For better or worse, many people get their understanding of the world through television and movies. Studies have shown that the average American spends between four and five hours in front of the television each day – more than enough time to shape and influence our opinions.
Salespeople, unfortunately, have been on the receiving end of negative stereotypes for far too long, and a lot of that stems from our depiction on the big (and small) screen. While there’s no doubt that dramatic effect requires exaggeration of certain character traits, it’s also true that television helped to create the following seven myths about salespeople:
1. Salespeople are flashy and obsessed with image
This is perhaps the most pervasive television-induced myth about salespeople. Think of the quaffed, Ferrari-driving stockbrokers from Boiler Room, or the hard-charging, Rolex-wearing sales manager from Glengarry Glen Ross. The only problem is that it isn’t true. For every designer-clad seller, there’s a modest, humble parent making a living and providing for their family. Unfortunately, that doesn’t always make for compelling TV.
2. Salespeople are all outgoing extroverts
Another common myth is that of the fast-talking, in-your-face, sales schmoozer a la Ari Gold in Entourage. While these salespeople certainly do exist, reality is a lot more nuanced. In fact, one of the most surprising things about sales is that many of the top performers are quiet, unassuming introverts who build trust by listening and keeping their head to the grindstone, while plenty of Ari Gold types flail and burn out quickly.
3. Salespeople wear suits and ties to work
If you watch network shows that feature salespeople, you’re probably used to seeing a bunch of well-dressed thirty-somethings in perfectly tailored suits sitting in conference rooms with full panoramic views of some major city. Again, this is more likely to be the exception than the rule. These days, inside salespeople are either wearing business casual attire, or – especially in software – jeans and hoodies, while outside salespeople are in polo shirts and khakis. To be sure, there are still some high-end sales jobs that require a full suit, but they make up only a small percentage of the industry.
4. Salespeople are male
If you try to picture a female salesperson represented in pop culture, you’re likely to draw a blank. This myth is unfair to the millions of hard-working women making a living in sales, and doesn’t do justice to the diverse workforce overall. Some of the best and most successful salespeople on the planet are women, despite what they might show you on TV.
5. Salespeople regularly lie in order to close deals
This myth is perhaps the most toxic and dangerous one because it sows unnecessary distrust, impeding business transactions which could otherwise have gone smoothly. There are, of course, dishonest salespeople, just like there are dishonest lawyers, Uber drivers, and general contractors. Unfortunately for salespeople, they’re the only ones who’ve been stereotyped as liars on TV, which is unfair to the overwhelming majority of salespeople in the world.
6. Salespeople only care about money
While it’s true that many people pursue a career in sales because of the income potential, the idea that the only thing salespeople care about is money is one perpetuated by television. Money alone – as most salespeople quickly find out – is usually not enough. This is why companies focus on their culture and offer other benefits if they want to recruit top talent. Despite what you see on TV, the salesperson who cares only about money and nothing else is actually quite rare.
7. All salespeople make a lot of money
If you got your insights into the sales world strictly through shows and movies, you would think that all salespeople are rolling in the dough, driving fancy cars, and living in massive palatial homes. The truth is a lot more mundane. There are nearly 15 million salespeople in the U.S., and a large percentage of them make a decent living, but far from a fortune. There are certainly salespeople who do make well into the six or even seven figures, but if you look at the breakdown, these few are in the tail end of the distribution.