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Sales and marketing jargon - what it really means

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This gripe doesn't exactly fit into the regular format, but I'm sure it will raise a chuckle or two.  Here are phrases and titles with alternative/real meanings for people who work in sales and marketing.

It's a kind of dictionary of company jargon and office slang, some of which you may know and I'm sure its applicable to more than just Sales and Marketing.

Achievable - Hopelessly optimistic.

Agenda - A list of points the Sales Manager wishes to complain about at the sales meeting.

Agenda (hidden) - Why are they being nice to me all of a sudden?

Alignment - Get behind one of your colleagues.

Ambition - You're having a laugh aren't you?

Analytical thinking - Where did you go wrong?

Assistant Sales Manager - Another name for a brown-nose.

Auditors - Accountants in the pay of the bosses to make even the worst figures look good for public consumption.

Audit trail - A way to trap you.

Best in class - Meaningless bragging.  No one's going to check.

A salesman under pressure Boss (MD, Chairman etc) - This person is ultimate boss.  The Capo di Capi.  Rarely seen by sales force members unless featured in the local press or on Crime Watch.  Sometimes delivers, in person, a pep talk to 'the troops' but, prefers to do so via the medium of the company newsletter or email.  He or she may briefly make an appearance for the firm's Christmas knees-up, surrounded by upper echelon toadies.

The boss lives in a rarefied atmosphere of calm and tranquillity that is unavailable to the rest of the company.  Whether this is because they can delegate effectively all of the unpleasant stuff, or whether the new Jag catalogue is soon to be delivered, is open to debate.  It could also be that Plod of the Yard still has no concrete evidence to act upon following the calls, which flooded in after the recent Crime Watch programme about insider share dealing.

When forced to make a decision about the business, the boss will frequently enlist the services of management consultants at great expense.  This has a double benefit.  He doesn't have to do any real thinking and, if it all goes tits up in the end, he can blame the consultants, little realising they will have scampered long ago onto other assignments for other companies.

Female Bosses are much more approachable and may relish the personal touch.  Some departmental heads find this situation alarming and spend most of their work time devising strategies to avoid being discovered slacking off.  Often the first to accept the need to make cutbacks for the benefit of the business, the female MD may make unpopular choices regarding perks for the directors.  Possibly drives a Saab convertible.

Bottom line - Go below this and it's the sack.

Box - What Risk Management and directors want the customers to fit into exactly.  This generally means that the product/service you are offering will in no way, or at best only vaguely meet your customers' needs.

Call ratios - Statistically supported and beloved tool of the Sales Manager.  It assumes that the more calls you make the more sales you will win.  This is flawed as it fails to take account of the quality of product/service you are offering (e.g. crap or just more of what everyone else is trying to sell) or the quality of your administration and operations support.  No account is taken of the other elements that play upon the process that can, and will, at a staggering frequency, lose your customer for you.

Capable - Lucky!

Challenge - To sell a product that is non-competitive.

Challenging - Mountainous (e.g. sales targets)

Commission - Rarely attainable in large quantities.

Commission only - Tightwad company with no respect for its sales force.

Committed individual - Finally succumbed to madness.

Compliance department - See Risk Management.

Compliance officer - Graduate (probably legal or accountancy background) with no understanding of the realities of the business world, who slavishly follows procedures written by another graduate who also has no understanding of the business world.  Wouldn't know a business opportunity if it bit them on the bottom.

Conceptual thinking - Getting above your station.

Damage Limitation - Get out quick.

Demographic - Management/Guru speak for prospective customers.

Director (Finance) - Generally smug, (he knew all those years ago that accountancy was sexy and, despite the unkind remarks which battered him in his adolescence , his belief has now been vindicated.) and now considerably richer than his peers who went off to study exciting stuff or fly aeroplanes, he is confident in his choice of career.  He applies himself to the calculator and spreadsheets with glee.  He has disproportionate power as the controller of the money.  MD may actually have to ask what manqué of new Jag he can select.  Resents the amount of money spent on winning new business, paying sales staff more than the minimum wage and pension benefits for any but the directors.

Usually dull, the male FD will range in appearance from weedy to corpulent.  Often, he does not like eye contact due to his long and painful experience of the playground bully.  To compensate for his social dysfunction he may occasionally flaunt an inappropriately loud tie to demonstrate his 'fun' side.  His favourite TV programme is Crimewatch despite always ending up disappointed by the end of the show.  Harbours ambitions to be number one.  A Christmas Carol always gets his attention on telly but he is keen to point out that Scrooge is most admirable during the first half.  Company car may be a Lexus to demonstrate corporate frugality yet allows him to appreciate the add-ons.  Tries to ingratiate himself with the Inland Revenue to ward off possible scandal.  If he had more guts he might make that call to Crime Watch himself.

