Taking the slime out of sales

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Taking the slime out of sales discursive resources and identity construction among salespeople
Brokling, Kimberly ( author )
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University of Colorado Denver
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non-fiction ( marcgt )


Professional identity construction has many implications for both individuals and corporations, ranging from work satisfaction to productivity on the job to mental health. This can be problematic in stigmatized fields such as sales, because people can develop a rift in their personal identities because they cannot reconcile the dominant, public view of themselves as socially undesirable with their personal view of themselves as a positive contributor to society. By asking salespeople how they respond to the accusation of being greedy or pushy salespeople, this study determined that salespeople use similar discursive resources as lawyers and also draw on many of the same tropes used in literature written for salespeople to recast themselves in a positive light. Using structuralism, salespeople open new possibilities for positioning their professional role in society by acting ways consistent with the tropes that they use for their identities, which in turn reinforces the use of those positive tropes.
Thesis (M.A.)--University of Colorado Denver. Communication
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Department of Communication
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by Kimberly Brokling.

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TAKING THE SLIME OUT OF SALES: DISCURSIVE RESOU R CES AND IDENTITY CONSTRUCTION AMONG SALESPEOPLE By KIMBERLY BROKLING B.S. Biology Westminster College 2007 A thesis submitted to the Faculty of the Graduate School of the University of Colorado in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Master of Arts Communication Program 2014


ii This Thesis for the Master of Arts degree by Kimberly Brokling has been approved for the Department of Communication b y Hamilton Bean Chair Sarah K. Fields Tim Kuhn November 18 2014


iii Brokling, Kimberly (Master of Arts, Communication) Taking the Slime Out of Sales: Discursive Resources And Identity in Salespeople Thesis Directed by Associate Professor Hamilton Bean ABSTRACT Professional identity construction has many implications for both individuals and corporations, ranging from work satisfaction to productivity on the job to mental health. This can be problematic in stigmatized fields such as sa les, because people can deve lop a rift in their personal identities because they cannot reconcile the dominant, public view of themselves as socially undesirable with the ir personal view of themselves as a positive contributor to society By asking salespeople how they respond to the accusation of being greedy or pushy salespeople, this study determined that salespeople use similar discursive resources as lawyers and also draw on many of the same tropes used in literature written for salespeople to recast themselves in a positive ligh t. Using structuralism, salespeople open new possibilities for positioning their professional role in society by acting ways consistent with the tropes that they use for their identities, which in turn reinforces the use of those positive tropes. The fo rm and content of this abstract are approved. I recommend its publication. Approved: Hamilton Bean


iv TABLE OF CONTENTS CHAPTER I I NTRODUCTION . .. ..1 II. REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE . ..4 Sales as a Profession .. 4 Salespeople in Popular Discourse and Identity . 5 Gender and Sales ..6 Why Identity Matters.....7 Social Iden tity Theory .. .9 Identity and Sa les Literature12 III. METHODS ..1 8 IV. FINDINGS ....24 Salesperson as Villain: The Stigmatization of Sales as a Profes sion, as Told by Greedy, Slimy, Salespeople ... ..24 Other Salespeople are (Greedy, Pushy, Dishonest) But Not Me 30 Commission Versus Salary. .35 Is This the Real Me?.............................................................................37 Throwdown: Salespeople versus Lawyers ...39 Reading Impacts Identity (Or Not) ..42 V CONCLUSION 4 9


v Limitations ...49 Further Research.. 50 REFERENCES .. .52 APPENDIX A. Questions asked during interviews5 5


vi LIST OF TABLES TABLE 3.1 Sales Stigmas and Number of Comments to Deflect Those Stigmas .31 3.2 Identity Tropes Used by Interviewees .41 3.3 Identity Tropes Used in Sales Literature.41 3.3 Interviewees Who Read Books For Salespeople 44


1 CHAPTER I INTRODUCTION Salespeople often have a reputation in popular discourse as being slimy or pushy (Oakes, 1990) This reputation stems, in part, from public perception that salespeople perform a role that advances corporate greed and is allied with corporate domination. P oor public reputation also stems from the perception that sales people view friendships as mere transactional accounts and instruments to be used in pursuit of financial gain (Oakes, 1990) Salespeople make up approximately one in 10 of all working people in the United States, and negative public perception about sales p eople can result in several implications for iden tity development among those who choose ( or are required to perform ) sales as a profession The first implication is that s alespeople can develop a rift in their personal identities because they cannot reco ncile the dominant, public view of themselves as socially undesirable with the ir personal view of themselves as a positive contributor to society (Vignoles et al 2002) A related implication is that negative self identity can influence work happiness and satisfaction (Briggs et al 2012). T he identity formation of salespeople has several economic consequences, imp acting both overall sales and the types of products and brands that become successful ( Badrinarayanan & Laverie, 2011, Hug h es, 2013 ) S alespeop le also typically generate the large st proportion of revenue for the companies for which they work This project is thus motivated by an impulse to understand the significant human and financial consequences stemming from the complex interrelationships among discourse, identity, and professional occupation


2 Sales is not the only profession typified by a considerable amount of public antipathy Kuhn ( 2009 ) analyzed a similar phenomenon among lawyers Kuhn examined the discourse that lawyers use d in response to the accusatio n of being "corporate lackeys, focusing on the way that lawyers discursively position ed themselves in terms of corporate dominance and individual agency. From Kuhn's perspective, deterministically viewing salespeople as opport unistic greedy moneygrubbers ignores the role that individual agency plays in professional identity formation as well as the role that complex subject position ing plays in influencing what discursive resources salespeople will actually use to make identity claim s Similarly, Wieland (2010) argue d that identity formation takes place both at personal and social levels, with identity being influenced through multiple agents, including individuals themselves, corporations, and the broader society. Howev er, discourse exchanged among salespeople about their work and professional identity is often downplayed in favor of critical analys e s of the relation between self interest and professional role (Jackall, 2009; Oakes, 1990; Vachhani, 2006 ). This situation leaves a gap in terms of theoretical k nowledge about how salespeople discursively position themselves and the practical conseq u ences of identity work with in the sales profession The refore, the purpose of this research is to examine whether there are similarities among the discursive resources that lawyers and salespeople use to downplay, resist or disavow the imputation of negative occupational identities. The research findings will be a first step in establish ing whether speakers in other maligned fields use the types of discursive resources used by lawyers Determining whether or not resources are unique to each occupation (lawyering and sales) can help develop our understanding of the


3 interrelationships among public, institutional, and or ganizational discourse (Grant et al., 2004) Similar to Kuhn's (2009) study, t his research will be accompli shed, in part, by analyzing how salespeople r espond to the accusation of being "greedy" or "pushy The identity of the researcher necessarily impact s how research problems are developed approached, and how "data" is interpreted, particularly in qualitative research (Medved & Turner, 2011) Studying the impacts of how people construct professional identities in the context of working with in a s tigmatized profession is intrinsically interesting to me because of my past experiences as a salesperson As an undergraduate, I was drawn to the sales profession because of the stigma: I assumed that all salespeople must hate their jobs, and I wanted a job that would be easy to leave when it was time for me to begin my post graduation service in the Peace Corps As it turned out, I actually enjoyed selling. Part of my enjoyment stemmed from read ing a number of books about selling, and those boo ks offered me a positive way to look at sales overall ( as well as strategies for success wi thin sales ) Many of my co workers were ambivalent about sales, often because they felt a n intractable conflict between the need to earn commissions and the best int erests of customer s I never really experienced this tension, in part because I had purposefully re framed sales as an opportunity to connect people to something that would make their lives easier or better. Over the years I have coached people on how t o be less squeamish about sales. For this project, I was motivated to critically engage the stereotypes that so powerfully impact job performance and job happiness because I wanted to be able to better understand (and potentially improve) the ways that peo ple negotiate their professional identities


4 CHAPTER II REVIEW OF THE LITERATURE Se veral factors influence how salespeople develop identity claims. In this section, I examine how salespeople are portrayed in popular discourse and the ways in which popular discourse generates a negative stigma about selling as a profession. I then discuss why social identity theory is central to understanding stigma and how people make identity claims to establish, defend, or slave their identities. Finally, I examine how popular sales literature has addressed the problem of professional stigmatization of the sales profession. Sales as a Profession The term "professional" has many different conn otations and nuances (Cheney & Ashcraft, 2007). For purposes of this research, I am considering sales to be a profession, based on the existence of several professional associations for salespeople (including but not limited to the National Association of Sales Professionals, Sales and Marketing Executives International, the American Association of Inside Sales Professionals, and the Professional Sales Association). Cheney and Ashcraft (2007) mention that professional associations organized to further the o ccupational interests of the ir members are one possible indicator of an occupation being considered a profession. Another criteria of the professional, according to Cheney and Ashcraft (2007) is the presence of an ethical standard of behavior They wrote "the idea of professionalism both exalts and regulates the moral performance of individuals who identify with a certain class of practitioners," indicating that some type of moral code is necessary for an


