Is Selling Evil?

UPDATED: June 12, 2012
PUBLISHED: June 12, 2012

Mention “selling” to some people, and it automatically conjures up a guy in a cheap suit trying to pressure them into buying something they clearly don’t want. Selling is greedy… selling is corrupt… selling is manipulative, these people think.

As entrepreneurs, business owners, salespeople and/or marketers, we face this stereotype daily. Sometimes our audience is so ingrained to think selling is bad that they’ve already said “no” before we get a chance to sell them on anything.

Why Does Selling Get a Bad Rap?

My favorite definition of selling comes from a very successful, brilliant friend of mine, Dan Sullivan. (See Sullivan’s recent Modern Marketing column at I love the way he defines it: “Selling is getting someone intellectually engaged in a future result that is good for them and getting them to emotionally commit to take action to achieve that result.”

With that definition in mind, look back at the past 100 years. How many breakthroughs would have been made without selling?

Martin Luther King Jr. got people intellectually engaged in a future result that got people to commit to take action. So did Mother Teresa and JFK. So did Henry Ford and Steve Jobs.

But then again, so did Hitler.

Hitler got people intellectually and emotionally engaged in a future result that murdered people.

Yes, that was inarguably evil, but does that make selling evil? On a much lighter note, what about the nightmare of a salesperson with his foot planted in your doorway, pouring on the pressure and not taking “no” for an answer? Does that make selling evil?

Selling took place on all accounts. The only variable in these equations was whether the person doing the selling offered a future result that was good for all the parties who were involved.

Let’s look at this, because it’s profound. Sullivan’s definition of selling, again, is “getting someone intellectually engaged in a future result that is good for them.”

Remove the words “good for them” from that definition of selling, and what do you have? A parameter that allows the abuse of salesmanship.

But put the “good for them” back into that definition, and suddenly selling becomes something beneficial. Selling is helpful. Selling is progressive. Selling is helping to create a better future.

The Oxygen of Our Economy

Think about this: Just because the air outside sometimes gets polluted with allergens and makes people sneeze, should people give up on breathing? Is the logical conclusion that suddenly oxygen is evil?


Yet, when someone says, “Selling is evil,” it makes about as much sense as saying, “Oxygen is evil.”

You can’t survive without oxygen; likewise, no business can survive without selling. No free economy can survive without sales. Selling is the “oxygen” that infuses life into it all.

Are there people who contaminate good salesmanship with sleazy tactics? Yes. Are there people who use selling, or the “engagement” of others, for selfish purposes? Yes. Are there people out there using manipulation to rip off people? Yes.

But should those “pollutants” have the right to mar the whole reputation of selling? No way.

Changing Perceptions

So what is the problem with selling? It’s the association many people have with it. “I went to a car lot, and some slick guy talked me into something I didn’t want.”

That means your job as a “salesperson” is to change these associations, alter these perceptions. Because perception is reality.

How do you do this?

Through your sales and marketing, of course.

When you approach your market to sell, remember: People love to be sold, but they hate to be pressured. So out with the hype, arm-twisting and high pressure, and in with the proven formula that turns “selling” into a great experience for all parties involved and provides:

1. Education.

2. Benefits.

3. Value.

How do you feel when you are in an environment where someone is educating you and offering you something you really want? You don’t even perceive it as being sold; it’s enjoyable… even fun.

This is the selling environment you need to create to be successful in a skeptical, cynical marketplace.

The Power of Education

Good salespeople have always used education to gain trust and build rapport with their market.

Be it cars, electronics, plumbing or carpet cleaning… a crackerjack salesperson knows that educating prospects on the ins and outs of products and services is the quickest path to a sale.

Is there a course in college on how your DVD player works? Or how your washing machine operates? Or the construction and care of your sofa? No. That’s an education you get from excellent salespeople.

Through the proven means of direct mail, the Internet, and the power of video and print, today you have the chance to be an education-based salesperson to your market… even while you sleep.

Here is the secret to being super-successful at marketing and dispelling the “evils” of selling: Build rapport, educate, help, teach and give your prospects something of value before you ever even ask for a sale. Follow this recipe, and your prospects will actually enjoy the process of being sold.

Good vs. Evil?

Imagine that a prospect just came across an ad that screams “hype.” It’s got the usual muddle of pictures and the “we are the best because blah, blah, blah… ” copy in it. What does he or she do? Although this ad is not exactly evil, it doesn’t provide anything that is good for the prospect, either. So it probably gets tossed aside. Another stinker of an ad, another selling stereotype perpetuated.

Now imagine if it had gone this way: Prospects come across an ad that catches their attention because it “speaks” about benefits to them. It simply gives them all the information they need to make a good buying decision and even offers them a free, no-pressure, no-obligation sample so they can test out the product/service/relationship. Prospects perceive this experience to be good for them. The client enjoys being “sold.”

The same principles can apply in face-to-face selling, too. A salesperson who approaches with genuine interest and questions, offers valuable information, and creates a good rapport provides a much better experience than the one who swoops in with the classic high-pressure lines and hard closes.

Always aim for that future result to be a good one but also keep the process of reaching that result (i.e., your sales and marketing) in the best interest of your prospect, and you will never, ever be identified with the evils of selling.

And to the naysayers who are anti-sales, I ask: What would this world look like if someone didn’t sell and market? Where would the jobs be with no selling? Where would the entrepreneurs be? Where would the small businesses be? We would live in a dictatorship or communism. That’s not the world I want to live in.

The irony is that the people who talk trash about selling and marketing are selling their ideas to you. But the real paradox is that they don’t realize that everything that exists in the world (that they benefit from)—from light bulbs to chairs to cars to music to the food we eat—exists because of selling.

Selling is the oxygen of our economy. Salespeople are the saviors of commerce. And selling… or getting people to engage in a future result that is good for them… is the path to progress.

In this video provided by marketing firm Piranha Marketing, Joe Polish continues the discussion whether selling is evil.