Sitting in my professional sales/ sales management class, I was staring off at the board thinking about what I was going to do with my life after my four years of undergraduate school is up. Come May of 2019 I will be pushed out of the TLU nest, and forced to find my way in the real world. Before this actually takes place however, I need to conquer what TLU calls a Senior Thesis (cue scary music).
Based off of the countless conversations I’ve had with other students, I feel as though there are two different takes on doing a senior thesis. There are the students who have known what they’ve wanted to do since being in their FREX (freshman experience) class, and there’s the students who have no idea where to begin drawing any kind of significant conclusions about something good enough to present as a thesis. Especially if it’ll be judged, which it will. Don’t be a communications major folks
Referring back to my professional selling/sales management class; this is where the senior thesis process all began for me.
We had just finished our lecture, and the professor began talking about book recommendations if you were interested in sales. This idea kind of grabbed my attention.
Sales people make some of the biggest salaries in the business world, and some of those professionals only need one sale to make their yearly six figure salaries. Selling is also a large part of everyday life for people whether you know it or not.
Convincing someone of an idea? Selling. Trying to get your friend to agree on a certain restaurant? Selling.
Trying to convince your professors you’re sort of educated and can write, compose, and present a meaningful senior thesis? Selling.
The foundation of our economy is paved by selling. In order for an exchange to happen someone’s got to sell something.
This idea that there are books that will teach you how to “sell” grabbed my interest because of how applicable selling is to the business world, but also the broader world as well.
As I was on the hunt for the selling books that I wanted to analyze, I searched for the highest rated selling books online. A common trend among these books was that people would talk about the “self help” aspect of each one. Another less significant thing, but slightly coincidental was that they all had practically the same star rating. Whether a million people reviewed them or 300,000 did, they all had nearly a 4.2 star rating.
The last thing I realized from the reviews was that people either loved them or hated them. There wasn’t really any grey area for liking these books.
Now, none of this information really gave a direction for a research project, so I began to explore other aspects to these selling books that haven’t been looked at.
As I thought about selling more, a common trend or bias that people had towards sales representatives was that they’re pushy or sometimes bully you into the sales.
This is where the other aspect of my senior thesis came into play. I will be looking at the mental strategies that bullies use to manipulate their victims, and then compare that to the strategies that professional sales personel are being taught from these “self-help” to see if there’s any correlation and how that impacts the relationship based marketing model.
Relationship based marketing has become the common trend in sales now a days. Companies are willing to spend hefty sums of money in order to make a lasting friendship with their customers. Extravagant dinning, parties, and gifts are now strategies being used to create these friendships.
Relationship based marketing, often known as Customer-Relationship-Management is the “Segmenting customers based on needs or profitability and designing and implementing programs to allocate efficiently/ effectively the appropriate resources to each customer” (Arnett & Badrinarayanan 2005).
This is different from traditional methods because firms were not focusing efforts on the customer but rather on the advertising and marketing of the products of services. CRM wants to build mutual trust in order to ensure that the sale will happen.
In order for relationship marketing to be successful, there are 3 factors that must be present, they are trust, relationship commitment, and communication (Arnett & Badrinarayanan 2005). Business professionals spend a lot of money in order to make sure that they can develop this with their customers. Essentially their mindset is if you spend a lot now, the relationship they create will continue to pay them back and eventually even more.
With this new wave of creating friends out of your customers, it’s interesting to look at what professionals in this kind of selling realm are being taught.
One of the oldest and most known books in the sales world is Winning Friends and Influencing Others by Dale Carnegie. This book was originally published in 1937, but after a surprisingly popular release, edition after edition was published and adapted for the use in the changing business world. The point of this book was to give business professionals some insight on how to up their business game. Carnegie says “about 15% of one’s financial success is their technical knowledge, and about 85% is due to skills in human engineering—to personality and the ability to lead people”.
While Carnegie researched what to write, he conducted interviews with people like Thomas Edison and Theodore Roosevelt to understand how they conduct their person-relations, or essentially, how they got their popularity. He takes an in-depth look at different ways “The Greats”, or people like Lincoln and even Capone, used speaking strategies to convince people to follow them.
This book, like in the title, gives readers examples of how to be influences those who they need to.
I thought this idea of influence and trying to navigate people’s thoughts to achieve a desired outcome was interesting because it sort of mimicked manipulation. Manipulation is defined as:
1: to treat or operate with or as if with the hands or by mechanical means especially in a skillful mannermanipulate a pencilmanipulate a machine
2: a to manage or utilize skillfullyquantify our data and manipulate it statistically
— S. L. Payne
3: to change by artful or unfair means so as to serve one’s purpose : DOCTORsuspected
that the police reports were manipulated
— Evelyn G. Cruickshanks
Though relationship-based marketing seems like an acceptable approach to selling, there is this huge question of mental manipulation and whether or not these strategies are ethical. The mental manipulation that takes place when it comes to this idea of relationships and selling made me question whether or not this could be tied to the psychological manipulation that is used in cases of bullying.
