Posts belonging to Category Racial Perceptions in Sales

Improper Racial Comments From Your Customers? It Does Happen!

It doesn’t matter what color or nationality you are, invariably it will happen no matter what minority group you represent.  With all of the good customers in the world, there are some who just have no filter on what they should say.  We could recognize their ignorance, but more importantly you should know how to deal with these situations.  Always be prepared!


Customers come from all walks of life, and certainly have their goods and bads, but we cannot live without them in the sales world.  They are human, and with that in mind, are capable of saying things that are subject to translation, and sometimes downright wrong and insulting.

This post covers how you might react to those comments, or better yet, how you might better react to those comments.  Remember, just as we stated in Black Sales Journal August 22,2011, Reacting to Improper Racial Comments from Co-workers and Black Sales Journal 8/29/2011, Reacting to Improper Racial Comments from Managers, which covered how you might react to statements from co-workers and from your manager, you have the right to react, I am just suggesting to you do so in a professional manner.

Just because someone is doing business with you does not mean that they can say things that are demeaning or even cruel without a formidable response.

Intent Does Count!

Before we get deep into this, I would like to point out that intent does count.  I would like to explain that there are intentionally harmful racial comments that are made with malice, and racial comments that are made in ignorance.  Although neither of these should be considered acceptable, and they both probably warrant a reply, the requisite responses might need to differ.

Statements that are made because one is ignorant or one is unenlightened obviously have the same effect, yet have less gravity than a statement meant to harm by some one who is rude and insensitive.  Here are a couple of examples:

Statement A: During a business meeting your customer talked about safety in the area that his business is located. He says with a smile… “They say that one of your brothers pulled off the robbery of that fast food joint down the street last night.”

Statement B: During a dinner entertainment session, your buyer indicates she needs to terminate a Hispanic employee “who is still wet from the swim across because of the new immigration laws.”

Both statements are offensive, and both deserve a response.  Which statement is, in your view, is the most racially charged?  How would you react to each of these?

Always be calculated in your response and consider the intent.  I will discuss how I would respond in a moment.  First I want to acquaint you with a personal situation and how I handled it.

A Personal Example

When I was in sales, many of my customers were owners of trucking companies.  This industry, like many others has people that say what is on their mind, and sometimes what is on their mind can be disparaging.  In the instance that I am about to cite, I definitely responded incorrectly the first time, by not responding.  When the second time came around, I think I definitely handled it in the correct manner.

I was on a call basically to deliver policies to the account and we got involved in a conversation about a driver who had generated a lower back workers compensation claim.  Everyone knows that lower back claims can be subjective, and tend to linger for long periods.

During the call my customer indicated that we should investigate the claim of Ben T.  He stated that he had reason to believe that Ben was malingering, and it was our job to get to the root of it and make sure that the claim was compensable, and that payments should be stopped until we knew for sure.  He then said, “You have a good work ethic, and I wish all of your people had that same work ethic.”

I was a 26 year old sales professional and initially, my response was to say nothing other than that I would check it out.  I thought I needed the client, and needed my money.  I realized within minutes that my response was wrong. It kept me up at night for a little bit, and relived it several times.

When I returned to the customer location the following week, I explained to him the situation behind the back claim.  This individual was going to undergo surgery and his claim was legitimate to our people.  I then sat with him, looked him in the eye and said, “Respectfully Bob, I take offense to your comments last week about Ben T. and work ethic.” He developed a puzzled look and quickly said, “I did not mean to offend you Michael.” I then advised the following, “I know you did not mean to offend me, as we speak openly, yet you offended a whole community of people, of which I am one.  It would have been the same as if I said that you are special, but most of your people are drunkards (Bob was Irish). It was frankly just wrong.”

A light bulb went on in Bob’s head.  I could see it happen… enlightenment, that is.  Bob said, “Point taken, but we Irish like to drink!”  I quickly responded, “You do get my point, don’t you?”  We smiled and wecompleted the meeting.

Back to Our Questions

Well, both situations are enough to of these statements are bothersome, and unfortunately situations like this happen in the workplace frequently.

Regarding Statement A: This is the least charged, as this person is attempting to refer to a felon as a ‘brother’ presumably because we often call Black people ‘brothers’ and ‘sisters’.  It should not have been said but you would not have to use a nuclear bomb on this one.  Your response should be simple and professional, “Respectfully, no one who would do that is a brother of mine.”  Remember, this is a customer.

Regarding Statement B: This is a racially charged statement.  You might hesitate to respond to it, yet the races are interchangeable in this case.  If you do not respond, I suppose you would be waiting until this customer got around to taking a ‘shot’ at African Americans  next.  An improper remark against any group or religion is an attack on your diversity.  Your response should be professional and impactful.  Something like, “Kristin, honestly I take offense to that statement.”  She knows it was wrong and if she is worth her salt she will not make another one like it.

Respect your principals.  I am not saying that you should not work with a customer as much as you need to be true to yourself.