5 occupation to become a profession. Thi s moral code is often implicitly built into sales training with the expectation of better customer experiences (Cadogan et al., 2009) Moral criteria are also exalted in much of popular literature about sales, with many authors pointing out that in additio n to being morally obligated to do the right things, salespeople also benefit more in the long run from doing the "right thing" (Pink, 2011; Berg & Mann, 2010; Jolles, 2000). Salespeople in Popular Discourse and Identity Salespeople receive plenty of negat ive portrayals in popular American culture. From Glengarry Glen Ross to Death of a Salesman to The Office an unflattering portrait of salespeople emerges. For example, the main characters in Glengarry Glen Ross are all salesmen. They are focused on alwa ys closing the sale of various properties regardless of whether or not the people they are selling to have any interest in, or use for, the property Financial capability of customers is also not considered. Cullick (1994) observed that "interactions are not fueled by a desire for fair exchange, but by the drive for advantage over others" (p. 24). The salesmen in the film are pushy, to the point of being unethical In Death of a Salesman the main character, Willy Loman, is portrayed as a washed up man wh o has nothing to show for a lifetime of work as a salesman. Loman is obsessed with being well liked and believes that, as a salesman, he can get by on shoeshine and a smile. Loman fails to get by, or to achieve anything significant at all. The play implies that salespeople risk failing at the important things in life. In The Office, all the salespeople are portrayed as lazy and as having trivial concerns. Across literature, film, and television, the portrayal of an honorable well adjusted salesperson is di fficult to find.


6 Many popular books designed for salespeople address this view of "slimy" salespeople before actually going into detail about how to become better at sales (Jolles, 1998 ; Hopkins, 1980). Jolles writes, almost painfully, about an encounter he had with an old friend that he had not seen in years. The friend was viscerally uncomfortable admitting to what he did for a living, even after sharing many details of his life. Jolles figured out that his friend worked in sales, and Jolles announced to his friend that he also worked as a sales trainer. The friend was relieved, presumably from the lack of negative judgment against him on account of his career choice Popular sales books often offer alternative ways of viewing sales and sales people On e question that this research seeks to answer is whether actual salespeople draw upon the positive tropes offered by literature for salespeople to create a more positive self image. Gender and Sales Salesw omen are curiously absent as characters in popul ar literature, film, and television each of the examples listed above features salesmen instead of saleswomen Similarly, books written for salespeople by women are scarce. The paucity of women in sales can be explained the by fact that sales was traditionally a male dominated occupation Women did not start to join sales teams in great numbers until the 1980's and early 1990's (Dawson, 1997). Women in sales face a unique set of stereotypes that keep them from advancing in sales. For example, women are seen as being overly concerned with soft, relational aspects o f selling and short on decision making skills and need to dominate (Lane & Crane, 2002). Additionally, saleswomen have to overcome a stereotype that women can only be good at sales because of sex appeal, especially if they happen to be selling a


7 lousy product (Glick, et al., 2008) While women face many unique identity related challenges in the sales profession, this research only cov ers broad, generalized discursive resources shared by salespeople of all genders. Consequently, the responses are not compared by gender, although efforts were made to interview approximately equal numbers of women and men. Why Identity Matters Normative ly speaking, establishing a "slime free" identity for salespeople is important for several reasons. One reason is that people often feel compelled to act in ways that are consistent with their chosen identities (Vignoles et al 2002 ) ; therefore, having o nly negative options available, such as an image of a sleazy pushy salesperson, creates a rift in identity. People will work intensively to mend rifts in th eir perception of who they are (Vignoles et al 2002). In addition to the personal identity rifts t hat might arise due to a lack of positive sales identities, Badrinarayanan and Laverie (2011) demonstrate d that because salespeople have limited time, they are most likely to invest sales effort in selling the product s and brands with which they identify. Hughes (2013) noted that advertising has a direct impact on salesperson identification with a product and therefore sales performance. By using survey and performance data across many wholesaler companies, Hughes discovered that the better the perception a salesperson has of a given brand, the more effort and the better performance the salesperson will have with that brand. Other variables, such as the size of the brand and internal communications, moderate the significant effect of brand identification by salespeople on sales performance. In other words, it is in the best interest of companies t o ensure that salespeople cultivate positive identities associated with their profession. Indeed,


8 Meisenbach (2010) offer ed several reasons why addressing occupational stigma was important: negative stigma can lead to increased anxiety, decreased memory capacity, a lack of job commitment and high turnover rates. Studying how salespeople use discourse to negotiate their identity is a lso important because it offers insight into how professionals writ large use discourse to create and transform identities. In addition to increasing kno wledge of how identities and identification theoretically in fluence s individuals in the workplace, this research aims to identify what di scourse strategies people with stigmatized identities actually use to make counter identity claims. T his study also compare s the identity related responses of actual salespeople to the language of those who have written popular literature about sal es As mentioned, popular representations of salespeople are often negative. Literature writte n specifically for salespeople has spoken to the need for positive identity formation Within this literature, s ales people are often recast as heroes, movers of others, entrepreneurs, and many other positive roles Thus, a related purpose of this study is to examine the se re castings and analyze the ir potential impact on salespeople in terms of identity construction and how salespeople manage stigma Tracy and Trethewey (2005) have established that there are important differences in how people are expected to align (or not) their identities with corporate interests, and the feeling of having a "true" identity as a pa rt of work may have an impact on how salespeople discursively position themselves. An alternative to managing stigma is to develop a "fake" self. Ideally, Tracey and Trethewey advocate movement towards a "crystallized" identity wherein all the various fac ets that make up an individual's identity are expressed as part of the whole person.


9 Salespeople, sales managers, and customers could benefit from knowing more about these internalized identities because that knowledge could impact each sales interaction. Salespeople and sales managers could use the information to improve performance. Human resources could use the concept of identity to build better job descriptions. Customers could also benefit, because they would be able to feel more reassured about the purchasing process and not feel like they are "being had." To examine identity construction among salespeople I will draw from social identity theory. Social Identity Theory Social identity theory posits that people see themselves as a part of various groups, and they even believe that the fate of the collective group will also be their individual fate (Ashforth & Mael, 1989; Chan et al 1989; Vignoles et al 2002) People often adjust their behavior to be consistent with group identity (Ashforth & Ma el, 1989 ). By conforming to group behaviors, individuals demonstrate to themselves and others that they genuinely are part of the group. In other words, behavior modification helps individuals make a claim that their self identity is in line with the ir gro up identity. As people internalize behaviors consistent with the groups that they identify with, "people are motivated to act in ways that feel identity congruent. They are motivated to work toward the futures they believe people like t hemselves can attain (Scwhartz 2011, p. 118) In other words, part of the reason why people work toward staking a claim for an identity is because they believe that they can only achieve the same successes (or failures) as other people in the group in which they are staking an identity claim. People face contradictory drive s to both assimilate and differentiate from others According to Chan et al ( 2012) a ssimilation occurs when people want to be identified


10 with a particular group and seek inclusion and conformity within that group Possible motives for assimilation include informational or normative influence, the need for validation from others, the desire to be affiliated with a group that one aspires to be like, or wanting to be simil ar to positive reference groups. Differentiation occurs when pe ople want to be unique, when they want to communicate that they are different from out group members, or simply to differ entiate themselves from others. The degree to which an individual attempts to differentiate or assimilate depends on several factors. Vignoles et al (2002) argue that there are three sources of distinctiveness that are primarily responsible for determining how much a person chooses to differentiate: position, difference, and separateness. These three measures refer to one's individual quali ties, social relationships, and psychological distance or separation from others, respectively. All of these factors influence the drive to assimilate or differentiate at different rates Importantly the drive to differentiate and the drive to assimi late can both be satisfied through consumption (Chan et al 2012). Furthermore, a single product can fulfill both assimilation and differentiation needs. For example, people are able to express both assimilation and differentiation by, for example, wearing clothes from the brands comm on to that group, but choosing different color s A significant implication of Chan 's research is that salespeople can theoretically spea king, simultaneously make an identity claim as a salesperson while differentiating themselves in a positive light. While differentiation and assimilation can be united, there is a strong personal and professional pressure among people to identify with th eir professional roles (Wieland, 2010). S alespeople are no exception This conformity to professional identity


