Why is “Sell” Such a Bad Word?

Why is “Sell” Such a Bad Word?

Reader Comments (29)

  1. I know, isn’t it a hoot that all of us who are “merching” have to keep it under wraps like it is something dirty or low? Just today on my blog I was promoting the idea of shopping through your friend’s sites to send some revenue their way, and in turn they might do the same for you. So, with no regard or concern for the snooty bloggers, I will continue to “sell”, merchandise, promote, and otherwise advertise little ol’ me.

  2. How about “evangelize”? On second thought, that’s probably the only thing worse than “sell.”

    Can you imagine “viral evangelism”? It makes me cringe.

  3. I have come to the conclusion that “sales” and “service” are really the same thing.
    For instance, Think about your auto mechanic changing the oil in your vehicle. They can be polite, efficient and reasonably priced and it can feel like good service. But if the mechanic doesn’t go above and beyond what you asked them to do – if they don’t catch that brewing problem that could potentially leave you stranded by the side of the road some day, they can’t really call it good service. It will only be good service to you if nothing goes wrong with your car. If something does go wrong guess who you will blame?

    In this instance, and most others, good “service” will result in good “sales”.
    Just my couple of pennies!

  4. People need to lighten up when it comes to words derived from “sell.” IMHO, “sell” has a negative connotation because so many people have been cheated, or feel they’ve been cheated, out of deals. But the vast majority of sales people are professionals and they deserve a better rap than that. People forget that every profession has people who cheat their customers. Doctors, accountants, non profit executives, lawyers, etc.

    Don’t be ashamed to use the word “sell.” If, for no other reason, it’s only four keystrokes, one syllable, and doesn’t have to be defined. (As compared to “value proposition” when used to mean “benefit.”)



  5. I think that most people don’t realise that we all “sell” in some form or another. Perhaps not for cash,but cetainly for some benefit that we want. We sell ourselves when we want a job. We try to sell our ideas to others. We use persuasion to get what we want. This is all an element of selling.

  6. James, very funny. 🙂

    Matt… you’re getting warm… very warm… actually hot!

    What a shocker… I didn’t need to think about it over the weekend after all. 🙂

  7. I don’t sell, I create wants.

    Then they sell themselves.

    I just try to suspend their disbelief long enough for them to get what they want.

    I hope to finish my ebook by the end of the month, which happens to be about this very topic.

    PS – If this doesn’t work, then I sell !

  8. I see this reaction all the time…

    I’m currently working with a firm with a very high-end product with a long close time. All the marketing does is identify and warm-up leads for the sales teams. I’ve seen an inordinate amount of hemming and hawing like, “Oh, do we have to push the benefit so strongly?” Can’t we just write this thing without any exclamation points? And my favorite, “Customers are saying the product doesn’t live up to the marketing ‘hype’! (The hype was written pre-me.)

    I also worked with a well-known children’s association helping them market their publications. The place was crawling with social workers :=) … “Oh, Roberta, why do we have to sell this material at all. SW’s don’t make a lot of money. Can’t we just give the books away?”

    And trust me, this guy wasn’t kidding.

    I never sell anything. I solve problems with the right products/services to the folks who need ’em, want ’em, gotta have ’em.

  9. Good question Brian. Maybe it’s because when someone mentions the word “sell” we conjur up this image of a used car dealer wearing a cheap suit and a cheaper grin trying to flog us a bomb that won’t make it to the first set of lights out of the driveway. Or even worse, a friend with “an amazing new business idea” rocking up to our door with a whiteboard and bag full of household cleaning products under their arm.

    The thing is, we spend most our lives selling without even realising it. When we brag to our friends about the wave we caught, the shot we played at golf, or the hottie that was checking us out in the supermarket line, that’s selling ourselves (even if truth be known, the hottie was looking at the person behind us). In fact, when we make dinner for our other half, then dim the lights and put on the bootycall music, we’re not doing anything different to the car salesman…they just can’t see our equally lecherous grin in the low light. Saying that, after seeing some of those car dealer suits, it would have to be a pretty good meal.

  10. I think lots of people dislike the word “sales” because it suggests persuasion–if I try to persuade you to do something or buy something, then I’m being manipulative. Seems to me, if you offer something of value, you’re providing a valuable service by trying to sell it. If you’re peddling snake oil, you’re doing a disservice, no matter what you call it.

  11. I am proud to sell things for my clients in exchange for money. I alway do it in an honorable way (I watch for hyperbole and would never knowingly work for a scam brand). I always strive to do it in an artful way (selling doesn’t be ugly, high-pressure or crass). I’ve never felt bad about it because I don’t believe I am smarter than my audience. I figure if I ever give them b.s. they’ll know it. So, I never do, and they choose to buy my wares or they don’t. In the meantime, I sleep just fine.

