Is sales a noble profession? Paradoxical when we know that without it businesses would be nothing and the economy could not run. Let us add that with the development of solopreneurship, the number of existing companies have exploded and with each of these companies something to sell. That’s as many more salespersons. The profession would benefit from redeeming titles of nobility. But before knowing how, let’s look at why.
At the origin of our social organization
Trade and its corollary sale are generally traced back to Antiquity, yet the practice is much older. Apart from barter whose origin dates back to the beginnings of humanity, trade as a structuring activity of human life was born with the invention of agriculture in the Neolithic. Structuring activity because who says agriculture says sedentarization and these two combined phenomena then put an end to the old social organization, that of nomadism and hunting-gathering. Next will be added a new technology considered the mother of all inventions: the plough. With it, agricultural production will realize surpluses which will then be exchanged. This is the beginning of trade and with it will be born the specialization of work and a new organization of space with the market places, ancestors of the fairs, which will become the cities in which the majority of humanity lives today. So if trading and selling are synonymous with our social organization today, what’s gotten them such bad press?
Commerce, or the market, and its corollary sale necessitate a purchase. To take place, a seller who owns a product or is able to deliver a service and a buyer who needs or wants it must meet. The equilibrium of the exchange is then ensured. But this balance is fragile. It suffices that the buyer no longer simply needs, but is “in need” and the seller takes the upper hand in the exchange. Conversely, if the seller seeks to sell a product or service for which there is little or no need or a lot of competition, then the consumer dominates the exchange. A dominated/dominant relationship is then established. As the whole social organization is based on these exchanges, we understand that their balance results in that of social relations. It is not surprising in this context that politics is so attached to economics, nor that regulations which correct the biases of the market are so important for life in society.
On the dark side of selling
We know from theNobel Prize-winning work of researchers Amos Tversky and Daniel Kahneman, suggests that there are hundreds of such biases. But the world hadn’t waited for their research to understand that the market had to maintain a certain balance. The latin expression latine Caveat Emptor (buyer beware) reminds us that this phenomenon dates back long before the economists responsible for describing and modeling it.
We will thus take as an example a market bias that had attracted the attention of legislators at the end of the 19th century. monopoly. The imbalance it could cause was such that it gave rise to United States to the creation of an anti-monopoly law (the Sherman Anti Trust Act of 1890). This followed a historical episode that bears an unequivocal name, that of the robber barons (J.P. Morgan, J. Rockfeller, C. Vanderbuilt, A. Carnegie). Considered great businessmen by some, for others they are the very expression of this abuse of a dominant position which makes the seller fearful.
The content of this law also tells us a lot about the need to maintain this balance, by legal constraint if necessary: ”it is to protect the public from the failure of the market (…) made it impossible for other persons to engage in fair competition”. We are therefore a long way from the idea of a self-balancing market (Adam Smith’s invisible hand).
Consumers who protect themselves
Another type of potential abuse of dominance is when the (good) seller has skills that can cause an imbalance in his favor. Because selling is also knowing and understanding the “human nature” of your customer to provide him with what he needs or wants (sometimes even without him knowing it himself) this is not without risk for the customer. ‘Buyer. (Good) salespeople are necessarily specialists in the needs, desires and motivations of human beings. With such tools it is easier for them to manipulate the other in order to derive personal benefit from it without their benefit. It is these same tools, these same weapons that the scammers use, which are by definition good sellers.
Another element of imbalance, knowledge. That of the product or service. The (good) seller is both an expert in human nature, but also an expert in his product. From fruits and vegetables to IT services, he knows the product better than the one to whom he sells it. This puts him in a position to inflict fraud on his client, ie to harm him by omission concerning the product or service. Planned obsolescence, GMOs, Glycosphate, are all recent examples where the seller has hidden certain characteristics of the product from the buyer. This legal notion of fraud dates… from the Roman Empire, which is to say that history is littered with these abuses.
So these sellers, all sold?
The human brain has a useful function to ensure our survival, generalization. But if the generalization is practical to protect itself, it makes the economy of the objective truth. It is one of our many cognitive biases Let’s take an example: a dog bites you and the brain will make your heart beat intensely (to prepare you to flee, for example) at the next harmless poodle you come across. There may be no danger this time, but at least you’re safe. From a bad experience your brain will therefore generalize to prevent you from having to live this negative experience again. It is on this basis that phobias are built in particular, but also… racism. Judging by the reputation that precedes sellers, from the Bible snake handing Eve an apple to Bernard Madoff, then it’s easy to see why many sellers are distrustful. If you have been scammed yourself, you will naturally be inclined to protect yourself from sellers because of generalization bias.
Consumer protection has therefore become a necessary evil over the centuries. Every significant – and collective – scam episode prompts a collective protection response. This is how indications of the nutritional quality of food productss (the nutriscore), have recently appeared, in another area the research work of a notary to guarantee the authenticity of a sale or the European guarantee of 2 years on electronic products (against planned obsolescence). So many examples of barriers placed between the seller and the buyer to protect the latter.
