Of Ducks and Salespeople

“We’re like ducks. We’re not good at either swimming or flying.” This was the response of a graduate student in Wirtschaftsingenieurwesens – a kind of combination of business and engineering, each of them in the lighter form – when asked what subject material her studies involved.

The duck metaphor reveals a conflict in German companies. Those working in sales & marketing are still looked down upon a bit as people who go from door-to-door selling a product (vacuum cleaners is the cliché) which they have neither developed nor manufactured. Even more, colleagues in sales & marketing often feel unfairly blamed when the company does not perform well.

Prestige in the German economy still goes to those who invent, develop and make physical products. Engineers and artisans are among the most highly respected disciplines.

The results of their work can be seen, held, put to work, and depending on their sophistication even marveled at. Whereas the success of capable sales & marketing people can be seen only in dry, impersonal numbers.

In addition, almost all professionals in sales & marketing transitioned into that discipline from another one, perhaps even from engineering. In fact, Germany doesn’t have a traditional Berufsgruppe – occupation category – for sales. There is no guild going back to the Middle Ages as there are for almost all other technical occupations. Thus the duck-metaphor. Neither fish nor fowl.

Nonetheless, the importance of the work “ducks” perform continues to increase in today’s global economy, where quality and technical prowess alone are not enough to sell a product.