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The Salesman is Dead—Long Live the Coach!

By David Skibbins, CPCC, MCC, CTI Faculty member

Why should Co-Active coaches make the country’s best salespeople? That riddle can be solved, but first you need to understand the transformational shift in the economy of the United States from a manufacturing giant into a service economy. In 1960, 62% of workers were employed in service industries. In 2010, that number skyrocketed to 86%. Factory workers, farm hands, construction workers, folks doing hard labor, all of them only accounted for 14% of the work force. Today, America serves.

This dramatic shift has left sales training programs far behind. In the last century there hasn’t been much progress in understanding what effective selling entails. Not much has changed from the door-to-door salesmen singing, “You gotta’ know the territory!” in Meredith Wilson’s musical Music Man (about a charming, sleazy salesman in the early 1900’s).

Traditional Sales…
We all carry negative images of salespeople in our minds: they know the territory, they are pushy, arrogant, manipulative, and have a false-friendly mask on while they are trying to weasel money from us. Image is everything and creating the appearance of friendship is at the heart of this game. As Willie Loman said in Arthur Miller’s Death of a Salesman, “The man who makes an appearance in the business world, the man who creates personal interest, is the man who gets ahead. Be liked and you will never want.”

The pejorative stereotypes we carry around are formed from real-life interactions with men and women who have competitively played the sales game, often at our expense. They were all trying to sell us something. Some thing. And that is the clue we need to solve that riddle I posed at the beginning of this post.

It’s all about things. Almost all sales training is hard focused on selling a thing: a computer, a car, a dress or a smartphone. And they use every trick in the book to convince you to buy this thing. I worked intimately with one of the world’s top sales trainers. He trains salespeople worldwide to use curiosity, interviewing skills, listening and relationship-building techniques to sell stuff. All those coach-like skills are harnessed to create the overwhelmingly persuasive sales pitch, couched in the client’s own language and heavily larded with the clients’ own stories. It is a highly effective way to sell things.

But things don’t matter as much as they used to. In a service economy the focus begins to shift from the product to the needs of the customer. The way “modern” sales programs try to adjust to this change is to find new ways to manipulate the customer into believing that your thing will meet their need.

…Versus Co-Active Sales
Manipulating is not serving. As our country shifts into a true service economy we need to reflect on what it means to serve. It is defined as being a servant to; as providing goods and services to; to be of assistance to; to provide aid to. There is a generosity of spirit in service that is completely missing in most sales training programs. They teach, “The customer is always right, as long as you make your sales quota.”

So why should Co-Active coaches make the country’s best salespeople? The answer is because we are not hard-focused on getting our agenda satisfied. We are trained to truly serve, wanting only the best for the client as the client defines it. In a service economy we are the preeminent servers, loaded with skills that empower those we serve.

In designing the Marketing class for the Co-Active Entrepreneur Program, we directly took on the manipulative approach so common in Sales Training these days. A Co-Active coach (at every phase of the sales cycle) only wants the best for the client. Therefore, getting any one particular sale is no longer the central focus. We know that serving and empowering people pays off in referrals and in goodwill. So sometimes we serve by sending the prospective client to someone else, and always we seek to understand and meet the needs of the person we are talking to, rather than shoehorning them into buying our services or conning them into anything.

Editor’s Note: Co-Active Marketing, along with its partner course Co-Active Sales, is part of a new virtual Co-Active Entrepreneur training program offered by CTI. You can participate from anywhere in the world. The next Marketing course begins April 26, 2013, followed by the next Sales course starting on June 12, 2013.


  • Sandra Moore

    Great post! Having no previous sales experience, I just accepted a small part-time position with Niche Magazine selling ad space. I'm birthing my coaching practice and the position will not only provide additional income, it will provide opportunities. This post allowed me to see the strong asset that I DO HAVE coming into this position - an asset that I didn't recognize as having much value in sales. Totally changed my perspective! Thank you!!

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