Sales is NOT a Battlefield

I disagree with Pat Benetar.

I’m going to just presume that you know who Pat Benetar is, but if you don’t, here’s her Wikipedia page.

Full Disclosure:  Here are several true facts (not alternative facts!) about the relationship between Pat Benetar and me:

  • There is no actual relationship between Pat Benetar and me.  We have never met, nor have we corresponded.
  • I do not have an imaginary relationship with Pat Benetar. I do not posses one single photograph of Pat Benetar, I’ve never attempted to correspond with her, and I have no idea where she lives. I wish her and Neil Geraldo all happiness.  (I’m not stalking you, Pat Benetar!)
  • I HAVE dressed as Pat Benetar for Halloween.  More than once.
  • I have performed Pat Benetar songs while playing in various cover bands. Sometimes while dressed as Pat Benetar.
  • I once won a karaoke contest by singing the very song whose premise I will argue against.

My premise: Love is not a battlefield.  Neither is sales.

A Field is Just a Field

Love is not a battlefield any more than a field is a battlefield.  It’s something we spoil by choosing to fight over it, be it physical ground in conflict, power or control in relationships…or manipulating the sales process.

Sales is a field, not a battlefield. Sales doesn’t have to be a battlefield any more than love does.  I have 21 years as both consultant coaching salespeople, and as a seller of my company’s services. Because of my specialty, and because of my propensity to ask and listen, people also come to me for relationship advice. So I’ve seen a lot.  Here’s what I see a lot of in both love and selling:  Conflicts happen naturally, but battles are created, often unnecessarily.

Why Sales Turns Into a Battle

There is no compartmentalizing work and life – you are who you are in both places.  And well before you entered the workforce, you were exposed to real-life examples of how to function in a relationship…or not.  Your family and love life gave you plenty of education in dysfunction as much as function.  When you’re learning how to be in a relationship it’s hard to figure out which is which.  I don’t know about you, but I feel like I owe all of my high school girlfriends (at least) an apology for not knowing how to be a good boyfriend. In fact, I’m still learning!

So OF COURSE you’re going to instinctively gear up for battle if you grew up around relationships that featured:

  • Win/Lose thinking:  Any conflict between interests must have a winner and a loser.
  • Zero-sum thinking:  One person’s gains must come at the expense of another
  • Struggle for Control: Vulnerability, imperfections, and acceptance are weaknesses
  • Manipulation:  Aggressive and passive-aggressive strategies are necessary to win

Raise your hand if your parents’ relationship, or your own love relationships, included these elements. Keep your hand up if you exhibit some of these tendencies in your personal relationships from time to time. Is it any wonder that buying and selling relationships also feature some of these dysfunctions? (Full disclosure:  My hand was up the whole time.  We are all broken in some way!)

Are You Gearing up for a Battle?

And wouldn’t you know it, a lot of sales organizations have these behaviors baked right into the system.  For example, a sales executive at a former client recently told me product marketing is now equipping the field with “battle cards” to help sellers sell against the competition.  Yes, I quoted them correctly.  Battle cards.  And this is a company that’s trying to develop sticky, long-term relationships with their customers!

Let’s set aside the fact that that focusing on the competition is taking your eyes off the customer.  Is “battle card” emblematic of the kind of culture that fosters long-term customer relationships?  Is that how you want salespeople viewing their job?

Are You Selling or Manipulating? 

Another problem I see in my work as Managing Director at Specialized Sales Systems:  Companies have taught sellers to use manipulative tactics in the sale. Not intentionally – the intent of sales training is usually good. The problem occurs in the transfer of training – if you put a useful tool in the hands of someone who doesn’t know how to use it, they may hurt somebody with it.  If you put the tool of someone with bad intent, you’ve enabled relationship vandalism.

I’ve dedicated my professional life to helping sellers eliminate leading, manipulative questions, but it’s a systemic issue.  Of COURSE salespeople who only know dysfunctional relationships will use spin/challenger/sandler/solution/socratic questioning method in a manipulative way.

Compounding the problem:  Sales management often permits, and even models, this inauthentic use of consultative selling behaviors. Again, we are all broken in some way!

So What? 

The cost of battle – in love or selling – is catastrophic.

Make Love, Not War

So what do you do about it?  As is often the case, the answer is simple but not easy.

  • Build your pattern awareness.  The first step toward recovery, they say, is to recognize you have a problem. Do you know your own patterns? Can you see where you’re playing out the story you learned at home in your sales life?  Do you understand why you’re getting the conflict you’re getting?  Or not getting the engagement you need?
    • Pro tip: collect “game tape” on yourself.  Really.
  • Take care of yourself. Just like on an airplane, you have to put your own mask on before assisting others. I’m certainly not going to preach on what that looks like to you, but ask yourself:  Where are you emotionally depleted, malnourished, or fatigued? (
    • Pro tip:  Engage a good therapist to coach you on being the best possible version of yourself. I do.
  • Bring the love – in a good way.  Get smart about what makes relationships great.
  • For a direct connection between Love and Selling, you could buy my book, “Love and Selling.”
    • Pro tip:  Available on Amazon!

Remember, sales is NOT a battlefield – it’s a field.  You decide what to do with it.  Make sales, not war!

Good selling,