11 can cause mental and emotional discomfort among people in the sales profession due to popular perceptions of salespeople as smarmy, pushy, or oth erwise annoying (Pink, 2012). While popular conceptions of sales might include riches ( e.g. Mad Men ), most of the group associations are negative aligning with Meisenbach's (2010) definition of stigma as "an identity discrediting mark on someone of questionable moral status" (p. 268). When confined to popular perceptions of sales, salespeople are left with the conflict of wanting to be identified as a good person versus bein g labele d a slimy salesperson by popular media The desire to have a strong professional identity ( Ho lmes, 2005; Vignoles et al., 200 2), in tandem with the stigmatized perceptions of sales (Cullick, 1994; Jolles, 1998), togeth er can create a rift in the identities of sales people especially since making an identity claim requires acting in ways that conform with the group(s) with which one is identifying ( Ashforth & Mael, 1989). By looking at the ways in which people simultaneously assimilate and differentiate them selves from groups (Chan et al., 2012) we can better understand how pe ople counterbalance stigmatization (Meisenbach, 2010). In order to learn what re sources salespeople use to negotiate their identities, I am examining a selection of popular literature written for salespeople. At first glance, it appears that the concept of identity is largely stable, and that identities are dictated through organizat ional discourse. The assumption of static, non changing identity is common in research about identity and identification (Scott et al., 1998). In the case of salespeople, it appears that discursive resources used by salespeople are simply responses to stig matization instead of evolving, constitutively constructed possibilities created by salespeople.


12 However, by applying structuration theory to identity and identification in the manner of Scott et al. (1998), a new set of potentials emerges. According to s tructuration theory, "human action both produces and is mediated by structure. That is to say, the product of our actions today may well be a structural resource for interaction that we rely upon in the future" (pp. 301). In terms of identity in salespeopl e, this means that positive tropes reinforce positive behavior, which in turn makes the salesperson use more positive tropes. In this manner, the discursive resources that salespeople use become a structure, or a "set of generative rules and resources avai lable to actors that are capable of bringing about certain states of affairs" (pp. 301). Salespeople, by using positive tropes about their profession, build new generative rules, which moves sales as a whole away from the stigmatized perception that curren tly dominates popular media, as discussed below. Additionally, adopting a constitutive view also moves salespeople toward creating the "crystallized" identity advocated by Tracey and Trethewey (2005) because sales is moved as a whole in a positive directio n, where stereotype becomes less and less relevant. Identity and Sales Literature B ooks written for salespeople have addressed the need for more positive identity re sources for salespeople and they have established several tropes that can serve as the ba sis for alternative identity claims. For example, salespeople are often portrayed in such literature as challengers, " everyday people, " value creators, " heroes, or true professionals. Accordingly, a second ary purpose of this research is to determine whether or not these tropes appear within discourse of actual salespeople to "defend" themselves against negative portrayals A brief description of these major tropes follows.


13 The primary narrative theme in The Challenger Sale (Dixon & Adamson, 2011) is that the best salespeople are "challengers" who are able to challenge the status quo and offer new insights that compel clients to purchase. The book posit s that traditional relationship based selling is "dead" and that success in sales lies with people w ho are comfortable challenging customers to see value where they otherwise would not In terms of identity, salespeople have the option of identifying themselves as insightful challengers instead of "icky" pushers of services and products. The C hallenger n arrative affirms differentiation because it is an alternative to the status quo vision of who salespeople are. Crafting an identity that is distinct from any given group is established as an ide ntity related motive (Vignoles et al 2002). The Challenger n arrative affirms differentiation because it is predicated on the idea that salespeopl e must challenge the status quo, that is, if salespeople are not unique, they have nothing to offer. Salespeople aspiring to forge an identity as a Challenger must differe ntiate themselves as being separate from the group of salespeople as a whole. At the opposite end of the assimilation versus differentiation spectrum, there is a body of literature for salespeople that argues that everyone is a salesperson. By extension, salespeople are regular people, no more or less scummy than the rest of us. Pink (2012) asserts that the average person spends most of his or her actual time promoting and selling ideas, and makes the conclusion that ever yone works in sales. If everyone is involved in sales, as Pink suggests, there is no reason for sales to entail a negative identity. Being a salesperson is just a part of life. Unlike the Challenger model of identity, the Everyman model encourages people t o assimilate and blurs the lines betwee n salespeople and everyone else. An interesting implication of the E veryman choice of


14 identity is that "salespeople" are not their own, unique group (Pink, 2012). If sales does not define a group than it is un necessa ry make an identity claim of belonging with in the group. Therefore, the Everyman identity basically removes any necessity for claiming any sales related identity at all. A common theme of narratives in popular literature for salespeople is the salesperson as a creator of value. " As a salesperson you can define your job description in three words: I create value (Burg & Mann, 2010 p. 13). The "value creator" identity is based on the idea that people only make purchases because they believe that they are receiving value in exchange for the purchase. In this model, the salesperson does not push the product, but instead shows the client how the product will make his or her life better or easier. The identity of the salesperson is based on being valuable to the client by helping him or her succeed in business or life. Ethically creating value as an identity choice has been shown to help salespeople succeed (Briggs et al., 2012) When employees identify positively with their organizations as ethical institutions, t heir sales performance improves. The basis of the hero trope in popular sales literature is that salespeople are necessary to prevent ordinary people from making poor decisions. Jolles (2000) relays a story of buying a car, but not getting a ntilock brakes because he did not want to be "sold." The point was that the salesperson, had he done his job better, could have increased the safety of the author's family. The idea here is that salespeople are experts who are responsible for helping peopl e make bet ter choices. A complimentary narrative with in the theme of salespeople as hero is one where the salesperson is responsible for creating jobs : nothing happens without the sale and everyone has a job because of


15 salespeople. Hopkins (1980) expound s on the hero narrative, asserting that no one has a job without salespeople, because there is no reason to create a product, manage the accounting, or form a human resources department if there is no one to woo customers. There is some economic data to supp ort this idea. For example, as of 2012 the insurance industry employed about 3% of salespeople in the country. Those salespeople generate d about $1.1 million in revenue per representative (Williams, 2012). The Professional identity portrays salespeople as consummate masters of an elite profession. Hopkins (1998) uses this trope freque ntly, painting excellent salespersons as masters of their work and suggesting that successful salespeople meet the greatest ideals of the prof ession. This trope tends to be very masculine, focusing on traditionally masculine attributes such as toughness, autonomy, and self reliance (Hodgson, 2003). Hopkins summarizes this toughness as "an ability to deal with rejection. Champions are people who can ethically and successfully sell" (p. 23 ). In addition to being able to deal with rejection, the Professional or Champion must be willing to accept that it is his or her own fault if he or she is un successful. Adherents are told that no one is innately good at sales, because selling is a skill set that must be learned (Gitomer, 2000 ; Hopkins, 1980). The assumption is that a "true professional" will invest time and energy learning how to be successful; the unsuccessful will soon stop being salespeople. Va cchani (2006) argues that the Professional trope for sales narratives evolved specifically to help manage the tensions of sales identity because traditionally, salespeople relied on a hunter/farmer model of sales M odern tensions within workplaces have sh attered that dichotomy and salespeople are in need of a new, more holistic identity Organizational objectives are constantly changing, and the identity of a


16 "professional" helps to negotiate the tensions between competing identities available in various groups. Many popular sales books exto ll the virtues of independence and paint sales as profession that allows the salesperson to be more independent than would be possible in a more traditional job. Several of these books refer to working in sales as the o pportu nity to "be your own CEO (Gitomer, 2000; Hopkins, 1980). This trope is somewhat similar to the Professional/Master/Champion identity because it focuses on masculine themes such as being dominant and in control. T his study examines to what extent, i f at all, alternative identity themes offered within professional sales literature appear within the d iscourse of actual salespeople, as well as if the sales literature is responsible for impacting salespersons' identities It is important to determine if the same tropes are used b ecause it helps to determine if, as Kuhn (2009) suggests, the discursive tools are limited. Depending on whether or not participants read sales literature and use the tropes prevalent in the books they have read it may also offer a practical starting point for how to im plement positive identity work. If people who are reading the sales literature are using the same tropes, it would indicate that their discursive tool set can indeed be influenced. As a result of the use of popular li terature as a benchmark, this study is not exactly analogous to Kuhn's (2009) study because Kuhn did not engage major tropes in popular literature about lawyering Nevertheless, this comparison can still uncover similarities and difference s in the discursi ve resources that lawyers and salespeople use to resist the imputation of negative identities. By examining how salespeople build their identities and assessing what tropes are commonly employed to describe the work that is being done by salespeople, we ga in a more complete view of the role of agency in


17 salesperson identity. Stakeholders such as human resources professionals, sales training agencies, or even individuals involved in sales, may also be able to build more positive alternative identities for pe ople in the sales profession. Finally, we will be able to see if salespeople use unique discursive resources in their identity formation or if there are overlapping discursive tools used in multiple professions. Combined with Kuhn's work o lawyers, scholar s can begin to gain a better understanding of how professional identities are formed, which discursive resources are most often used, and how people in traditionally stigmatized careers position themselves. In sum, the four primary res earch questions explo red in this study are: R1: Do salespeople believe that they are stigmatized? R2. What discursive resources do salespeople use to defend themselves against stigmatization? R3. How do discursive resources that salespeople use to defend themselves against sti gmatization resemble or differ from those used by lawyers? R4. Do salespeople use (either intentionally or inadvertently) discursive resources found in popular sales literature in constructing their professional identity?


