“I Like You… If You Buy From Me.” Why We Hate Sales People, Network Marketers, and Other Hustle Artists

Living in New York City, you get lots of experiences. And you meet all kinds of characters, the good, the bad and the ugly. One classic character, of course, is the dreaded sales person.

It’s one thing to be approached by a salesperson in a store you’ve walked into of your own volition. But from time to time you will also get solicited on the street. Or unexpectedly in a cafe, or at a party.

It’s usually not a welcome experience, to say the least.

Why does sales have such a bad reputation? Because what should be a noble profession focused on connecting people with quality products, has been bastardized by generations of fake smiles and forced laughs.

Even small business people, whose entire existence depends on sales, often assume “selling” is something dishonest and deceptive. This is because we’ve all experienced the dishonest and fake sales process at some point.

And unfortunately this tradition of fakery is alive and well.

Where exactly does this dishonesty come from?

In a word: Desperation.

You can just sense when that “friendly” person chatting with you has an ulterior motive.

We have a sixth sense for this kind of thing. It’s an evolutionary adaptation to avoid being hurt.

(It’s overactive in some people–paranoia–and under-active in others–naivete.)

When a person is desperate, they naturally want to hide it. They want to perform as though they are totally cool, relaxed and confident.

But our sixth sense says it’s not true. They may seem confident/ friendly at first, but they are not. It’s an act.

And the worse the act, the more uncomfortable and skeptical we feel.

A good example came to me recently.

I was looking for a Christmas gift for a client in a bookstore.

Two young guys came up and started chatting about the book I was looking at. It felt pretty random and disingenuous from the start (i.e. my sixth sense, born of common sense and years of experience).

I’ve been approached by similar guys working for what I assume is the same network marketing scheme.

Of course it wasn’t long before they started telling me about their “opportunity.” I just listened politely (more like half-listened actually, since I’ve heard their pitch before). And then declined.

(How ironic that while I was looking for a gift for my client, purely as a bond-building gesture, I was reminded of the not-so-giving nature of some other vendors.)

Now, to be clear: these were good guys, trying to do something productive. But because of their crappy technique, poorly executed on so many levels, they are going to have a very hard time making any money. I’d predict they are both out of that company in a matter of weeks.

Network marketers in particular are notorious for the inauthentic sale. Why? Again, desperation.

Network marketers or multi-level marketers (MLM) are usually average folks who were recruited into their company by a “friend” or acquaintance. They typically receive almost zero professional sales training outside of vague inspirational platitudes from people higher up in the food chain.

They are nervous. Uncertain. And they, like the rest of us, associate “sales” with taking value, instead of giving value.

This creates that desperate energy of “I hope he buys… I hope he buys…” lurking beneath their forced smile and chitchat.

When it was clear I wasn’t buying what these two guys were selling in the bookstore, they looked like they got punched in the gut. So much for that friendly chitchat.

(There’s lots of other problems with MLM schemes, but that’s another topic entirely.)

Needless to say, to a struggling salesperson who is under the gun to meet a quota or get a commission so he can keep his lights on, desperation will always be lurking.

The prospect will sense it, and it will repel her like a bad odor.

The mistake of desperation and fakeness is not just reserved for sales people.

It is made by lots of people who are trying to get stuff from us. Charity workers looking for donations. Horny people looking for sex. Missionaries looking for converts.

Take a Christian missionary who approached me on a beautiful summer day in a public square. She played nice at first. Warm, genuine smile. She asked if I was a believer in her religion. I said no. Suddenly her face twisted into a look of grave concern. “Why not?!” she gasped. (A silly reaction in such a diverse city, but probably an act.)

Seconds later her shock had turned to outrage. She began her spiel about the Bible and whatnot (which I have heard a million times).

I just smiled, said have a nice day, and walked away.

From friendly to castigating in under 60 seconds–at least she’s efficient!

In spite of everything, I actually don’t mind being approached by sales people at all. If I did, I’d be living in the wrong place.

I’ve done it myself many times (to varying degrees of effectiveness), so I understand the “hustle.” As long as everyone is polite and respectful, there is nothing wrong with it.

It’s just unfortunate that these poorly-trained salespeople continue to give selling a bad name by making people uncomfortable.

The less comfortable customers are, and the more skeptical they are, the harder it is for them to part with their money.

Not only does that cut down on revenue for businesses, but it also means customers don’t get quality products and services, and don’t get their problems solved.

At least it opens opportunities for those of us who really do care about our clients, who are not desperate, and who want to build good relationships rooted in real value for all parties.

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