As someone who loves words and who graduated (long ago) with a degree in English literature, I often noodle over the significance and the nuance of words. And being a salesperson by profession and someone fascinated by the psychology of sales, words like sale and sell naturally intrigue me. As simple as it may sound, the significance of sale vs. sell is worth some examination for those of us dedicated to the craft of sales.

This is a sale, but it’s not really selling…

Thoughts on the Word ‘Sale’

Let’s start at the beginning. What is a sale? The dictionary defines it like this”

Sale  /sāl/ noun

1. the exchange of a commodity for money; the action of selling something.

Immediately, every sales professional should bristle at this definition simply because, in actuality, there is no such thing as a commodity. Or more accurately, a good salesperson will find ways to prevent their solution from being considered as one. Instead, their ‘commodity’ solution and the sale that results from it will be swathed in a rich array of differentiators, such as responsiveness, honesty, market insight and guidance, humor or customer support. The resulting purchase won’t be of a commodity at all, but instead a highly-customized response to the customer’s specific needs.

Of course, a sale can also be a marketing event, a close-out or a promotion. 

Sale  /sāl/ noun

2. a period during which a retailer sells goods at reduced prices.

This is a very different thing. That ‘sale’ is saying to the customer that “I’m going to lower my price in order to entice you to buy.”

From the sales professional’s perspective, it could be viewed as an admission of failure. Failure because you don’t understand in real, measurable terms the value derived by your solution. Or it’s a failure because you aren’t able to effectively communicate that value. So you resort to having a sale. It’s a price cut, pure and simple. It’s not so much a sale as it is an act of desperation. 

The Power of ‘Sell’

So while a ‘sale’ is a thing, an event, or a milestone, let’s now turn our attention to ‘sell’ and its significance.

Sell  /sel/ verb

1. give or hand over (something) in exchange for money.
2. persuade someone of the merits of.

Note that ‘sell’ is a verb, and thus a word of action. To sell is to cause something to happen.

And the catalyst of that action is the transfer of an idea. To sell is thus to engage with people and with ideas. Not just any idea, but ideas that are compelling enough to cause someone to make a decision

To cause that decision, whether to buy from you or someone else (or not at all), is a skill of communication in logic and reason and psychology, and this is especially so in a B2B world where decisions are (hopefully, usually) made based on sound business drivers like cost savings, increased market share or some other measurable competitive advantage. 

To sell is to help someone to make that decision. And a good sale should result in real, tangible benefit. 

It is the decision that matters, the decision that you help someone make, through knowledge, expertise, curiosity, attention to detail, responsiveness, etc.

Because nothing really happens until a decision is made. And in business, nothing really happens until a sale is made.