18 CHAPTER III METHODS To explore what discursive techniques salespeople use to describe their work, I used qualitative, semi structured interviews with 20 people who work in sales for various fitness clubs in the state of Colorado (COMIRB Protocol 14 1083 ) The f itness industry was chose n, in part, due to the ubiquity of fitness clubs in state. Another reason for situating this study in the fitness industry was that there are an estimated 50.2 million American s who are members of fitness establishment s ( Gale, 2014 ). This figure indicates that the industry is thriving and has matured enough to have p eople performing separate sales, marketing, and management functions. I secured interview ee s from fitness facilities of all sizes from sole proprietorships to employees at the larges t fitness chain in the world with over 4 million members (Gale, 2014 ) I targeted facilities that were fitness generali sts, intentionally avoiding non traditional athletic facilities, such as yoga or dance studios. My reason for doing so was that I wante d to interview people who were responsible for selling more or less the same type of service The interview participants included 11 men and 9 women. The interviews were recorded and stored on a computer with 128 bit AES encryption to protect the interviewee data. Interviews ranged in length from less than 5 minutes to 25 minutes. Transcripts were typed with all identifying information about the interviewee, including name and employer removed. Any other identifyin g information in the body of the transcripts was rem oved. There were 68 pages of single spaced transcripts.


19 Qualitative interviews of people in the sales field of the fitness industry are appropriate because if researchers seek to comprehend the forces s haping workplace subjectivities and practices, examining the discursive resources deployed in interview responses makes methodological sense" (Kuhn, 2009, p. 696). Because the study centers around the identities of salespeople, a critic al piece of the study was to en sure that the participants worked in sales and therefore had an identity related to working in sales. Oakes (1990) defined a salespe rson as someone who professionally goes through the various steps of selling : "the several steps of recruitin g and qualifying prospects, interviewing potential customers, closing the sale and servicing clients" (p. 6). I used the same definition to establish who would be eligible to participate in this study. Defining the meaning of salespeople based on specific actions and tasks that are part of the job allows for consistency in choosing participants To further achieve consistency, all of the study participants were asked what percentage of their time at work was spent selling, and what their typical job respons ibilities included. The purpose of these questions was to ensure that I was speaking with people who legitimately worked as salespeople To further ensure the quality of interview participants I recruited people by visiting or calling 30 different fitness clubs and asking to speak to people who sold memberships goods, or services as a major component of their job. Additionally, when asking people if they wanted to participate, I was sure to point out that the research was about sales in the fitness indust ry, with an eye toward allowing people to self select and opt out if they did not identify as a salesperson A total of four people chose not to participate explicitly because they did not identify as salespeople. Interviewees were from all different level s of the business, from front desk staff to gym owners. I intentionally included a wide


20 range of organizational level s because I was interested in whether people at different levels of corporate hierarchy use d the same types of resources to overcome the negative association s related to sales. I was able to ensure that participants did not feel pressured to participate by asking them directly and conducting the interviews out of earshot of other employees or management. There was only one situation where a manager offered to let an employee "clock in" to help me with the survey. I mitigated the pressure by telling the employee that he could also just chat with me about unrelated issues for the approximate time of the interview if he preferred. One key diffe rence between this research and Kuhn's (2009) study was my choice to interview a wide variety of salespeople instead of focusing on a more "vulnerable" population of interviewees. Kuhn focused on recent graduates or people still in school based on the idea that the precarious nature of their employment made his interview participants less likely to question corporate interests and therefore more likely to use cultural scripts and discourse revealing prof essional identity Conversely, I believed that it was likely that the people who succeeded in sales and were able to move up the corporate ladder would have internalized the discourses and therefore would be likely to reveal identity claims than more junior employees. Another reason that more seasoned sale em ployees might have more discursive resources available is because sales training typically takes place either on the job or in special workshops over the course of a salesperson's career. While salespeople may have some formal education regarding sales, mo st salespeople have training in business schools, with only a limited amount of coursework in sales (Ellis, 2000). By contrast, law includes specific educati on and professional codes which are inculcated into new lawyers much earlier in the course of


21 their career (Kuhn, 2009) Because the professionalization of salespeople occurs later in the course of a career, I believed that more seasoned salespeople would have had time to accumulate more discursive resources in defense of their profession. After establ ishing that the interview participants were indeed "in sales," I asked questions that aimed to discover how they used discourse as a tool to stake an identity claim. At this stage, I asked participants questions about how they describe d their work to other s, whether anyone had ever had a negative reaction to their job title (and if they thought the reaction would be different if the job title included the word sales) Similar questions designed to elicit responses that indicate how the participants use disc ourse to frame their professional identities were asked as follow up questions. I then asked the selected salespeople about how they respond to the charge of being slimy greedy or pushy because they work in sales In order to determine if the interviewees felt that they were in a stereotyped profession, I also asked participants to describe how sales was portrayed in the media. This step was critical because if people working in sales did not acknowledge that there is stigmatization occurring in their jobs, then it would invalidate the portion of the research dealing with how professional identities are discursively constructed in the con text of a stigmatized industry. Before beginning interviews, I reviewed literatu re written specifically for salespeople. I analyzed a wide variety of literature targeted specifically for salespeople, which was chosen based on availability in local libraries, mentions in sales blogs, and the top selling sales books listed on Top sales blogs were a lso analyzed. The materials were read and then analyzed by looking for emergent themes relating to how salespeople identify themselves professionally. Results were then


22 categorized into dominantly used tropes I wanted to know if s alespeople in the fitness industry were reading these books, and if they felt the books had any impact on how they described their work to others. Accordingly, the last section of the interviews asked if they ever read books written for salespeople. If the y had, I asked which books they read and if those books ever changed how they described their work to others. Most of the people I interviewed had not read any specific sales books, or they tended to read more books about psychology or leadership. After typing each interview, I then read through each transcript and recorded common themes that emerged, with the intent of discovering which discursive resources salespeople utilized most often. I then copied the relevant information into a single word d ocument under the categories I had created With each interview, if I added a new category, I would go back and look at the previous interviews to see if anything was applicable to the new category. Following the example of Sanderson (2013), the categories were then reviewed and evaluated for their usefulness in terms of professional identity formation, discursive positioning, and relevance to each other and the literature for types of tropes employed to describe the work of sales Each theme was compared t o look for similarities and to ensure that meaning was not lost in the categorization. When nothing significantly different was found in the data, I stopped adding new categories. Like Sanderson, I found that many answers were complex and coul d fit into mu ltiple categories, so I likewise made the decision that the data could be categorized into multiple categories (Sanderson, 2013, pp. 494). As I added categories, I continually refined them and evaluated the usefulness of the coding. I shifted categories as necessary to ensure that the categories and information remained useful and meaningful as a


23 discursive resource, adding some categories together and breaking other categories apart (Kuhn, 2009). Simultaneously, I tracked whether or not salespeople had eve r been accused on being greedy, pushy, or slimy, whether or not they had read any sales books, and if they referenced a "real" versus a "fake" self in the manner describ ed by Tracy and Trethewey (2005 )


24 CHAPTER IV FINDINGS Salesperson as Villain: The Stigmatization of Sales as a Profession As Told by Greedy, Slimy Salespeople The first step of the analysis was to determine if the salespeople that I was interviewing felt that the profession of sales is in fact, stigmatized Stigmatization is defined by Meisenbach (2010) as "an identity discrediting mark on someone of questionable moral status" (pp. 268). Smith (2007) refined this idea, positing that members of a group absorb messages about what people or groups should be st igmatized. The possible stigmatization of salespeople matters because stigmatization attitudes lead to stereotypes, which then lead to affective reactions, such as disgust, an ger, or fear. Those stereotypes in turn lead to different treatment of stigmati zed groups. Occupation related stigmatization, such as what is experienced by salespeople, also negatively effects job commitment, performance, and turnover rates of employees (Meisenbach, 2011). My first research question was to discover whether or not salespeople in the fitness industry believed that they were stigmatized There were three ways in which my interview questions revealed the presence of stigmatization: W hen I asked the interviewee t o describe how they saw sales in the popular media, when asked to reflect on whether or not having the word "sales" or "selling" in their job title would make pe ople react differently to them, and throughout the interviews by examining discursive maneuveri ng by the interviewee to separate themselves from the "typical" salesperson. Asking how sales is portrayed in the popular media is the most direct technique to


25 determine if salespeople people see their field as stigmatized because the answers reveal either positive or negative narratives a bout sales in popular culture. I asked the participants to reflect on whether the word sales in their job title had any impact on how people viewed them. T he response invited participants to be reflexive about whether or n ot working in sales served as positive or negative fac tor in interactions with others, a major indicator of stigmatization (Meisenbach, 2010) The final way that I looked for signs of professional stigmatization was by listening for instances where salespe ople tried to separate themselves from other salespe ople. Overwhelmingly, interviewees indicated that sales had a negative representation in the media. Several interviewees listed specific characters of films about the sale s world, including Glengarry Glen Ross, Boiler Room and the Wolf of Wall Street. I think it's kind of portrayed as, like, you're almost portrayed as con men. Did you ever see Wolf of Wall Street? He sells penny stocks but he kind of lies. He's more of a co n man. When he's talking to people about it he kind of hypes it up more than it is and has to lie about it but he's so good at it he makes it sound like the best thing in the world. I think that's why everyone has that notion that salespeople are kind of j ust these crafty guys who are just good with words, good with making you believe in something that shouldn't be believed in. This quote sums up the impression of sales in popular media The interviewee explicitly calls out the negativity associated with sa lespeople in popular film, indicating that salespeople lie and make potential customers believe in things th at are false.


26 Film is not the only popular media that depicts salespeople negatively. I nterviewees also cited examples of direct sales or advertisin g in popular media, such as "obnoxious" infomercial salespeople as opposed to characters in books, plays, or films One interviewee, when prompted to describe how sales is portrayed in popular media, responded "Like everyone should be buying things? Is t hat it? Like everyone is trying to sell me something? ," refere ncing how prevalent sales and marketing is in the media. Interviewees also pointed out discrepancies between how commercials portray salespeople compared to how the rest of media portrays salesp eople. They're usually pushy and they're (salespeople) usually sneaky, and they're usually you know ? Is that not the case? I don't know, maybe I'm thinking of the wrong movies. Commercials and stuff, obviously the sales people are very kind and very help ful. Maybe in real life they're not that way, but I mean in commercials they are portrayed as obviously very positive, you know great, I'm going to get you exactly what you need! Or, w e care about the customer! Obviously they are trying to portray themselv es that way I guess, but I guess in movies they're portrayed as the good salesman is the pushy guy. This quote demonstrates that there is a difference between how salespeople in general are portrayed (e.g. the pushy guy) as opposed to how companies are mar keted as being in the customer's best interest. Another common theme that interviewees mentioned when talking about salespeople in the media was the idea of used car salesmen, who probably bear the biggest brunt of negative stereotypes about salespeople (Pink, 2011). An interviewe e


27 compared the perception of salespeople in general with used car salespeople in the following manner: Sales in the media is definitely seen as very pushy, especially when it comes to car salesmen. That's the generic when people think of sales, that's normally the first thing. Whenever you watch any TV show, any cartoon the y' r e always seen as very pushy, very sly, sneaky, they'll say whatever they need to just to sell, just to get you to buy. Even if they don't have the results. The main message from this quote is that popular media portrays salespeople as pushy, and that used car salespeople are the worst offenders. This was not the only interviewee who mentioned used car salespeople specifically suggesting that the reputation of salespeople at large is somehow connected specifically with the negative image of the "typical used car salesman Among the 20 interviewees, there were only two who did not feel that sales was portrayed negatively in the media. There were a number of people who felt that while the portrayal of salespeople in the media was negative overall, perceptions of salespeople and sales as whole are changing in a positive direction, and that the negative stereotypes were outdated. And I don't think that's actua lly accurate when you talk about people's personal interactions with salespeople. I think it's just the stereotype people have. I do think that it is kind of a slightly outdated one, just because sales in general is leaning more and more toward people maki ng their own choice rather than the salesman making it for them.


28 Clearly, this interviewee felt that the negative perception of salespeople was undeserved and outdated, and cited positive interactions between customers and salespeople in real life in jux taposition with the negative, pushy stereotype of salespeople. Based on how salespeople described popular portrayals of their own profession in the media it is safe to say that there is a perception of popularized stigma of the sales industry. However, it is equally relevant to be sure that salespeople feel the pressure of that stigma and feel compelled to position themselves against the stigmatization of salespeople. Kuhn (2009) found that lawyers (another stigmatized profession) would position themselves against the charge of being "corporate lackeys" by "strategically positioned selves and social groups against the discourses associated with corporate p ower (p. 690) Likewise, salespeople almost unanimously adopted an "us vs. them" approach to describing what they do. In particular, interviewees tended to stress that they are not "pushy" compared to most salespeople, and that they themselves are honest a nd have the client s best interest in mind. These areas of focus directly mirror the three major stereotypes about salespeople: pushiness, greed at the expense of the customer, and dishonesty. One interviewee said I'm sure that a lot of people who work in sales have been accused of (being pushy or greedy) but that's not really my demeanor. I'm not a very pushy person so I just try to be a l ittle more natural about it." These sentiments of being separate from and superior to "other" salespeople, were ech oed by nearly every other interview ee One interviewee stressed honesty and the importance of putting customer needs first, above salesperson gain :


29 That is exactly how honest I am, which is probably why I lose some sales, because it's like listen, I understand your situation because I've been there, and I kind of don't have the heart to put people in a financial bind. I'd rather just be like you know what? I care more about you and the stresses in your life. Because stress is going to cause more probl ems in your fitness tha n not going to the gym. Period. This saleswoman was claiming that while salespeople are typically portrayed as being greedy, she could not be placed into the same category. She did this b y emphasizing that she was willing to lose sal es because she felt financi al stress would cause more long term harm to the client than getting a personal training package would help the client Only two interviewees described sales portrayals in the media in a non negative manner. One of them indicat ed that sales in the media was neutral, with both good and bad being represented. The other described sales in the media as "glorified, like the potential to sell and make a huge commission and make millions of dollars." While the expression was positive, the response emphasized the glory of making a huge commission, which implies that even with the positive language, the respondent was still highlighting corporate greed situated in the specific context of sales. It is clear from the overwhelmingly negative descriptions of sales in the media, and, less frequently, in response to how salespeople see the profession of sales overall, that sales is a stigmatized profession. Specifically, the stigmatization calls for sa lespeople to be greedy, pushy, dishonest, and smooth talking. This finding echoes the same results found by Pink (2011) who found that in the general population, words such as "greedy",


30 "pushy", "smarmy", and "used car salesman" domina te the language used by average American folks to describe salespeople. Additionally, over one third (a total of 8 respondents) had been accused of being pushy, greedy, or slimy at some point in time during their career. Stigmatization is relevant both when it is coming from b oth inside and outside of the stigmatized groups, since a perception of being stigmatized can also lead people to identify stigma reducing discourse (Meisenbach, 2010). In the case of the salespeople that I interviewed, it would appear that the profession is perceived as stigmatized both by people in sales and also by customers, friends, and other outsiders. Other salespeople are (greedy, pushy, dishonest), but not me. After establishing that sales is a stigmatized profession, the next research question sought to determine how salespeople discursively position themselves against negative stereotypes. In other words, when someone accuses you of being a greedy salesperson aiming to part someone from his or her money, how do you respond? One interviewee described the experience of that accusation as follows: It makes meIt kinda takes away the purpose of my job. I mean my job was to make them feel welcome and make them feel that I can change their life with health and wellness and it kinda makes you feel like you are a salesperson that doesn't really care about them. Not all the respondents were so emotional. In general, interviewees would use one of three strategies: 1) cre ating as much distance as possible between themselves and "salespeople who are like that ; 2) admitting that salespeople are actually greedy and develop ing a dichotomy between their real selves/fake (work) selves; or 3) by reframing sales positively, using many tropes to define themselves that are largely consistent with


