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The Blueberry Man
photo credit: Martin LaBar via photopin cc

photo credit: Martin LaBar via photopin cc

Are Sales Basically Good?
article by Joe Snowdon, Boston, MA

In the modern world of B2C and B2B commerce it doesn’t seem like anyone today would look at a salesperson’s role in society as being sacred.

It doesn’t take much effort to find a social media post with scathing comments on the skeevy, underhanded, beg-borrow-and-steal tactics of some sales rep somewhere. We read every day about deplorable acts that become the fodder for Facebook and Twitter posts. Yelp is the altar to the patron saint of bad customer experiences. Even in companies where the need to sell is acknowledged, the salespeople are derided as a “necessary evil.”

But it’s not necessarily true that sales and salespeople are naturally dark, dirty or corrupt.

Imagine in the time before time there is the first clan of cave dwellers living in a verdant land that sustained the whole tribe. It’s blueberry season and the whole clan is in a huge blueberry patch picking fruit, enjoying the hot sun and the company of their relations. Everyone brings home huge baskets of fruit. But there is one tribesman whose blueberries are better somehow, for some reason his berries are bigger, sweeter and more tart. Somehow he brings home more, his seem to last longer, he has fresh berries still for weeks after everyone’s are gone. They all picked from the same bushes in the same patch, but somehow his are better. This is natural, there’s always someone who is the best at anything: the best blueberry picker, the best stone-flint, the best weaver, the best runner.

Naturally, other tribe members want some of his bounty and they offer to trade a bone knife, a spear tip, a beautiful basket for some of his fruit. No one resents the blueberry man’s skill, they just partake of his bounty by trading with him. He sells his berries. He makes a profit in the trades, acquiring things he doesn’t want to make himself so he can concentrate on making things with blueberries. He learns to preserve berries, to make jellies and pies and juice and wine. He makes dye from the old fruit anyone else would throw away. He gets so good at blueberry products, so popular, he has so much demand, he is so busy that he has to hire someone to help him sell his products. He hires a salesperson.

This salesperson hones the craft of trading precious blueberry products for items of value the blueberry man needs. The blueberry man pays the salesperson some blueberries (her base salary) and a portion of what they trade for (her commissions). They have a daily or weekly meeting to discuss their inventory and what they need to trade for, “No, I have all the deer leather I need, but I would love some mink fur.” “We have to get rid of the pies, they’ll get moldy in a couple of days.” “Can you get someone to take a couple of those deer leathers? See if the knife maker would consider it when he comes for his berry wine.” They build a whole General Store on the surplus of the wealth created by the fantastic fruit of the blueberries.

This is the right place of sales in a company and so in a society. To make the fruits of our efforts available to more people who are willing to pay for that which we do. And the salesperson’s role in that exchange is noble and pure. The salesperson creates the context in which the creator, the “Originator” of the product or service can concentrate on creating while being able to serve more people more powerfully.

Viewed in this way, buying stuff is a naturally enjoyable and fulfilling activity. That is, when we buy something we do it to fill a need, avoid some future pain, or satisfy a desire. All of those reasons are filled with opportunity for satisfaction and enjoyment. They are also filled with a sort of vulnerability – buying something is an acknowledgment that something is needed to be safe, to be comfortable, or to feel secure. So buying is filled with hope for a more comfortable, fulfilling future.

The salesperson enters into a relationship with a buyer that is both vulnerable and full of hope.

A salesperson holds a uniquely sacred position in society. On the one hand he is helping the Originator to offer ‘what she does’ to more people. The salesperson’s role is to extend the Originator’s ability and reach, to have her life mean more because she can reach more people and serve them more powerfully. He creates the ability for the Originator to generate true wealth from the fruits of her talent, training and effort: all of her life’s energy.

On the other hand, the salesperson helps the Customer get what she needs and wants. He enters into a relationship that is inherently more or less vulnerable and honors that vulnerability by helping the Customer to fill her need. He helps the Customer to trade the fruits of her own efforts to pay for something she wants. Great value is created in this process. Value is created that goes beyond the value of the thing sold and the price paid. In modern language this is the salesperson’s ‘value-add’ that becomes the source of the salesperson’s compensation and wealth.

Buying and selling are a culmination of the relationship among the Originator, the Buyer and the Salesperson. Commerce and sales are fundamental to society, no matter what economic or political system one subscribes to. We buy and sell with each other all the time, it’s the way we exchange anything with anyone. We express our appreciation of another person’s life when we buy something from him or her.

To buy what someone has created is to acknowledge the value of the energy, the life force that person put into that creation. Even in the modern world where very big companies make stuff, and other big companies sell the stuff, whatever gets sold is the fruit of the labor, the life force and energy, of a lot of people. All to create things and services that make things better for someone else. The things we sell now make businesses run, make travel or communication around the world possible, make our homes what they are, and give us something delicious, like blueberries. It’s all magic. Ultimately a person decides to buy it, whether it’s a light bulb for the kitchen, or light system for a city. The salesperson makes all that happen.

Selling is a form we use to interact and engage with each other and society. Like any interaction it can be corrupted, but it is not inherently corrupt. It is inherently open and awake, completely natural. Because it can so easily be corrupted by greed and grasping it creates a perfect opportunity to wake up.

