Sales and Sales Management Blog

September 7, 2014

The Dark Side of Sales–It Ain’t Going Away

Filed under: Uncategorized — Paul McCord @ 3:45 pm
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My father passed away in 1979.  I went with my mother to the funeral home to help her make the arrangements for my father’s funeral.  It was one of the most obscene experiences of my life.

The salesperson used every trick he could think of to manipulate my mother’s grief and emotional distress to up-sell her at every turn.  I grew up in a working class family.  My father was a Battalion Chief for the City of Garland, Texas fire department.  He had some life insurance, but not much. Money was always tight and would continue to be tight for my mother—tighter than ever since my father’s income would cease.  She didn’t have the money to spend on more than necessary for a nice but modest funeral.

A nice but modest funeral wasn’t in the best interests of the salesperson at the funeral home.  He couldn’t sacrifice any commissions just because he had a working class widow in front of him.

When my mother picked a lower price casket he pointed out that since dad knew a great many folks and was well liked there would be a large crowd at the service and certainly he deserved a casket that would reflect well to that large group.  $$$$ out of her bank account.

When she chose to go with the least expense concrete burial vault the salesperson described in great detail what would happen to my father’s body if she didn’t buy the most expensive lined vault.  More $$$$ out of her account.
When she chose to have a simple large picture of dad in his formal department uniform the salesperson discussed how most people prefer to have a large mural of the deceased that reviewed their life and their relationships.  Of course, more $$$$ out of the account.

No matter how I tried to reason with mom about the dollars and the need for a more modest funeral, the damage had already been done by the seller’s manipulation of her grief.  Money became no object as she fought to make sure everyone knew that dad was loved and treasured.

Last Thursday my father-in-law passed away.  To my great disappointment, but not to my surprise, the exact same indecent and repugnant strategies are being used today by funeral homes to wring every penny out of grieving families whether they can afford it or not.  And, of course, the question of affordability shouldn’t even be an issue as indecent selling practices are indecent whether used with someone who can easily afford the product or service or someone who has to sacrifice to do so.

I would like to think that we are making great strides in moving the sales profession to higher ethical standards, and in many industries I think we are.

Yet there are still many, such as the funeral industry, the automobile industry, some areas of financial services, construction and remodeling, and others, where a good many sellers find it more profitable to manipulate, lie, and cheat than to sell ethically.

Many of us try to convince ourselves that things are changing and that the bad apples won’t be able to survive—but I’m far from sure that’s the case.


  1. Hi Paul,
    Please let me start by offering my condolences, both for the loss of your Dad years ago and the loss of your father-in-law last week. Please extend my condolences to your wife as well for the loss of her Dad. I appreciate your anecdote and the point that you make. We have all run into people like that and I’m sure that you are correct, we will continue to be disgusted by people like that. They aren’t going away any time soon. My argument is that they are not real salespeople. They are service sector functionaries, not much different than the teenager behind the counter at the local fast food joint asking if you want to “super size” your order. They don’t go hunting for business, they don’t research new potential customers, they don’t strategize on how to best service a new potential customer. They don’t work to integrate themselves into their customers business to provide service and support. They sit and wait (ok, they probably do some advertising) for business to come to them and then they prey on peoples raw emotions. That is not truly sales, that is a service sector job that has an element of sales to it. Really no different than the car salesman who tries to get you into the top of the line model at full MSRP. As a 30+ year commissioned sales professional I do not consider those folks to be in my line of work. You’re correct… it is a dark side, but is it really sales?

    Comment by Bob Van Winter — September 8, 2014 @ 7:34 am | Reply

    • Bob, thanks for the thoughtful reply. Our problem whether we like it or not is that a great many, if not the vast majority, of our prospects and customers view these people as our brethren in sales. What they do and how they act reflects directly on the rest of us. We tell ourselves that these tactics won’t work, that those who employ them won’t last, but in our hearts we know that isn’t true, that many of these people are making huge commissions year after year preying on folks. Whether we’re talking Madoff or the local used car lot, these folks are out searching the next sale and they use the same strategies we do from networking to referrals to adverting to social media. And to a large extent they sound just us, they look like us, they have our collateral material, our business cards. The only difference is in the end instead of seeking to solve an issue they seek to force an inflated sale.

      Comment by Paul McCord — September 11, 2014 @ 3:36 pm | Reply

  2. My condolences for your loss in both cases. And how horrific that indeed we still find such cases.. Don’t these people realize they are the butts of jokes, objects of ridicule and disdain and prototypes of villains in our cultural consciousness? When honest “service” becomes offensively “self-serving.”

    Comment by Kurt — September 8, 2014 @ 8:56 am | Reply

    • Thanks, Kurt. Being the butt of jokes doesn’t bother them in the least–especially as they’re cashing the checks.

      Comment by Paul McCord — September 11, 2014 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

  3. And this is why my husband and myself have already made all funeral arrangements. How ironic those who are in the caring business only care about their own sales commissions.

    Comment by Leanne HoaglandSmith (@CoachLee) — September 8, 2014 @ 9:36 am | Reply

    • Leanne, you’re right, great irony of the caring business only caring about the dollars. Wise move pre-planning, not only does it take a great stress off the family, it keeps money in the bank account.

      Comment by Paul McCord — September 11, 2014 @ 3:38 pm | Reply

  4. […] The Dark Side of Sales–It Ain’t Going Away […]

    Pingback by Top 50 Sales Management Blogs - Sales Acceleration and Productivity Software — November 5, 2014 @ 9:49 am | Reply

  5. I couldn’t determine from your post what “indecent selling practices” you were referring to. Which selling practices did you perceive as “indecent”?

    Comment by S.D. — January 10, 2015 @ 9:04 pm | Reply

    • High pressure tactics designed to take advantage of someone’s emotional, physical, or financial state.

      Comment by Paul McCord — January 12, 2015 @ 10:48 am | Reply

      • Can you be more specific? By the way, was your mother satisfied with her purchase?

        Comment by S.D. — January 13, 2015 @ 4:44 pm

      • Sure, one of the more effective statements was she could purchase the cheap concrete vault that only covers about half the casket that does little to protect the body from water which will cause it to “rot” more quickly or she could put out a whole lot more and get one that covers the whole casket and will help preserve the body. Two carefully crafted images for someone who just lost a loved one–a body that rots or one that is preserved. Which do you think she bought? Were those images accidental? Not on your life, they were intended to create an emotional conflict that produced a bigger sale. Nothing but unadulterated manipulation meant to get a bigger check out of someone by preying on their emotional state. And, no, she felt she got ripped off once she had time to think about the process.

        Comment by Paul McCord — January 13, 2015 @ 5:15 pm

  6. Chances are good that what the salesperson said to your mother is the same or similar to what the salesperson says to other customers because although horrible to hear is in fact true. Customers deserve to know the truth about potential consequences of one option over another and most want to know before the sale not after.

    Comment by S.D. — January 13, 2015 @ 6:29 pm | Reply

    • Could not disagree more. The salesperson uses that not because he is so concerned that the customer hear the truth but because he knows it elicits the response he wants because no one wants their loved one to rot, they want them to be preserved as they remember them. I think you’re really scraping the bottom of the barrel for an excuse. The sales strategy he used is exactly why people hate salespeople–they know it is nothing but cheap manipulation, taking advantage of people at a weak time in their lives for no other reason than to get a bigger paycheck. Absolutely obscene and one of the tactics any good honest salesperson should be working to eradicate.

      Comment by Paul McCord — January 13, 2015 @ 8:32 pm | Reply

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