31 those found in literature written for salespeople. Most interviewees used multiple strategies within the course of the interview and even within the course of answering one question Almo st every interviewee used language in a way that created distance between how he or she behaved and how salespeople behave in general There were a total of 38 individual comments that were classified as creating distance. Comments were classified as creating distance if they referred to the salesperson "not" being a certain way, if they spoke about "some salespeople" or "other salespeople," or "other clubs." Most people who used this discursive strategy focused on specific stigmatized attributes of sales that they did not want to be associated with. The main stigmatized attributes interviewees attempted to discursively counteract were pushiness, greed or dishonesty, with 18, 15 and 7 comments respectively. There were also t wo comments that di d not specifically "counteract greed, dishonesty, or pushiness. Four comments included multiple categories and were therefore counted twice. For this section, I considered "aggressiveness" to be synonymous with "pushiness Table 3.1 Comments Made to Deflect Common Sales Stigmas Pushiness 1 8 Greed 1 5 Dishonesty 7 Other 2 The most common stigmatization word that interviewees attempted to neutralize was pushiness. "I just try not to be really aggressive," said one interviewee. Another said "we're a little less pushyfor the most part the class really does sell itself." Some


32 interviewees repeated that they were not pushy multiple times, as if to reiterate that pushiness was not a quality belonging to them. I don't approach sales the way some people do where it's very pushy. I'm not pushy. I'm very positive. We do have people who get pushy about things, but for the most part I'm very positive. And if you d on't buy, you don't buy. That's part of life. That's part of the job, that you don't always get the sale. If you want to be negative, do something else. In this statement, the interviewee expresses the difference between herself and a pushy salesperson fiv e times, and equates pushiness as being negative as juxtaposed to her positive not pushy selling style. Many interviewees interpreted being non pushy as a business or sales advantage. The following quote was from an own er of a small gym. He described his selling process as a posit ive customer service experience, a benefit he could offer to people coming to his gym. I would say specific to my industry, big clubs are pushy and very young sales. And I know people who have done it and I have clients who have come from situations like that and it's been a very negative experience, and it's been extremely pushy, to the poi nt where they'll be with a sales manager of a club for two hours and feel pressured to buy some kind of personal training package. I think that sales in that regard, people don't like that. I would say from our point of view, I don't think we've ever had a nyone feel negative about our selling protocol or how we approach the sales process. I want everyone to have the best experience possible and I


33 want to ensure they don't feel pressured into a situation they don't feel comfortable with. In this case, the interviewee described the normal business standa rd to include pushy salespeople. He felt that customers, after being hassled by a sales manager at a different fitness facility for several hours, were happy to come to his gym simply because the sales proces s was less pushy for the customer. Another interviewee explained that she was happy that her job title did not include the word sales in it bec a u se "people would not be able to approach me so easily if it was a sales rep thing they would walk away becaus e we don't want to be sold anything. But my job has the hidden aspect of I have to sell." Presumabl y for the same reasons, most of the people I interviewed did not have the word sales in their job title, with companies preferring titles such as membershi p ambassador, associate, or fitness advisor, among others. "We don't like to refer to our staff up front as the sales consultants anymore. We are to working away from the word sales, so I guess there is a negative stereotype to it," said one manager. Aft er pushiness, greed was the next most common stigmatized stereotype that interviewees positioned themselves against. One of the most eloquent summaries of the perception of greed in salespeople was explained: I think that salespeople generally speaking don 't have the best reputation. This is something of an obscure quote but Joseph Stalin when h e was still in charge in the former Soviet Union he said rather famously that he knew when it came time to hang the United States, that an American salesperson woul d be happy to sell him the rope. And I think that is largely the


34 perception of salespeople sort of the sale at all costs and now here's my commission. And I think that is unfair because I can say unequivocally that I don't do business like that. I couldn' t wake up every morning and go to a world where that's what I was. The interviewee simultaneously makes two points with this quote: 1.) The stereotype of greedy salespeople is so ubiquitous that it has made its way into public speeches of national leaders and 2.) That most salespeople don't fit the greedy stereotype and instead embrace a more ethical approach. Another person talked about how people perceived his job as being greedy, explaining that his roommate (an insurance salesman) told the interviewee that he would need to be "slick" now that he was in sales. When asked about how people perceive his career in sales in the fitness industry, he said: So they just kind of assume you're like a used car salesman you know. They'll be like oh, you' re just there to sell and not out there to do anything else, which is kind of because you know those guys get bad raps. Because they think if you r e some sleazy kind of snake kind of guy that'll say anything to get someone to buy which isn't true because we don't work off commission, which everybody thinks too. So they think I'm some kind of slime ball kind of guy. In this example, the interviewee sounds frustrated with what he perceives to be an incorrect stereotype about salespeople being sleazy and greedy. He is expressing that he comes across this stereotype frequently when he tells people that he works in sales.


35 Commission versus Salary The issue of whether or not salespeople were paid by commission was a dominant factor in how salespeople positio ned themselves as being separate from corporate greed and the related stigmati zation of the sales profession, particularly by people who did not earn commission on their sales, or who only earned group commissions, where the commission structure was based on the performance of the entire sales team instead of based on individual sales performance. "I think it's portrayed, like you said, like we're money hungry and we want to go straight for your wallet. And that's not really what we do. At least, non commis sioned salesmen like myself. It does get a little cutthroat when you are commissioned," said one interviewee. After further reflection, he added "Yeah, I think because of salesmen that work on commission and they get pushy to try to get that sale. Sometime s, you're not going to let a person tell you no if you know your livelihood depends on it." Implied in this response was that there salespeople have to be pushy if their income depends on getting customers to purchase the product or service they are sellin g. Like the lack of pushiness, some people felt that a lack of commission was a distinct competitive advantage. Perhaps this was because of the same thought process that that not having individual commission would make the salespeople less likely to be either greedy or pushy. To be honest, the good thing about our company is that we don't work on commission. We do let people know that right away. We do have to stay within our budget, but there are a number of money goals to hit every month. But I think the big wall is this perception of, you know, hey I'm


36 going to take every dime out of your wallet, I'm going to nickel and dime you. We tell people right away that the good thing about us is if you join today, cool. But I don't make a dollar off of what yo u purchase. I don't work on commission, I'm totally I get paid regardless. This interviewee vividly described how he cannot be greedy because he does not receive a commission (although he still mentioned the need to meet corporate money goals). By contrast, salespeople who did work for co mmission did not explicitly mention commission. This omission of commission is, in itself, telling about how salespeople make identity claims in opposition to popular portrayals of greed. Commission appears to provi de a direct incentive for salespeople to be greedy, and so it is submerged in the narratives of th e people who receive commission. Only salespeople who do not earn commission and therefore do not run the risk of bei ng associated with greed believed to be caused by commission, explicitly mention commission in relation to their job titles. Trailing behind pushiness and greed, the next most discursively deflected characteristic of salespeople was dishonesty. "That is exactly how honest I am, which is probably why I lose some sales," one interviewee lamented. Another, defending herself against both honesty and pushiness, said "It's not my style to be super pushy. I'm straight up honest. This is what our prices are. The product kind of sells itself." Interviewe es who mentioned honesty te nded to link it with greed or pushiness, which could be interpreted as the stereotypes being related. For example, people may be pushy by lying or otherwise being dishonest. Likewise, greed could be construed as a root cause of d ishonesty in salespeople.


