Thursday, May 17, 2012

How do you define Sales?

have gone quiet on my blog for a while. One of the reasons is that I am preparing and teaching a course on “Methods for Complex Sales” in the Master Program “Strategic Sales Management” at the ESB Business School at Reutlingen University, Germany. Preparing and delivering this six days course is quite an undertaking consuming much of my time not devoted to delivering consulting projects. Over the next few week, I will write about my experiences in preparing and teaching the course. Today, I would like to share my thoughts I had when preparing for the first lesson. It thought it would be good practice in a university class to start with a definition of what sales is.

Oxford Dictionary for the Business World
I started by consulting the Oxford Dictionary for the Business World where I found:
Sale 1 exchange of a commodity for money etc. act or instance of selling
2 amount sold
3 temporary offering of goods at reduced prices
4a event at which goods are sold
4b public auction
On or for sale: Offered for purchase [Old English]”

I felt that only the first definition would fit with the subject of my course. Yet the “exchange of a commodity...” bothered me immensely. Although we see strong trends toward offerings become commodities ever faster, I could not see how I could my conviction that successful sales people by bringing value to their customers can curb this trend would fit with this definition.

So I tried the entry

1 exchange or be exchanged for money
2 stock for sales (do you sell eggs)
3 sells for, has a specific price
4 sell (reflective) betray or prostitute for money
5 advertise or publicize
6 cause to be sold '(name alone sells well)
7 sell a person (colloquial) enthusiastic about an idea”

I did not think that this entry helped me further. So I tried the American Heritage Dictionary where sale is defined as “the exchange of goods or services for an amount of money or its equivalent [or] the act of selling”. I liked this definition better than the one in the Oxford Dictionary, but I still felt that it did not describe much of what salespeople do.

 Other Refrences
 then looked up the definition Tim Ohai and Brian Lambert give in their book “Sales Chaos...” They say that the word “sell” is derived from the Icelandic word “selja” and the Anglo-Saxon word “syllan”; both meaning to serve or to give. While I like this definition, as it indicates what I believe to be the needed mindset from which successful sellers should operate, I found it described more what salespeople ought to do than what they often do.

After this excursion into the linguistic world, I finally concluded that I had to come up with my own definition telling more what sellers actually do. For this, I was inspired by what the students were told in the first semester of their program that selling essentially is communicating.

My Own
Building on this, I came up with this definition which I now use in the course:
Selling is communicating
  • To the right person
  • At the right moment
  • About the right subject

So an informed decision can be made.

I feel that this definition is a good foundation for discussing sales process, sales methodology and relationship management, core topics of my course. My feeling seems to prove right. So far, this definition has helped tremendously giving a structure to the course. I will explain how in future posts.


  1. Very interesting! I think selling is a science .. is getting into the customer's mind into thinking you need what you are offering .. Unfortunately many are misused this science and restricted to the real sellers .. I loved your article! Congratulations!

  2. This is a great blog, usually i don't post comments on blogs but I would like to say that this post really forced me to do so!
    Buy and sell
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  3. Lizzet S, Salma Ashiq,

    thank you very much for your encouraging comments. Really appreciated.


  4. Interesting article.

    Selling is communication, I agree with that. But I believe it is more than that. It is listening to the needs of the customer and to create something that will help him. Sales is not communication but listening.

  5. Ronald

    In my book communication is a two way activity. Listening then is an integral and very important part.

  6. Hallo Christiaan,

    I agree with you. It is a two way activity.

    The problem is that many accountmanagers forget to listen to the customer. They just talk and talk to sell their products of services. They could increase enorm their revenues if they would listen moren.

  7. That is indeed true. Often they do not know any better for the lack of appropriate training.


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