Management Articles


If You Call a Salesman a Consultant Don't Expect Him to Sell Anything

By: John Malmo

John Malmo began an advertising agency on a cardtable above a delicatessen in 1967 and built it into the largest in the mid-south. He also owned a travel agency, a clock shop, and a snack food manufacturing company. He is president of Koenig, Inc., Management Consulting, specializing in marketing, and he writes a weekly business commentary column for The Commercial Appeal. His 45 years of marketing experience encompass, virtually, every business category. Email him at:

An interesting phenomenon of modern business has been the growth of what an old friend and particularly adept word carpenter calls “creeping meatballism.”  This is his definition for the increased lace that is appliqued to the titles that companies use to identify their players. It’s turned taxi driver into a transportation specialist; a janitor into a sanitary engineer.

It’s even more fascinating when one considers the lengths to which companies have stretched to identify a salesman/woman. Forty years ago there was a gentleman of close acquaintance who ran a 15-state region for a major company, including about 25 salesmen. On his own desk there was a small nameplate-size sign that did not have his name and title.  It stated, simply, “I’m a Salesman First.” And, lo he and his salesmen did go out amongst them and sell a bunch.

Neither he nor the most famous of all salesmen, Willie Loman, would recognize 90% of the titles used today for people who are expected by their superiors to sell something. In a recent bit of shirt-tail research into salesmen/women for radio and television stations, for instance, 19 different titles were unearthed, only five of which included a definition of their real jobs, to sell somebody something. Anybody.

Most are now “account executives.” Many are “marketing executives, marketing consultants, media consultants, advertising consultants, customer service representatives, merchandising reps, new business development specialists and account supervisors.” The fact of the matter is that the people who bear all these titles have only one job.  To sell commercial time on a radio or TV station.

Now, these efforts are clearly not intended to fool or confuse the customer. It does not require three advanced degrees to know that a cherub-cheeked 24-year-old youngster who is yet to have his third cup of office coffee is unlikely to be in your office with any serious intent toward consulting on marketing strategies for your company or brand.

These obscure new titles, therefore, must have been created to fool the titlebearer. And, if that is the case, one then has to assume that these stations must have weekly “executives meetings,” or “consultants meetings,” or “specialists meetings,” or “account services meetings.” For surely it would expose the charade to invite account executives, marketing consultants and the like to a mere “sales meeting.” We’ve all probably been to some pretty stem-winding sales meetings. The thought of a consultants meeting is downright horrid.

On the other hand, this creeping meatballism must be a remarkable defense for self-image. “What do you mean I’m not getting the job done? I’ve consulted with 31 companies this week. I didn’t know I was supposed to sell something. I are an advertising consultant.  It says so right here.”

While none of us could have possibly been hanging around when the first business title was created, we should probably assume that it was to provide at least a slight hint of what that person was supposed to do. A plumber plumbs.  Presumably a master plumber plumbs masterfully.  But one would hardly deign to ask a Liquid Distribution Consultant to crawl under the house and fix a rusty, 30-year-old pipe. Similarly, it would be unseemly to ask a marketing consultant to be so crass as to ask for an order.

There is one huge American business category, thankfully, that has taken sensible steps to change employee titles to actually make clearer what each man does. Sports. Instead of a center, two each guards, tackles, ends, halfbacks, a quarterback and a full back, football now has dropback and pocket quarterbacks, rollout quarterbacks and wishbone quarterbacks.  There are wide receivers, tight ends, running backs, nose guards and tackles, middle and outside linebackers, strong and weak safeties, cornerbacks, monstermen and pulling guards.

And basketball has point guards and shooting guards and power forwards and small forwards. Even in baseball we no longer just get pitchers, but starting pitchers, middle relievers, setup men and closers.  Now that makes sense.

It would probably be a great quantum leap backward if businesses would return to a policy of using titles again to identify to the bearer and recipient of a business card what the bearer’s job is. But as a welcome first step, the recipient would at least immediately know that this is the guy who’s gonna drive you to the airport; not discuss your vehicle fleet requirements.

Odds are also probably pretty good that a sales force full of men and women who knew they were, carried cards that identified them as, salespeople, might even sell more.

Understand, of course, that all of this is the constructive commentary of a Chairman of the Board of which he is not a member.

© opyright 2000 John Malmo

Other Articles by John Malmo

The author assumes full responsibility for the contents of this article and retains all of its property rights. ManagerWise publishes it here with the permission of the author. ManagerWise assumes no responsibility for the article's contents.


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