37 The remaining people who sought to discursively manufacture distance between themselves and "other" salespeople did no t mention specific stereotypes and instead focused on the stigmatization of sales overall and how the stigmatiz ation is based on the actions of a few instead of on all salespeople: So I do think there are negative things that come up, especially when it comes to used car salesmen or insurance salesmen or the super big smarmy gym salesmen. So I think there are negat ive aspects, but I personally, I've always come to my own conclusion, and like I said earlier what I think are negative portrayals are accurate because of how those people act. This answer does not directly attack greed, dishonesty, or pushiness, but it st ill attempts to place distance between the interviewee and other salespeople, in this case used car salespeople, insurance salespeople, and other gym salespeople. Is This the Real Me? Not everyone fights against stigmatization. Many salespeople develop a separation between their "real self" and "fake self," a phenomen on described by Tracy and Trethewe y (2005). When this happens, people compartmentalize their public and private selves, often describing the self at work as fake. People who I interviewed who took this route talked at length about how they do not enjoy the work, often citing pressure to live up to sales stereotypes: I've gotten better, but with no sales experience I wouldn't know how to be like all savvy and smooth talking, because I feel l ike that's what you have to be. So for me it gets awkward on the phone sometimes. Because you're


38 talking to somebody, and then there's a pause, like ugh! I don't know what to say now. It gets really weird. When you see somebody face to face it's kind of ea sier to get that over those objections because you can kind of work around it You have the shit to show. You have things to show. On the phone, there's nothing really to show. That's the worst part and that's why I hate it more than anything. This respons e indicates that the interviewee feels a disconnect between the desire to be smooth talking, which the interviewee sees as necessary for success at work, and the "true" self who feels awkward asking people about their fitness over the phone. Another inte rviewee said: It's something I don't really want to do. You know it's not like I go out and say oh, I love selling stuff. Because I do feel kind of slimy. I do, because it's just not me not my personality. I feel like you need to have a certain personalit y and mindset to be good at it and really enjoy it, which I don't. Once again, this salesperson does not feel that sales is her "real" self, and even admits that she feels slimy when she is engaged in selling. Some people denied that they even saw their j obs as sales. "As far as sales in general, it's something I'm torn between," said one interviewee. "I do do sales, but it's also like, I don't consider myself a salesperson. It's more about promoting health and helping people." While this response doesn't explicitly call out a real versus a fake self, it does indicate that the interviewee wants to separate herself from sales.


39 Many of the people in this categ ory specifically felt compelled to call out the double persona. So you will have people yell at you and you got to put on your face. You've got to accept a lot of things if they get mad or they'll want to chew you out or they're having a bad day and you're the one who has to take the fall for it unfortunately because they know you can't attack back b ecause you're on the clock. Talking about putting on a "face" is indicative of a "fake" self; the interviewee indicated that he does not enjoy being yelled at but, for the sake of professionalism, was willing to put forward a cheerful "face" for the custom ers. Five people, or 25% of the interviewees, used the "real self/fake self" dichotomy as a discursive resource to position their professional identity within the stigmatized context of sales. The rest of the participants did not separate their "real" and fake selves, which I interpret as a movement toward a crystallization of identity advocated by Tracy and Trethewe y (2005). While emotional labor ( Shepherd, et al., 2011) is a part of sales, the people who are able to see the value in their profession a nd come to terms with the context of working in sales versus being in another context are able to grow "in a world with varied and layered array of discourses to use and embody (pp. 23). Salespeople who do not feel the need to separate their identities in to "real" or "fake" segments are able to embrace both the work of sales and the other identifications of who they are in a non professional context. Throwdown: Salespeople versus Lawyers


40 One of the first impetuses of conducting this research was to disco ver if salespeople use similar discursive resources to create identity claims as compared to professionals in other stigmatized fields, such as law. Accordingly, it is appropriate to begin the discussion of the results by comparing them to Kuhn's (2009) wo rk on lawyers. The most obvious commonality here is that Kuhn's respondents almost unanimously distanced themselves from the corporate lackey charge. The same was true of the salespeople in the fitness industry that I interviewed. Like Kuhn, I also found t hat many people who sought to ally them selves against corporate greed still answered in ways which would conserve corporate power, and which still indicated loyalty to the employer over the consumer. In terms of identity Kuhn (2009) described four major resources: professional ethics as inoculation, firm practices as a shield, individualized ethics, and law as a protective force. While these are clearly not the same as the three resources I discovered: distance, "real self/fake self" dichotomy, and posit ive re framing of sales, there are definitely some similarities For example, "professional ethics of inoculation" implies that lawyers are able to access complex truths not available to the layperso n. While sales discourse does not profess to have any com plex truths, there are similarities between Kuhn's finding and the idea of the Professional/Master/Champion, which is based on the idea that it is difficult to be good at sales, or the Challenger sales types, who think that the purpose of sales is to chall enge common sense. In addition, many of the interviewees argued that sales gets misrepresented in the media, and that salespeople are not actually pushy because they are helping people get what they already want (even if the customer might not be aware tha t they want the product or service ).


41 Kuhn's next discursive resource was the idea of "firm practices as a shield," where by lawyers defended the practice of law by selectively citing charitable and pro bono activities. The interviews of people working in sales in the fitness industry were rife with similar ideas about how their company accomplishes good things, which justifies greed or pushiness. Examples of all the "good" accomplished by fitness companies according to the salespeople are "helping people get healthier," "fighting against the epidemic of obesity," and "selling a lifestyle." One interviewee even equated selling f itness packages to being a medical doctor saving lives. The firm practices as a shield resource in law is similar to the Value Creator and Hero tropes in sales. The third discursive resource noted by Kuhn for lawyers was the idea of "individualized ethic s," wherein the lawyers claimed as individuals they are "innocent" of being "corporate lackeys." Most of the salespeople who tried to discursively distance themselves from sales stigmas used this resource. Kuhn's fourth discursive resource, law as a protec tive force, was not relevant to sales. On a more general level, both salespeople and lawyers use discourse to make identity claims in opposition to the common stereotypes. Kuhn (2009) argued that lawyers' identity is created through "constrained possibilit ies" formed through networks of identification. At this fundamental level of how identity claims are used to create a professional identity salespeople and lawyers are the same. All of the people that I interviewed drew on popular discourses, obvious both by their familiarity and their sameness: W hen it came to tropes used to describe sales and to fight the stereotypes created by stigmatization, there were no original descriptions Everyone relied up on the same five to six tropes (five in literature for sa lespeople; six emergent in the interviews) to make their identity claims. Furthermore, the tropes were


42 also found in literature about sales, which further indicates the limited nature of the discourse. The network of existing dialogues therefore must limit identity This research builds upon and supports Kuhn's work on identity in that salespeople in the fitness industry use many of the same discursive resources, although so me of those resources are field specific. Field specificity supports the idea that r eticulated nodes, situated within the context of an industry characterize identity formation Reading Impacts Identity (Or Not) The final discursive resource used by salespeople in this study was to re cast sales and selling in a positive light. There are several tropes that emerged recurrently among the salespeople in this study: The Challenger, which use s the idea that salespeople need to challenge the knowledge of the customers and force the customers to see things differently, T he Everyman wh ich is based on the idea that everyone is in sales, and that therefore there is no reason for stigmatization the Value Creator who creates value externally by providing a product of value to the c u st o mers, The Hero, who helps people by getting the custom ers to buy things that are good for them or who creates jobs for others in the organization and "keeps the lights on" The Professional, who thrives on the difficulty of sales and the fact that they can handle the workload and maintain professional presenc e at all times, or who alternat ive ly sees sales as a numbers game and interprets the job as being their own business because they can decide how to "run" it to create more income for themselves, and The Passionate Purchaser who feels that being passionate about the product is enough of a reason to sell The Passionate Purchaser was


43 the only trope not commonly seen in the literature for salespeople based on my sample of this literature. Table 3.2 Identity Tropes Used by Interviewees Value Creator 25 Professional 21 Hero 15 Passionate Purchaser 5 Challenger 3 Everyman 1 Of these, the first five are also staples in literature written for salespeople. In a sampling of 15 books for salespeople, the tropes were mentioned as follows: The Challenger 2 times, The Value Creator 12 times, The Hero 6 times, the Professional/Master/Champion 5 times, and the Everyman 5 times. The Value Creator was not differentiated between internal and external value for the literature portion of the resear ch. Table 3.3 : Identity tropes in literature for salespeople Value Creator 12 Hero 6 Everyman 5 Professional/Master/Champion 5 Challenger 2


44 Many interviewees drew on multiple professional tropes to construct their professional identity. The Value Creator was the largest category in both the literature and among the interviewees This is perhaps the easiest argument available in favor of sales, because the general idea is that helping people is inherently a positive activity. A participan t described it this way: So to me, sales are good if you have a good product. And if you do have a good product, you're not going to be smarmy or trying to sell. People are going to want it. People are going to come to you and you're just facilitating that Sales only gets bad and only gets negative when it's trying to sell something that has no use, or trying to sell to the wrong group of people. So I think it's a positive thing. For this interviewee, the ethics of selling were simplified down to the quali ty of the product being sold. She indicated that selling is inevitable since the potential customer already wants the product. Another interviewee explained, "Well I like dealing with people. Helping people better their lives. I enjoy working in a gym because of course, who wouldn't want to make their lives better?" The rhetorical question frames sales as an obvious choice, rooted in the desire to help others. Anoth er interviewee said that personal training is so much more than just a product or service for the clients: And it's kind of like a really cheap version of a bartender you hear all their problems and we help them out the best we possibly can. People come in with some really bad stories about themselves. I've had people who they've just had years and years of eating bad and drinking bad and


