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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.