When a Customer wakes up perhaps he can bring more compassion to the situation. When a Salesperson wakes up perhaps she brings kindness and openness for the Customer’s sake. Perhaps she operates with awareness of the Originator’s gifts and contributions. Buying and selling are actually basically good, the gift of the exchange is the opportunity to be awake and free from aggression and to open with kindness.

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6 responses to “ The Blueberry Man ”
  1. Deb Stetler
    Mar 23, 2015

    It seems to me that the author is talking about how even the most everyday (and sometimes annoying) activity can have an element of the sacred to it, and our lives are more meaningful when we (both parties to a sale) are open to it…

  2. Thanks for some very thoughtful and articulate replies. I don’t think I or The Times mean to apologize for Capitalism. I mean to bring light to the obvious: this way of living dominates our world, and as Kali points out, is very easy to corrupt. As an aside, I’d suggest it’s not sales people who think it’s a good idea to call at dinner time, or to double team a customer to wear them down, it’s the blind managers, but that’s another article.

    My hope is to open the space for those who buy and sell to bring more mindfulness to the way we live today. That we may all be more kind in an increasingly aggressive world. I don’t know about whether Capitalism is bad, I know it’s where I live, so it’s basically good. I do believe we can all be a little kinder, inside the situation we’re actually in right now.

  3. Commerce, the clearinghouse that facilitates the exchange of goods, is obviously a necessity in any society. “Skeevy” sales reps will always be with us. That’s a given. But what about the rest? Let’s look at the bigger picture. We live in a society driven by slick marketing, cranking out consumer goods that sell at high margins, enriching the select few. It effectively brainwashes people into believing that they MUST have this particular product, no matter what the cost. Why? Because everybody else has it? Next time you’re in a restaurant or an airport waiting area, take a look around. Zombies staring at their hand-held devices, checking every several seconds for the latest texts, tweets, etc. Even while they drive, they can no longer resist. ADHD on the rise, but nearly every school age child has his or her iPhone. Anyway, we live in a so-called democracy that is owned (pretty much literally) by the large corporations that grease the pockets of our elected officials with the funds they need to get re-elected. I could go on and on. But just look around. The wealth disparity is widening to frightening levels. Political dialogue is a joke. The average citizen that casts his or her vote is clueless. And the beat goes on. When do we stop celebrating salesmanship and begin really questioning what it is that is being sold (force-fed really)?

    When institutions that teach non-attachment and the futility of craving roll out their own e-commerce websites designed to appeal to the very consumerism and materialism that they, in theory, warn against, then you know we have a problem!

  4. Mibo Kreas
    Mar 3, 2015

    This idea that barter is somehow primordial completely supports the naturalizing of capitalism. Anthropologists like David Graeber and (100 years ago) Marcel Mauss have resolutely challenged the idea that barter is a somehow universal precursor to modern economies. In fact, they find, many indigenous societies have functioned by gift economies in which generosity and gifting without expectation of reciprocation is associated with good character. Nothing against business people, but perhaps don’t make it out like small business capitalism is natural or inevitable. Perhaps the reason so many people react negatively to commerce is wisdom rather than neurosis.

  5. Sherab Gyatso
    Mar 2, 2015

    Why is Shambhala Times becoming an apologist site for capitalism?

    Capitalism has not brought us blueberries, which grew quite well before its invention. Capitalism as currently practiced has brought us 500,000 early deaths a year from pollution in China, countless wars, and the 6th mass extinction, just to name a few.

    People will either continue to indulge their greed and go extinct, or they will learn to tame their kleshas and live in harmony with the world. The latter is hard work, which is not helped by self-indulgent fairy tales such as the one above. Hopefully Shambhala will provide a container for this hard work to occur, and not simply serve as an ignorance based feel-good salve.

  6. Hi :)

    It’s interesting you felt a need to defend salespersons. They’re everywhere. Even the clerks at Best Buy are technically salespersons. I don’t sense any systemic hostility towards the profession in general.

    You mention B2B and B2C. I had to Google that since I’m not in sales and didn’t have a clue what your lingo stood for. It seems to me that there’s always been more people trying to sell something than people wanting to buy. In a ‘hot’ real estate market, or a cool new fad, or the latest iPhone (haha) people line up to buy. We go after what we want.

    What we don’t want is to be bothered at dinner by sales calls. Salespeople know that very well, and they do it anyway.

    Sales people know that we can’t think well when we’re being pressured or double-teamed by a sales staff. But they do it anyway.

    They do it deliberately and they abuse the customers’ vulnerability without remorse. Do you like being treated that way?

    Of course people want to buy things. It’s why I go to work. I appreciate anyone who hooks me up with something I want. But a whole lotta salespeople need to learn that No means No. Sales are not the problem. People who disrespect others are the problem, and they aren’t just in sales.

    So while I understand your concepts of buying and selling I’m not buying your bucolic blueberry man scenario. That’s how it ‘should’ work I’m sure. But that’s not everyone’s modern-day experience with salespeople. There’s no conspiracy against you. Just stop shoving unwanted products at people and I’m sure you’ll be fine :)

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