  12. Its strange isn’t it.

    Most people have an adverse reaction to “salesman”. The most popular negative example that most people bring to mind is the used car salesman.

    Yet “selling” is a foundational part of American culture. From tobacco, to Nike from Ben and Jerrys to organic farm produce. Its all about selling.

    The trick is to sell something worthwheil, feel good about it and do it ethically….

  13. No one says “sell” but everyone seems to know when you’re doing it (wrong that is).

    The key is to sell by not selling. You must GIVE to get—give information, educate, provide a great service and people will ask if they can buy some.

    As always Brian, good food for thought.

    PS Online sales may be different than brick/mortar because the origins of the net were educational and communal sharing, not commerce. Even self-promotion is a knee-jerk no-no.

  14. Sell implies an unequal exchange. Sell implies that the consumer is trading money for something that is of higher value than the money. If the values were equal, there would be no need to sell.

    The word you’re looking for is share. You are sharing information about something of equal value to the money that the consumer wants, but doesn’t know about, or doesn’t know enough about.

    The consumer no longer wants to be pandered to or tricked. The consumer no longer wants to be the end node in a pyramid scheme to get his money. The consumer wants to be part of a dynamic process, trading value for value, service for service, good for good.

    Marketers must learn that they are no longer selling. They are sharing information.


  15. Firstly, thanks for your post; it’s right on the money. Imagine the word “selling” was a brand and you were the brand manager. You’d want to re-position it in the customers mind, wouldn’t you?

    The problem is that you can’t(as Jack Trout and other positioning guru’s will tell you)because it has been, and is being tainted by people with poor sales ethics. It is what it is now. No going back.

    (Hence all these people with titles like “Business Development Manager”, “Customer Liaison Manager”, Account Manager” and so forth…)

    Spare a thought for the work “Marketing”. Imagine you were the brand manager responsible for that…

    Apart from the fact that consumers see it as manipulation, business often see it as an un-scientific financial black hole you poor money into for questionable results.

    But it gets worse. At least everyone knows what “selling” is. Ask three people what marketing is and see what answers you get. Go on. Try it. (I wrote a post about that recently for those that are interested. http://www.mokummarketing.com/blog/?p=63

  16. “For a group espousing authenticity and transparency, these people spend a lot of time trying to cover up what they do for a living”.

    Well said. I often find that when people say they’re not selling, they’re actually using a manipulative sales strategy.

    At day’s end, we’re all in the business of spreading and selling–be it our products, services or ideas. What separates the wheat from the chaff is if we’re selling value, if we stand behind what we sell. Maybe that’s the new marketing.

    If we spend as much time creating value as we do in convincing each other we’re not selling…that might just be a healthy balance.

  17. “For a group espousing authenticity and transparency, these people spend a lot of time trying to cover up what they do for a living”.

    I like this line, too. Personally I appreciate people who don’t try to cover-up what they do with big sounding words, like salesmen who can admit “pre-owned is the same as second-hand”

    I think “Sell” is already good. Straight to the point, no BS. And if anybody tries to shoot you brutally, a little controversy is good now and then, right?

  18. I read the post but just flicked through the comment thread. So apologies if I am repeating something.

    ‘Their’ point is that you are evil if you are selling something. If you work for a company that sells (and in the process even do some of the selling) you are not evil. You are just a cog in this great big evil machine of a world.

    Entrepreneurs, by that logic, are evil. Employees (slaves) are not. The question is more about living and lifestyle. Someone who dares to do the selling himself is bound to be under pressure because he/she has grown up in a world that says selling is bad.

    Incidentally, ‘viral’ in Sanskrit means RARE. The ‘i’ is pronounced like the i in ‘sit’.

  19. I love to sell. It’s “persuasion” that bugs me. Or even (dare I say it) “coersion”.

    Really, it comes down to making sure your prospects know that you have what they want.

    I think marketers and salespeople are underestimating their customers – of course they know the difference between someone shadey and YOU. Or if that is your excuse for poor sales… well calling it something else probably won’t help you for long.

  20. Me, I say, “bang it out mates.”

    But hey, I’m in UK and yorkshire lad, with a manchester accent, that is a cross between londoner, and liverpool and I got youtube trying to figure out where I’m from.

    We sometimes say, “give it gooo.”

    By the way mate. You got a smashing blog here.

    Or, “it’s smashing mate..”

    I got some bought dvd aftereffects tuts, and I got an email saying..

    “We only bought it cause of your accent.”

    There we go. Not about product but my accent. That’s the first.

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