Conversely, the female FD is likely to be a more glamorous creature (It's OK for girls to do accounting) with an appreciation of designer labels and elegant hair styles.  It is her aim in life to demonstrate she can cut it at the top.  Brooks no favours from, and offers no quarter to, lesser beings.  Self-assured, she is analytical and efficient after years spent in lesser roles acting as the power behind the throne.  Profligacy is her enemy and men face at best, contempt and, at worst, bullying for failing to adhere to her strict codes of practice.  Knows where the bodies are buried and will keep her counsel until goaded by sexism or threat of discovery to call Crime Watch.

Director (Sales and Marketing) - This being holds responsibility for the success, or otherwise, of winning or retaining customers for the company.  Marketing is more than likely to be his main love and the Sales prefix a bit of a nuisance.  It reeks of sharp-suited wide boys hard selling home improvements or working dahn the market and doesn't quite fit the niche he has carved for himself in the brave new world of 21st Century commerce.

Of course, he does not work at the coal-face, but sits in the office directing activity from on high.  This gives him the ability to embrace completely inappropriate sales strategies with single-minded enthusiasm.  A sucker for fitting in with his superior's viewpoint, he is firmly in line with the MD's view that management consultants are a universal panacea and far superior to his own sales staff.

Subscribes to the view that graduates will prove more talented sales people than non-graduates and that training will turn any monkey into a superb salesman.  This impacts upon the Sales Manager and Human Resources who have to go through the exercise of interviewing academically qualified applicants who are clueless about selling and, ultimately, rejecting them.

He is keen to see that all the latest buzzwords are used frequently by his staff and that all activity complies with his latest directive.  Is slightly ill at ease in the role as feels it doesn't quite have the cachet accorded to FD or MD.  Consequently, is driven to toady up to the MD by taking on extra projects or tasks that the MD dislikes.  FD will sometimes capitalise on this sense of inferiority to offload boring or pointless exercises recommended by latest management consultants.

Considered 'racy' by some in the company he will drive a BMW and regularly use the golf club to schmooze people he thinks can further his career.  Has probably never made a bona fide sale in his life but come into the position via the old boy's network or by default through mergers or management buy outs.

His female counterpart has probably come up through the ranks via a combination of sales success, team leadership skills and actual 'hands-on' performance.  Well dressed and chic, she uses intuition to evaluate management consultants and their formulaic recommendations.  She is probably sharper than her male counterpart and more open to new ideas from within her team.

Doctor - Unless a medical qualification, this indicates the possessor was unclear what to do after university so decided to stay on until his mind cleared and do some further exams.  (See also Professor)

Determined - When caught out and in a corner, fights as viciously as a rat.

Difference - Watch out! You may be seen as a bad team player.

Disagree - You are a bad team player.  You must agree, or at least seem to be agreeing.

Disaster Recovery - Covering your tracks well.

Disclosure - Coughing up; admitting to the truth.

Downsize - The sack.

Drive - What you do in the company car.

Dynamic - Someone else.

Engage - Something to do with marriage.

Focus group - Tame customers who will provide answers to back up the latest management theory.

Graduate Trainee - Nice bloke/girl but clueless about realities of selling.

Gross Misconduct - Fat spinster working in accounts.

Guru - Fakir (pronounce as you feel best).  A con-man selling rubbish to fools without ideas of their own.

Head Hunter - Fantasy knight in shining armour who never calls you.

Heads up - How Risk Management use their own backsides.

Honesty - What?

Human Resources (HR) - Staffed by what already seems to run into the dozens, HR frequently employs management consultants and other outside experts to help them cope.  Moving paper and issuing shed loads of uninteresting and irrelevant emails helps them feel useful.  It is also a ploy to protect their jobs.  As a department, which does not earn revenue, they are keen to demonstrate value to the company.

Initiative - Sales idea (from non-sales personnel = often not very good).

Innovative thinking - (by member of the sales force) - Concept too dangerous.  Must be stifled immediately.

Innovative thinking - (by management consultant/sales trainer/director).  Laudable, which should be embraced with enthusiasm by all, especially the sales force who will have to abandon what works well, in order to use this latest nonsense by those who don't work to actually produce business revenue.

Integrity - A good buzz word but meaningless unless you are beating sales targets.

Irony - Not what you press your pants with.

Irony - Something alien to Risk Management, Management Consultants and the Sales Director.

Leadership Potential - Consummate brown-noser.