I was able to get insight into the psychology of bullying from an article by Hannah J. Thomas in which she described theories and frameworks around, essentially, why bullies bully.
The psychological tactics used by bullies laid out in these theories and frameworks seemed quite similar to the psychological strategies that relationship-based sales coaching books were encouraging professionals to do.
This is where ethics come into play for everything.
When it comes to marketing and selling, ethics is a widely discussed and truly important subject to consider as well. As we make this transition from conventional methods of selling to relationship-based selling, professionals should always be making sure that the behavior and decisions are consider ethical.
Johannes Brinkmann in Business Marketing Ethics as Professional Ethics defines many approaches, concepts, and typologies when it comes to making ethical decisions in the professional marketing world.
Selling: The Profession, distinguishes between two different segments of ethics. Those that are written down (deontological) and the ethics that look at right and wrong based off of what the decisions outcomes are (teleological). Most commonly in Business Ethics, “executives response to ethical problems is predominantly utilitarian” (Lill & Brown 2016). As we look at relationship focused selling it’s reassuring to know that there are ethics that should be in place.
With ethics involved, it would ease the threat of the mental manipulation that occurs in relationship-base marketing, however we also need to consider the sales personnel’s self-interest.
Self-interest is important here because they’re livings are made off the commissions of selling
Self-interest is often looked at sometimes through an egotistical, selfish way. To make that claim about sales people would be wrong, however it would be wrong to there aren’t any like that either. When it really comes down to it, self-interest is involved in the most modest of terms. They need the sale to make a living and provide for their basic needs, and this is why is conflicts with the ethics that are in place.
If there isn’t enough data to conclude that malicious mental manipulation occurs in selling, especially because of the ethical code, it is also important then to look at the self interest that’s implied for sales jobs and how that can intentionally or unintentionally impact the reliability of a simple code of ethics to prevent manipulation and deem this method of selling as okay.
In my analysis, I will be looking at these literature examples through a rhetorical lens, focusing on the language choices and persuasion that are present in the books. I will also be looking at the rhetorical commonalities between articles on bullying to develop the criteria to base my analysis of the sales literature off of.
The sales literature books that I’ve chosen are How to Win Friends and Influence Others, SPIN Selling, and How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success In Selling. I chose to analyze these books because they were the top three selling help books listed on google, so people buy and read them a lot. I’ve only chosen to do 3 books because realistically trying to do more would be difficult, however just having two examples wouldn’t be enough to make any claims above a coincidence.
I’ve also chosen to analyze a college text book, Selling: The Profession because I wanted to include a different realm of literature. Most business professionals won’t be reading the college text books, but I think it’s still important to include because this is teaching college students how to sell and get into the selling world.
Looking at the college textbook will give me an idea of what strategies are being taught even before a job in sales is actually acquired.
After rhetorically analyzing the articles on bullying psychology, I will develop a criteria from the trends to help guide my analysis of the selling literature.
From there I will read the selling books and look at the criteria I’ve developed, as well as pay attention to the other fundamentals of a rhetorical analysis to continue my research in my three book subjects and the subject.
I will also be including this idea of ethics into the project because if there are strong enough correlations between bullying and selling, I don’t think it’d be safe to make any claims without including a look at the ethical procedures that goes into selling.
From there though, the last piece of the analysis would be to look at self-interest and how that might affect the way ethics works in the selling world.
Sales personnel make money from commission, so in order to make and maintain their living they must make the sales. With the idea of a living on the line I want to see if there’s any significant impact on the ethical procedures that sales people should abide by.
After collecting all this data and analyzing what it all means, I want to draw some kind of conclusion however I’m still working on what exactly that will look like.
To begin my analysis, I had to look at the psychology of bullying and understand what would qualify of bullying. From the articles I’ve read I developed an 8 point criteria that would determine whether an action was bullying, and more specifically bullying involving mental manipulation. refer to the graphic below:
Points 1-4 are what would ensure that what’s happening is bullying, and points 5-8 are what would classify it as mental manipulation of bullying. The dotted blue line is just there to separate the different distinctions.
For the purpose of this project I’m looking a the mental manipulation bullies use in comparison to the mental manipulation that sales people use, so I need to include both the bullying and mental manipulation distinctions.
My preliminary data collection has covered chapters 1-3 of the 4 books that I’m analyzing. Based off of the