Information On-line

To Sell is Evil

Dave Kinnear1-On Leadership

Information On-line


I admit it. I get triggered over this topic of selling. This site has several posts on how I believe technology and values have, and are, changing around the discipline of “selling.” And just for the record, I spent many years in B2B technical sales as well as marketing. I didn’t feel I was being evil back then. To be fair, times were different. And we were selling to highly educated electronic design engineers.

What triggered me this time — twice actually — was first a podcast on how companies and their salespeople are taking advantage of their customers’ financial illiteracy. This started

my blood heating up. Then, the second trigger came as I listened to a separate podcast on how companies and their sales/marketing teams are using neuroscience advances to craft their messaging in such a way as to manipulate the viewer/reader/listener into believing they wanted or needed the product or service. Purely evil. My blood was boiling. So I’ve taken several weeks to cool down before writing.

Financial Illiteracy:

I’m sure it comes as no surprise that sales people can, and often do, disregard what’s best for the buyer. Caveat emptor, as it were. I say baloney. (Actually, I use a different word, but this is a family blog.) Also, let me clarify here: I’m speaking of selling goods and services in exchange for value (money). I’m not speaking about selling ideas, concepts, hypothesis or theories.

When telemarketing sales people call our senior citizens and convince them to buy products they don’t need, and many cannot afford, that’s evil. Pure and simple.

When credit card companies or banks send high interest rate instruments to unsuspecting consumers, while purposefully obfuscating the real costs, that’s evil. Pure and simple.

It turns out, according to surveys cited by the podcast, most U.S. citizens are financially illiterate. In my book, that means 99% of salespeople are engaging in evil activities. I do not believe in caveat emptor if the buyer did not seek out the vendor. The playing field is not level.

Neuroscience Illiteracy:

If the general public is ignorant of detailed financial analysis, it is even more ignorant of advances in neuroscience. The evil-doers are not. They are eagerly reading up on neuroscience and applying the learned principles to manipulating the buying public. Not educating, manipulating. None of us is immune to this misuse of neuroscience. How do you like being manipulated? The Minority Report world isn’t coming, it’s here.

There are several books and consultancies based on teaching sellers how to use neuroscience to manipulate buyers. They talk about how to make your message readily accessible to the prospect. They speak of “selling to the old brain.” Right. What they are talking about is how to manipulate the buyer. There is a total lack of regard. “How so?” you ask. Because there is a total mismatch of knowledge and therefore power in the relationship. Instead of using knowledge and power to help the other person, “neuro-sales” is used to gain the seller’s ends. Shameful.

Being Found:

For the informed buyer, the sales process is all but completed before they directly contact a vendor. They have decided they have a need or want that fits into their budget. These tech enabled buyers do the research on their own — no salesperson necessary. Next, they check with colleagues, friends and family. Then, after they compare vendors, they pick up the phone or go to the website to complete the transaction.

For the vendor, the key is making sure that they are found. In today’s world, that means having valuable content on websites and useful (non-selling) presence on social media. All the research I’ve read indicates that it doesn’t really matter how complex the product or service is. The buyer still does more than 70% of the work before contacting a vendor(s).

Lack of Regard:

That is the trigger for me — lack of regard. When I feel as though I’m being sold, I immediately feel a lack of regard. Why? Because technology allows me to easily find and procure anything I want or need if it’s within my budget. So a vendor has to assume that if I want it, I have it; or I feel I cannot afford it. To sell me then, is to disregard my beliefs about the product’s value to me.

Instead, by selling, I immediately see that you have your own best interest at heart. That means I can’t trust you. Because you’re willing to gain your own best interest at my expense! Shameful. Evil.

I know. Not everyone has access to the internet to do the research or to purchase. However, in 2015, 74.5% of the people in the U.S. accessed the internet. Those who do not have access to technology simply cannot afford it (or object to it for some reason). How is selling to them ethical? How is selling to seniors, many of whom are barely “okay” financially, ethical?

An Example:

Here is how I believe things should work. My wife and I usually keep cars a very long time. Both of our cars will need replacing soon. After research and discussion, we determined to put ourselves on a waiting list for a new car. We expect delivery in early 2019 or late 2018 at best.

Meanwhile, on a Thursday several weeks ago, I rode in a colleague’s brand new all electric vehicle. Something very close to what we have on order. I was very much impressed by the car and I picked his brain about the on-line research he had done and what he had discovered. I respect his technical expertise. He shared his purchasing experience and suggested what dealer I might want to use if I was interested.

I did some minimal additional research on-line, and discussed it with my wife since this was to be her vehicle. On Sunday of the same week, she walked into the showroom, told some very lucky salesperson exactly what she wanted — make, model, color, upgrade package and financial requirements. His job was to get her into that car. No haggling on price. No up-selling. We walked out of that showroom with the keys to a new car and drove it home.

Once home, I went on-line to order a level 2 charging station based on the research and recommendation of my colleague (it’s great to have a trusted and technically competent colleague do most of the research!). I placed the order without ever speaking to a salesperson.

Then I researched electrical contractors to do the installation. After comparing and reading testimonials, I called and the field manager came to evaluate. I received what I believe to be a fair proposal and contracted the work. Done. No salespeople. My guess is that around 90% of a very complicated and expensive purchase was made without salespeople.


If you are selling products or services you are being evil. If you truly have my best interest at heart and are helping me with final questions when I call, you are being an advisor, not a salesperson. You will get my business. Just make sure I can find you when I start the process. Don’t call me. It’s not likely your name will appear on my phone. So, like many people these days, I won’t answer the call.

If you have done your job well, I’ll find you when I need your product or service. If I don’t find you, it’s your own fault.