45 gone thru divorces and problems with their boyfriend, girlfriend partner whatever the case may be. We understand. This response indicates that the interviewee feels like the product goes beyond the initial value of increased physical fitness, and touches on psychological health of the customers and friendship between clients and salespeople. By extension, the people s elling the fitness product are offering a greater value to the customers than the customers even imagined initially. Interviewees who used the Value Creator as a positive re framing of sales consistently spoke about the joy of seeing people make positive changes in their fitness, confidence, and overall lives. The next most common answer, The Professional was expressed as people who enjoyed the process of sales as opposed to enjoying the product like the value creators. "I like sales! I think it's fun. It's a bit of a game. For us, we don't sell a product; we sell a service. So we're all about a whole experience with what they come into the gym with and what they leave with," said one interviewee. Another in terviewee said "I feel like it's challenging, which is great." Another one went so far as to say that people were jealous of his job: "I think it's more of an envious thing because I think a lot of them wish they could do it, but most of them probably couldn't, honestly. It's very hard." People in The Professional category also compared their work in sales to the challenges and joys of entrepreneurship and being self employed. Even though the majority of these interviewees were not self employed, they used the metaphor of self employment because their salary is dependent on their sales performance and they are given wide latitude to be creative about how to entice new members.


46 Interviewees utilized t he remaining categories remarkably less frequently than The Value Creator and the Profe ssional tropes. This most likely indicates that these two categories dominate among sales people in the fitness industry. Despite the stunning similarity between the tropes actually used by salespeople and the tropes described in literature, only six of th e interviewees reported having read a sales book. Out of those six, only one said that the sales literature influenced how they spoke to others about being in sales. Two interviewees said that, while not impacting how they talk about being in sales, the sa les books did positively influence their sales results. The final research question was whether or not salespeople glean ed their discursive tactics from e xisting sales literature. Based on the small number of people who reported reading a sales book, it i s unlikely that salespeople draw from books about sales to create their identity claims Table 3.4 Interviewees Who Read Books For Salespeople Have read a sales book(s) 5 25 % Have not read sales books 1 5 75 % Throughout the research, there was not a significant difference in responses between men and women. Both genders felt that sales was in fact a stigmatized profession, and there were no significant differences in discursive resources used by men as opposed to women. Based on the findings described above, I summarize answer s to the research questions as follows: R1: Do salespeople believe that they are stigmatized?


47 T his research has found that sales, at least from the perspective of salespeople in the fitness industry, is a stigmatized professional field based on Meisenbach's (2010) c riteria of stigmatization. Participants vividly expressed negative stereotypes in the media and, when asked reflexively about the impact of the word sales in their job title, mos tly envisioned negative impacts of being associated directly with the word sales. R2. What discursive resources do use to defend themselves against stigmatization? Interviewees generally relied on a small number of discursive resources to defend themselve s against stigmatization, including using positive tropes, denying a conflict of identity by separating their "real" selves from their "fake organizational selves, or by discursively seeking to place distance between themselves and "o ther," implicitly less ethical salespeople. R3. How do discursive resources that salespeople use to defend themselves against stigmatization resemble or differ from those used by lawyers? I found several similarities between my interviewees and the participants in Kuhn' s ( 2009) study. Notably, the responses of interviewees were reticulated in a web of discourse related to the industry, in this case sales More specifically, people in both fields used professional ethics as inoculation, firm practices as a shield, and indivi dualized ethics as ways to rationalize and justify the implied service to corporate greed. R4. Do salespeople (either intentionally or inadvertently) discursive resources found in popular sales literature in constructing their professional identity?


48 Sales people in the fitness industry that I interviewed for this study often used discursive resources found in popular sales literature, although I also discovered that most salespeople were not reading the literature, which indicates that they drew their discu rsive resource positioning from another source. Even among the participants who did read sales literature, they all indicated that the literature did not influence how they spoke about being sales professionals.


49 CHAPTER V CONCLUSION Salespeople use a number of discursive resources to make identity claims about their professional work in a field that is popularly stigmatized fields. Many of these resources are similar to discursive resources used by people in other stigmatized fields, such as law. While literature written for salespeople offers several alternative, positive tropes, that literature does not appear to actually impact the discursive resources actually implemented by salespeople when describing their work. Limitations Ther e were some limitations to the study. For example, all of the participants were drawn from one state, which means that the research does not account for any regional or cultural differences. While I attempted to obtain a variety of different levels in the corporate hierarchy, this was also a limitation because it made the sample more diverse, and may cause difficulties drawing comparisons to other groups. Additionally, I would have liked to get better research by asking for popular perceptions of the media earlier on in the interview in an attempt to "frame" the question in a way that put the interviewees in the mindset of needing to defend their work in sales which may have led to more revealing answers earlier in the interview. I also would have asked how long each person had been in sales, and how long they had been in the fitness industry to get a baseline idea of how "indoctrinated" they might be into industry discourse. My personal interest in both sales and fitness may have unnecessarily "colored" ho w I saw the responses, causing me to look at sales with a more sympathetic than critical eye. Many authors have decried sales and selling as being instruments of


50 corporate greed (Mills, 1950) or as being callous and always putting the profits of businesses ahead of the best interests of people (Oakes, 1990). While the main purpose of the study was only to determine what discursive resources sales people use and not to determine if salespeople are, in fact, greedy, my own background may have made me more lik ely to listen for positives, and also may have influenced the non verbal feedback I was giving to interviewees I tried to mitigate this by scripting my questions ahead of time and limiting my follow up questions, but this still may have impacted the study results. Further Research Going forward, there are a number of ways that researchers can build on this study. Tracy and Trethewey (2005) suggest that people with lower status within an organization are more likely to develop a "real self" "fake self" dichotomy, and are encouraged to adopt the "fake self" in the course of their organizational work. This discursive strategy was not employed as frequently as the use of distance or by reframing sales positively by the people in this study perhaps, as ment ioned above, because salespeople are already moving toward "crystallized" identities that mesh the best interests of the organizations with the best interests of the salespeople and customers More research could determine if this strategy is related to or ganizational hierarchy and how low (or high) salespeople are within that hierarchy. I am also curious about the ratios of customer service to sales among people who discussed their sales job in terms of "real self/ fake self" mechanisms, because even sales people who did not discuss this tended to mention customer service as the place where they felt most disingenuous or untrue to themselves. Situating a study that looks specifically at hierarchy might also lead to a


51 better understanding about how salespeopl e can create crystallized identities by creating better discourse. Anecdotally, I noticed that people who held titles indicative of a higher rank in the organizational hierarchy tended to use more discursive resources against the sales stereotypes than pe ople lower in the organizational hierarchy. Keeping track of the ratio of discursive resources utilized to organizational hierarchy was outside of the scope of this study, but analyzing this in greater detail would have several practical implications for s alespeople looking to advance their careers as well as human resources managers looking to improve the satisfaction and skill sets of their employees. Another direction to take future research would be to build on the idea of reticulated identities by exa mining another stigmatized profession and comparing how communicative strategies relating to identity differ between industries. Multiple people in this study mentioned "used car salesmen," which indicates that people in the sale s profession in other indus t ries use different resources, particularly since the participants in this study relied so heavily on health and wellness related claims to reinforce their identities positively.


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55 APPENDIX A: INTERVIEW QUESTIONS Please note that the interviews were held in a semi structured format, so while these questions formed the basis of the questions, participants were encouraged to speak more with appropriate follow up questions, and the order varied depending on the direction of the conversation. 1. Could you start by telling me a little about your job? Typical responsibilit ies? 2. What do you enjoy about your job? 3. What do you dislike about your job? 4. What proportion of your time do you spend selling? 5. What is your role in the company? Why is your job important to the people who hired you? 6. Your job title? 7. Do people ever have a ne gative reaction to the job title? 8. What happened? 9. Do you think the reaction would be different if you did/did not have the word sales or selling in your job title? 10. Have you ever been accused of being pushy/greedy/slimy because you work in sales? 11. What happened? Who said it? How did you respond? 12. How do you see the profession of sales overall? 13. Describe how sales is portrayed in the media.


56 14. Do you agree or disagree with those portrayals? 15. Where do popular portrayals come from? 16. Do you ever read books about sa les? What books? Are they useful for you? 17. Have those sales books ever informed how you respond to others about being in sales?