Shelter from The Deluge 2.0
The surplus related to agricultural techniques allowed the world to switch to trade, but also to initiate a sequence that would lead to the industrial revolution, then to the more recent one of services and e-commerce. These scientific innovations such as the plow, Taylorism or even the computer made it possible not only to produce more, but to produce so much that supply ended up exceeding demand (41.2 tonnes of food products were thus thrown away every second in the world for lack of finding a taker).
In a world where there is a plethora of supply and where the survival of companies depends on sales, the latter try to keep their hand in the balance of power in the face of the “market”. This is how marketing was born. Among its roles, that of differentiating products and services to prevent them from being drowned in the mass. And among the techniques used by marketing, that of resorting to new names to “push the pill” and give new life to products or services that are sometimes as old as the world. Last resort to seduce a tired consumer: stimulate him by offering him a novelty that is not one. In our field, linked to training, marketing and sales (trade shows are marketplaces), we have lost count of the “novelties” in recent years, from story telling to pitching or coaching, that we already found at the time of Ancient Greece (art of storytelling, oratorical art, teaching).
Linear and exponential are in a boat
Our means of production have, thanks to technologies, shifted into the exponential world. Just as the invention of the plow ultimately enabled humanity to achieve global agricultural overproduction, the same phenomenon is at work for productions that have become immaterial since the invention of digital compression and its accomplice , Internet.
In this new digitized world, an artist can now record a song in the studio on a single file and sell it endlessly, or failing that, to all of humanity. Where before the invention of the gramophone, mp3 and Spotify he would have had to perform in the flesh in front of the whole Earth (mission a priori impossible), this capacity is reached in a few clicks today. This is the famous “scalability”, the grail towards global success so much sought after by startups.
But if production can thus tend towards infinity, our lives cannot. There will therefore necessarily be a scissor effect. The balance is therefore no longer there and with it so many social imbalances are to be expected.
Whether at the international level – the economic balance of power – or at the very heart of countries – the social balance of power. Economists have also been interested for several years in the link between economic inequalities and political polarization. The extreme gaps between rich and poor thus lead to political views that are also extremely opposed as a result. The extreme gaps between rich and poor thus lead to political views that are also extremely opposed as a result. If the balance is not restored, it is thus to bet that the social tensions in the world will go crescendo.
Straight into the wall
Faced with this world of unlimited supply, the limited purchase therefore, limited by time and its fellow traveler attention. Consumption capacity and purchasing power have thus become the new natural limits to this almost infinite “scability” of supply. And if trade was once synonymous with balancing the world, here we see why we are collectively losing balance.
The symptoms are numerous, one of which is showing up again, monopoly. If, thanks to the Internet, David can now overthrow Goliath with the slingshot of his keyboard, he can also impose himself throughout the world. And since the competition no longer knows any physical limits, the winner now has the opportunity to establish world domination. This phenomenon of “winner takes all” at work is becoming so important that the States themselves are overwhelmed. This is the question posed by the FANG FANG , alued between them 4 as much as all the stock exchanges in Paris, Milan and Frankfurt..
The only ways to prevent this new market bias from being realized on a global scale are the limitations that policies might impose on them, such as standards limiting overproduction or mandating ethical and fair trade. Unless there is a phenomenon of decline brought about by force through natural disasters, a black swan, as was the episode of the Coronavirus. Thus, for the first time in almost 100 years, production and consumption marked a sharp decline in the spring of 2020. One product in particular showed the magnitude of the phenomenon, oil, which experienced a negative price, for a few hours at the end of May, totally unbalancing the seller/buyer relationship.
The sum of all sales
It is easy to see why in this world the consumer’s brain is in “defense” mode against the seller. Its distrust is only the result of the accumulated historical reputation, coupled with the generalization bias and a saturation of our brains by the ever-increasing “supply demands” (each of them is subjected on averageto more than 1,200 advertising messages per day).
This is why a bona fide seller who does his historic job of “matchmaker” of demand and supply will have a hard time getting rid of this image. In the end, he will find himself playing the balancing act from the outset with the fear of the crook rooted in the consumer and the weight of the solicitations generated by a society whose survival, in its current form, requires selling again and again. and consume just as much. Without knowing it perhaps, but especially without wanting it, this seller has become a drop of water in the consumer’s already well-filled vase.
Sales techniques are thus adapting to this paradigm shift and to the limitations that society imposes on them (stop advertising in mailboxes, laws on consent to newsletters, prohibition of cold calling without consent, GPRD or right of withdrawal for online shopping). They are now turning more and more to the contributions of neuroscience and anthropology to find out how to use the consumer’s instincts and cognitive biases (over which we find it difficult to exercise control) to their advantage. Let’s hope that this remains in spite of everything for the benefit of the consumer.
The seller of 2021 will have to take into account this new dimension of the world. There is little hope that he will ever empty a vase already full of bad sellers or scammers. But it must, despite everything, contribute through ethical work and an empathetic approach to the consumer to ensure that this vase stops filling up, for a reason, tocontinue playing its civilizational role and balancing the world through exchange.
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