Sales Shame: How To Get Out Of Your Own Way

by Terri Scott 5 Minutes

professional shame Google SearchThere’s all sorts of ways that people like us can sabotage or kill our success when it comes to selling.

We leave CTAs off of our marketing correspondence. We stammer and stutter when it’s time to pitch a fee increase from our clients.

We hang on to clients who are a poor fit for us (or are flat-out abusive). We bury our heads like an ostrich…anything to prevent ourselves from standing up for ourselves and our work by asking for more.

On the surface, all of this seems to be rooted in fear, and hey, aren’t all salespeople afraid to sell?

Well, many can’t get past their fears of selling, while others seemingly grit their teeth and get the sale (or the conversion of some sort) accomplished. But let’s make one thing clear:

Neither group enjoys the process of pitching or converting.

And this is usually because the issue goes a lot deeper than a simple case of sales fear, which can usually be resolved with a good pep talk, or two.

The problem often lies within an emotion that’s drastically more toxic than fear:


Sales shame in action

Branding expert and the CEO of Strategic JuJu, JuJu Hook, wrote a loving tribute to her father, an ex used-car salesman. She detailed her early years of watching her father sell the cars, and at one point, she tested her hand in the family business, discovering how much she used to detest selling:

And as branding goes, I got a label very early on in my professional life: bad closer. I was a bad closer. Plain and simple. Afraid to ask for the sale. Afraid to tell people what they really needed. Afraid to take control of my own negotiation. Just a flat-out lousy closer.

I became more than just a bad closer. I became the anti-closer. Fast-forward 15 years to the day I put out the sign for my own branding agency and set out to wow my first big clients. Nothing had changed… I was a great pitch. And a horrible close. Sometimes I even had to bring in a closer.

Fast forward another 15 years…and every day as I talk to entrepreneurs and small business owners about their brands, I meet other folks who are bad closers. Or fancy themselves the anti-closers. Or see themselves as outside or above the act of selling their products. Geniuses who could change the world, if only they’d close the sale.

And if you’re one of these folks, one of the ones who believes that you can run a business without selling something, lean over, because I need to whisper something in your ear: There’s no sense in having the best product in the world, if no one ever gets to hear about it.

There’s a name for it

Frank Lee, a professional sales trainer, consultant, and president of Sales Academy, Inc, not only identified this particular (and peculiar) type of shame in sales-driven industries (like ours), but he’s also assigned a name to it:

Role Rejection

In short, role rejection takes place when a salesperson (by profession or by the necessity of their business operation) experience secret shame because of their need to sell.

More to the point, the salesperson experiences shame because their ability to generate money is directly tied to selling-and most of us have been conditioned to believe that salespeople are inherently slimy, disingenuous, untrustworthy, selfish, up-to-no-good, and sometimes, con artists!

And what’s worse, sales-driven industries are actually partially to blame for instigating and promoting the shame!

Does any of this sound familiar?

The first defense of the role rejected salesperson is deflection. They use deflective identities and behaviors to disguise the fact that they are in sales.

They describe their jobs in flowery terms. Instead of calling themselves salespeople, they prefer other descriptors. One used car salesperson I know has a business card that describes him as a transportation consultant.

The life insurance industry is rife with role rejected salespeople…they have moved away from salespeople to other, more exotic terms, such as financial advisor, estate planner, or (even), advisor to the galaxy. The funeral industry is not far behind. They call their salespeople pre-need counselors.

The message these and other like industries are sending to their salespeople is that there must be something wrong with selling, otherwise, why disguise it. By clothing their sales force with these deflective titles, they seem to be saying that selling is bad.

As a result, their salespeople continue to hide the fact that they are in sales and then (they) begin to feel shame associated with selling.

Root causes for sales shame

Shame doesn’t remain in the creative and digital services space. It also thrives within small to medium-sized business owners in all industries, as Todd Liles of Serve Extra, a training site for HVAC professionals, explains.

Todd walks HVAC technicians through the four steps of overcoming the guilt and shame that’s associated with sales, or rather, failing to sell.

In this post, he offers the reader an interesting backstory-his sales shame stemmed from a poor upbringing in a rural section of the Southern U.S.

It stands to reason that someone who grew up in an environment where having enough money to handle basic needs was rare would experience discomfort about asking others to spend money!

Therefore, it would be reasonable to think that service providers who carry inside of them the narrative of an impoverished or working-class upbringing will experience guilt when it’s time to ask for clients for a sale, more work, or when it’s time to raise their fees.

If you’re in this position, then it’s natural that you’ll either project your concerns about money onto your clients, or you might not feel worthy of asking for more money than what you absolutely need to get by.

Generating enough money to realize business profit and personal disposable income might make you experience discomfort, and even, panic!

Practical tips for overcoming fear and shame

So here’s the conundrum: You can’t generate revenue without selling, but you’re either afraid or ashamed of selling. What will you do?

You could implement the same thoughtful advice that Todd walks his techs (the service providers) through, urging them to follow four steps that he created to overcome mental blocks and self-limiting beliefs about asking for money. Here’s an adaptation:

Step one-surround yourself with properly conditioned service providers…The power of the group is one of the most powerful ways to recondition a thought process.

The sheer presence of other people who actually have pride in charging retail prices will begin to change the mindset of the person that struggles with shame.

Step two-solicit testimonials from happy clients…The shame of selling will often prevent (providers) from following up with a client…By sharing the testimonial letters you have from happy clients, it begins to reveal that clients are still happy after the sell.

Step three-educate yourself on the cost of doing business…An educated tech understands that cost associated with doing business. He then can understand that retail pricing is critical to the long term ability to serve and keep the client happy.

Step four-improve the quality of your service…If the quality of the work being delivered is not up to par, then implement immediate changes to bring quality back up to par. Fix quality, and you will remove the natural shame of a poor job.

So as you can see, we’re often the cause for our own fears. We have to stop projecting stereotypes, and stop allowing past life-narratives to stand in the way of our business growth.

I’ve said this before-you started your business for a reason, so there’s at least a shred of self-believe that lives inside of you. Let those emotions lead the way instead of fear. Fear isn’t paying your bills, and unnecessary shame is a heavy burden that prevents your business from soaring.

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by Terri Scott
Terri is a content marketing storyteller and strategist. She teaches marketing and entrepreneurship through stories for marketers of all stripes. Her specialty is creating narrative and she writes essays and memoir in her spare time. You can view her work at, and she'd love to hear from you: