Lawyers and Salesmen

Thursday, April 28th, 2016

One of the things the Z Man has learned in life is that the salesmen for a company will be the most honest with you about their company:

That’s not to imply that salesmen are all honest in their sales pitch. That’s not what I mean. I’m talking about life inside the company. Ask a sales guy, who is not selling you something, about his boss and his co-workers and he’ll usually give you the unvarnished truth. Often, they are the guys who know the flaws best, because they have to work around them to make deals.

That’s the thing with sales people.  They work for themselves, even though they take a salary and are employees. Some portion of their pay, maybe the bulk of it, is derived from their performance as a salesman. All sales people have quotas and have to produce. Otherwise, they get fired. There’s no hiding in the bureaucracy for them. That means self-deception is not of any use to them. They have to know the defects of their firm and its products in order to mitigate them in front of clients.

The weird thing about salesmen is they never assume they are the cleverest guy in the room. Paranoia is a healthy trait in sales, as there are a million little things that can scuttle a deal. Working from the assumption that there could very well be someone in the room who knows something you don’t is a good way to avoid surprises. You ask more questions and you listen better. If you’re walking around thinking you are Wile E. Coyote, a safe could fall on your head.

I used to fish with a guy who made his living selling cars. He got into it as a way to pay for college. He would sell cars on the weekend and at night, while going to school during the day. When he finished college, he found that he could make a better living selling cars than anything else so he kept selling cars. Eventually he settled into selling BMW’s and Mercedes. He was able to make a nice, middle-class living at it, without too much stress.

Making small talk one day I mentioned something about lawyers and he laughed and told me that lawyers are his best clients, followed by stock brokers. I naturally assumed it was because they made a lot of money and had expensive tastes. That was not it at all. He told me that overselling a lawyer was one of the easiest things to do in car sales. They walk around thinking they know everything and so they fall for every car sales trick in the book.

So, where’s he going with this?

I’ve been thinking about this watching the political ructions. Donald Trump is a salesman and a very good one so he is doing extremely well as a novice politician, because politics is about sales. His competitors are mostly lawyers, who never took him seriously, because they are lawyers and smart. Everyone knows this so surely the smart lawyers will have no problem with the sales guy and his cheap theatrics.

The commentariat is similarly full of lawyers and people who went to law school.


Now, the guys in the sales department have a different experience. They also have high verbal skills, but they spend their days losing many more deals than they win. They face the reality of their limitations every day. They also know that if they don’t sell, they don’t eat. There’s no failing up in their business. It’s why the sales guys can feast on lawyers. They have no illusions about themselves.

It’s another reason to wonder if the recipe for the managerial state contains ingredients that poison the stew. Failing up is a feature of the managerial class. They go from one failure to the next, rarely ever answering for their blunders. The economic team that advised Obama on the stimulus, for example, landed cushy positions in the academy. Tim Geithner is making millions influence peddling for Wall Street. This despite being 100% wrong about in their predictions.

A system based on mediocrities walking around convinced they are the smartest people in the room will inevitably become unstable.


  1. Chris C. says:

    I’ve been a salesman for almost 40 years. I approve this message.

  2. Slovenian Guest says:

    Speaking of, the Z Man is on a roll:

    The future imagined at any time tells us more about the people imagining it than the people who will create it. In the 1950’s, fear of nuclear war drove sci-fi and horror movies to imagine all sorts of monsters born from technological error. In those newsreels a century ago, when people were more optimistic, the future was bright and happy for humans. Technological progress promises prosperity. The fact that we dream of electric sheep says a lot about us, but little about the future.

    The robot future imagined by our overlords is nothing like that glorious future sold to my grandmother in newsreels. Her glorious future was a great time to be alive. American would be free from the mundane to conquer the world. The robot future sold today is sterile and joyless, a great time to take advantage of the suicide kiosk at the mall. The great minds of our age say the future is pointless. Instead of a singularity, it will be a nullity.

    Unless humanity is hardwired to self-destruct, that will not be the future. Life always finds a way. If it is truly pointless, then we will follow the path of the panda, except we will have built our own enclosures. Then again, those young men streaming over the border are full of hope for their future so maybe they just displace the people working on the sterile robot future. It’s hard to know, but the future will not be what our overlords imagine, at least not for them.

    Meanwhile Scott Adams thinks robots will read the news, and more:


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