete than the competition with out denegrating the competition. That your SVB is exactly what the client needs. Asking them to take action now.
    Consumers in this market are fearful of action. Showing them more properties, more options or broader variety of services in most cases will not lower or remove that fear. They need the calm, organized, approach of a strategic salesperson to feel more at ease about taking action. In the exact moment of the “selling” they might feel slightly more pressure but that will shortly be relieved when they have made the right decision for them.
    Great Selling is defined by the ability to get someone to take action on something that is beneficial to them ( the prospect or client) or get them to take that action quicker. That is what we are missing….badly.

  • Dirk:

    Love this: “You could have been a ham sandwich in the go-go years!” just great!
    You’re absolutely correct: Part of our bad impression about sales is that few people have actually taken FORMAL sales courses where they could build a GOOD impression of what it means – and themselves. I continuously am shocked at how many companies are simply not teaching sales skills to their agents; or doing so half-heartedly through apprenticeship programs (with good agents who have NO no teaching skills) or classes that cost less than a donut. You get the idea.
    Great sales courses cost money; Integrity Selling cost $1500/per person and takes 8 weeks, but when we’re done with those students, they emerge as energized, confident and producing salespeople. In an era where most agents spend less then $500 annually on their education, you have to wonder if they really don’t like themselves – no matter what they call themselves.
    Thanks for your comment!

  • TedLeeSadler

    Excellent points – if one can’t accept their own chosen role, perhaps a change is in order…regardless, the reminders from Wisdom (via Mr Lincoln) are the best advice on how life works best – work with Excellence and keep belief and action united.

  • Thanks, Ted, for your comments.
    I agree: uniting your actions with your beliefs is a powerful combination.
    Be well,
    – MF

  • Matt, great post which just happens to address one of my biggest pet peeves about real estate agents.  So many agents try to disguise the fact that they are sales people – their business cards say things like “Marketing Consultant” (when in fact a quick look at their site or their promotional materials betrays the fact that they don’t understand the difference between marketing and advertising) because they think it somehow fools consumers.  I am proud to be in real estate sales, as we should all be.

  • David Wyrsch Jr

    Saw this coming after the discussion on the Raise the Bar FB page on Sat.  Very good piece Matthew!  I think what most agents are missing is that yes, we are sales people, but the role of the Real Estate sales person has shifted, as well as the product we are selling.  We are now selling ourselves and our services, expertise and knowledge.  We are no longer the keepers of the information, the information is out there for all to see. What we must sell is how we are different from the agent down the road.  Just because our role has changed to an advisor, consultant, etc, doesn’t mean that we have changed what we are…salespeople.  

  • Thanks, Chris! It’s a peeve for me, too, especially the “Marketing Consultant” term because truth be told, not many have even taken a marketing “course” let alone the level of training you’d get from a marketing/PR firm….

  • Thanks, David:
    You’re right – I felt it was necessary to really focus on what great sales “should” represent. And that selling IS good, noble, ethical. I think we often do ourselves the greatest disservice by dissing sales when that’s really what we do!
    – MF

  • Steve Hammond

    I think salling is about solving problems.  Some salespeople approach it from the
    customer/client perspective others form their own.  That choice will determine how you feel about

  • Matthew – Bravo! I know I am extremely proud to be a salesman. My grandfather was a shoe salesman for Clark & Florsheim and I luckily got to spend one part of my summer traveling across the state of Florida with him. I pulled his samples in and out of the car and sat quietly off to the side of the small independently owned shoe store or the shoe department of the large department stores and watched him “do his thing.” That’s probably where I subconsciously picked up my current philosophy of “building relationships, solving problems and having fun.” My “Pop” was a master at the relationship and it always amazed me before we would walk in the store how he would tell me about the client, his or her family, the other co-workers and anything else that would help him better serve the client but most importantly…make the sale. And the clients all lit up with excitement to see Mr. Carpenter entering as well. They not only trusted his product but his knowledge, skills and service as well. 

    Now that I am no longer an active Realtor (as you know I am teaching and overseeing our Agent Development programs) and oftentimes my associates and audiences will ask me if I miss “selling.” I tell them I miss it a lot – spending time with Buyers and Sellers and co-ops and vendors and all the things ilvoved with a sale – but I really still get to sell every day. I sell people on the business, the company, the concepts, the activities, the products they should/can use and how to be proud to be salespeople.

    As a parent we all get to “sell” our children on the books they read, the activities they participate in and the friends they choose. As my good friend Bryan Dodge always said, “If you’re not selling them, you can rest assured that someone else is.”

    As I type this comment out I just realized that back when I was 12 years old helping my “Pop” that summer that I never had aspirations of growing up to be a “salesman” like my grandfather and I certainly never had dreams or beliefs that I would become a teacher like my father (who taught Landscape Architecture at The Ohio State University for 29 years up until the day he passed away at age 61).

    As it turns out, I couldn’t be prouder to be following in both of their footsteps.   

  • Sean:

    Awesome comment! Many of us had great influences in our lives that were salespeople. My grandfather was a salesman for Caldor and other retails stores his whole life; his stories of helping customers helped me see that being in sales was more important than even being in service!
    Thanks for the comment.

  • It’s a strong and highly relevant message Matthew. Sales is a profession to be proud of, and when we’re proud of our work, we serve our customers in ways that win / win