THE founder of IBM, Mr Thomas J Watson, said: “Nothing happens until somebody sells something.”

This is the way the world has been — a long time before cash or credit cards or million-dollar round table sales stars.

The world has been changed by the visionaries who “sold” us a better future: Steve Jobs who sold us on sleek, sexy mobile phones; Sir Richard Branson who sold us budget airfares; and Lee Kwan Yew who, half a century ago, sold the world on an independent Singapore.

Yet sales is rarely the career of first choice. Parents never say to their children: “Get good marks at school, go to university and get good marks there, too, and when you graduate, you can become a salesman!”

Some proudly wear the tag, others do so reluctantly, while a significant percentage deny out-of-hand that they are in sales. You hear phrases like: “I’ve nothing to do with sales. I’m in administration.” Or, “I don’t sell. I’m a manager”.

But everyone in business is in sales. If you talk to customers, you are part of the sales process, because how you treat them will affect their decision the next time they have the option to buy from you.

If you don’t talk to customers, you are in sales support and how well you support the front-line staff will determine the service they can offer and the sales they make.

If you are a manager and you talk to staff, then you are often trying to “sell” them new ideas, behaviours, attitudes and procedures.

Author and researcher Daniel Pink in his latest book, Selling Is Human, found that while only between 10 and 12 per cent of employees had “sales” in their title, well over half spent some time each day persuading, cajoling or otherwise selling to someone else.

Sales has a bad name because of a few, regrettable but very memorable models. The slippery, conniving flatterer or the pushy, overbearing hard-sell artist is what comes to mind for many people. Fortunately, market trends and consumer behaviour are making these models less common. 

The successful salesman in the future will be an ethical, highly skilled adviser who helps his customer to make buying decisions with confidence. And this is the type of salesman that is changing the reputation of the profession. What distinguishes the successful salesman can be summarised by three words: Consultant, Curator and Customiser.



A customer needs someone he can trust — like a consultant. A salesman needs to earn that trust with his understanding, listening skills and reliability.

Once a customer trusts you, you have the opportunity to challenge his assumptions or point out problems he was not aware of. This is the real value of a salesman in today’s environment.

He operates at the consultant level — not just the supplier level. So, customers trust him to point out things they hadn’t thought of or to correct them when they are wrong.



In today’s world of information overload, customers don’t see salesmen as the primary source of information.

This doesn’t mean that their value is compromised – it just means that their role has to change. Rather than being an information source, they are an information sorter. 

Like the curator in a museum who decides what from the collection will go on display and what will stay in the basement, the salesman helps the customer sort through the information overload — so he knows what information is important to him and what he can ignore.  As Daniel Pink says: “Customers no longer value information. What they do value is insight.”



First goods, then services, became commoditised. The only way to stop your offering being commoditised in today’s globalised world is to customise it, so your product is uniquely designed for your customer.

Or, at least, he feels that it is specially designed for him – and that’s the main point.  Just like in the early days of Dell computers when customers pre-ordered their “unique” PC by choosing what case, hard drive, graphics card and monitor they wanted. It didn’t matter that 75 per cent of customers ordered the same configuration — it felt unique to them. 

Today’s salesman doesn’t just sell the merchandise — he customises it into a package that adds value for his customer. The type of salesman described here is the antithesis of the “old” sales model. He is a true professional bringing real value to the marketplace and to his customers. Now that’s a profession you can be proud of!



Article by Kevin Ryan, managing director of Training Edge Australia and an international speaker, workshop leader and author with Training Edge International. He is a business communication expert specialising in the areas of employee and client engagement, sales, humour intelligence and presentation skills. For more information, e-mail: or visit