Always be true to yourself.  Always be the professional.

Your comments are appreciated.  Read me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.

Race and Your Resume Part II – The Three P’s

We began to delve into this important issue in the post last week, and you can access it below this post.  We took a look at your most important job hunting tool and how you might want to “frame” yourself in your quest for a job.  This post will look at the forces that make a difference during the job search.


The Ever-present 3Ps (Racial Perceptions, Racial Preferences, and Racial Prejudices) and Your Job Search!

These three influences define the environment for all sales professionals, and even more so for Black sales professionals as it represents the theater that must succeed in before getting gainful employment.

During the job search, everything revolves around your ability to get an interview.  Your job search can be difficult, made so by the large number of candidates that are applying and the fact that the resume reviewers (whether hiring managers or human resource professionals) have to make some quick decisions about who makes it to the next level because of the volume of applicants. In the last post we called the categories the A, B, C, & D (Discard) stacks, which is relevant whether it is paper or electronic applications through and applicant management system.

I call these imposing factors The 3Ps: Racial Perceptions, Racial Preferences, and Racial Prejudices! They make a sales job difficult.  Knowledge of them will serve you well.  Success and the reduction of frustration in your job hunt is dependent on an understanding these.

The 3Ps can have an effect, and sometimes an insidious effect, on the hiring process.  It can happen without the perpetrator even really thinking about it.

A brief definition of the 3Ps is as follows:

Racial Perceptions - are hard to change, and deep rooted.  They can come from many sources.  A person’s life experiences, the media, parents, friends, and the knowledge and ignorance of interaction or lack of interaction all form perceptions.  Perceptions are prevalent in all racial and ethnic groups.  We all have them; it is what we do with them that make all of the difference.

Racial Preferences - These are powerful.  They are not always meant to be deleterious to a particular racial group, yet have that effect when they are applied as the opportunity for fairness and equity can be  missed.  The hiring manager’s desire of whom they want to work with may be directly related to their personal relationship comfort.  Some preference may come from perceptions, and some from prejudice, but the net result is the same:  The sales professional who is capable may not be interviewed because they don’t quickly meet the preference of the selector.  Often it is because of a reluctance to do business with someone who is decidedly different than they are. It is no difference for any professional. Do you have any preferences? I will bet you do!

Racial Prejudice - renders any hiring situation difficult, if not impossible.  Racial prejudice does change the landscape.  You probably won’t change this attitude as you can do with racial perceptions and racial preference, and you may be able to spend your time better elsewhere.  If a buyer is prejudiced, the narrow-mindedness and patent unfairness will reduce, or destroy your chances of having a successful employment relationship, or keep it very short lived.

Back to These Stacks of Resumes as Discussed in Part I

Now, the simple fact is that any one of the 3Ps can change which stack your resume ends up in.  So at the risk of sounding over simplistic when it is to your advantage you should willingly disclose your race.  When you are in doubt, you should give consideration to ‘scrubbing’ your resume of racial indicators.  An employer will very possibly not be checking “LinkedIn” in the first stages, as there are too many candidates.

There are some points that you should note about resumes whether in stacks, or filed electronically in Applicant Management Systems that are important.  You can be the beneficiary in either of the following situations:

  • Many organizations have matured to the point that professional HR representatives do the things necessary to assure that there is diversity in the candidate pool. They are your assets in this situation.
  • Many employers purposely attempt to correct deficiencies in their workforce and sales force diversity with proactive hiring procedures in which they look for qualified minority candidates.

Make your resume the “teaser” that it should be. It will get you past the door, and into the mix. Most larger or more sophisticated organizations have human resource professionals who help to assure fairness.

Consider the next couple of points as a suggestion:

  • Include a tastefully done “head and shoulder” shot in your LinkedIn profile.  No screen shots form your computer, pay a few dollars if you don’t have one already.
  • Be judicious in your inclusion of information, but you may not need to “scrub” your resume.
  • Include positions of leadership for social organizations, but you might consider avoiding any controversial ones.  Include activities that have a leadership or business angle.  All else is just information.

My Personal Opinion

I think that you might already have a good idea that I have confidence in HR professionals.  For the most part they are serious minded about inclusion, diversity, and fairness in the process.  Often in the hiring process they are the “neck that turns the head” for the manager so the process does work.  They present diverse candidate pools and do their best to “watch” the process.

I believe that many managers have some preferences because they are human.  They constantly need to “true-up” these preferences with requisite fairness. When you exercise preferences and don’t balance it with fairness, you discriminate.  Exercising Racial Preference is discrimination.  Fairness and equity is what managment should be striving for.

As managers we have to avoid thinking of stereotypical sales professionals and sales personalities.  We need to be open to interviewing candidates of all races and backgrounds.  In the end, the decision on a candidate in good organizations is a decision process that includes HR, a hiring manager, and at the very least, that hiring manager’s manager.

Let me know what you think write me at