Legal department - Responsible for overly duplicitous and convoluted Terms and Conditions plus contractual bumf, which the customer has to sign.  Fail to realise that without sales, there is no job for them but can never be relied upon to act swiftly when asked to assist in negotiations to win new customers.  Lunch frequently and long.  Favourite TV programme must be This Life.  At company functions will sit with Risk Management and Compliance.

Leverage - What to do when the laptop won't open.

Management Consultant - A know-all charlatan from outside your organisation.  He or she gets paid a lot to make mischief at your expense/time/effort.  This will increase pressure on your targets to meet his/her fees.  Rarely attends company shindigs in case gets offered outside by drunk salesman.

MBA - A way out of sales and into Management Consultancy.

Mission Statement - Outdated management fad.  Usually a flyblown sheet of paper, framed and hanging on the wall in reception.  Another example of 'guru' or 'new thinker's' babble being embraced by management.

Motivation - How much do you want to keep your job?

Motivational Speaker - Idol worshipped by the desperate and tragic.  Last resort of the incompetent and ineffectual who leave sales before they are kicked out.

Moving forward - I've heard enough of your ideas.

Ms - Meant to be socially non-discriminatory.  This in fact has the opposite effect.  When a woman insists on being known as Ms, it immediately translates to a man in the following ways:

  1. She was disappointed to discover that she is female and wishes she was a man.
  2. She is a lesbian and hates men.
  3. She is a divorcee and hates men.
  4. She is a spinster and hates men.

New Initiative - Desperate attempt to cover one's backside.

Newsletter - It is from HR that the company newsletter will originate, filled with exciting titbits about Brian from accounts who did a charity parachute jump or the girls from the Bognor office who dressed up as naughty schoolgirls for a day.  Little if anything in this publication is of value.  Sprinkled with 'in' jokes that only three or four people in the whole company may understand, this is deemed to be communication and an aid to making the employees feel part of one big family.

The authors and most enthusiastic supporters of the newsletter fail to understand that no one really cares what Brian or the girls did.  It is another example of a bright idea in theory having no real practical use.  Large companies are especially keen to maximise use of such things as they believe it puts them at the forefront of surveys such as Top Ten Companies To Work For - they feel this will give them the edge over the competition when recruiting.

Offering - What you sell.

Performance Monitoring - Big brother is watching.

Proactive - Get off your butt and do something!

Professor - As in Doctor above, but more undecided, so stayed on even longer than the Doctor.

NB.  When Doctors or Professors grace the board of a company it is usually because they discovered and patented some fabulously, potentially, lucrative device, drug or thingy while mucking around in the laboratory at university as they tried to decide what to do next.

Product/Service - What you have to try and sell.

Prospect (1) - Anyone who might conceivably buy from you.

Prospects (2) - Promise made by your Sales Manager when he hired you.  (You will learn the truth very quickly).

Prospects (3) - Potential for climbing up the ladder (usually very small indeed).

Qualifications - What are you doing here?

Raise the flag - Mumble something vaguely boastful.

Radar Screen - (As in it's on the radar screen) Management waffle which saves the manager from having to admit you've broacught up something he didn't think of.

Reactive - I was caught out and had to respond quickly.

Rear Echelon Motherxxxxxx (REM) - All non-sales departments (except payroll!).

Recognition - Bad; The MD remembers you from the Christmas 'do'.

Responsive - Backside covering activity.

Restructuring - The sack.

Revenue - Money in; a concept which Risk Management have failed to grasp.

Risk Management - Also called the Business Prevention Office.  The worms that wriggle ceaselessly in this department operate to completely different sets of criteria from the sales department.  Very often, the staff of this business unit will have a background in accountancy or law.  Parsimonious in the extreme, humourless and stubborn they will clutch at any and every opportunity to shed customers.  If a sale, no matter how potentially lucrative, can possibly be snuffed out, Risk Management will find a way.

Where the sales force is trying to expand profit, customer base and revenue streams into company coffers, Risk Management will be analysing and worrying over every real or imagined possibility that a couple of quid may go astray.  Cover your backside is their battle cry. They have an inordinate influence upon the product or service the company sells.  Any request for adjusting that product or tweaking to win new orders is met by a sharp intake of breath and a sagely shaken head.  Their view is that the product is perfect as it is (even though feedback from customers is that it most certainly isn't) and that the expense of changing it in anyway will bankrupt the company.  Credit checks add to their armoury, allowing them to assess whether the customer can pay.  The slightest hint of a cash flow problem or a bad debt will set their alarm bells ringing and another customer is lost.  With no sales targets to achieve, they have no incentive to assist the sales force by being flexible.

Sales Manager - The conduit between the directors and the sales force, the Sales Manager treads a fine line of loyalties.  He is close enough to remember what life at the sharp end is like but also would like to break into the boardroom.  He realises that if the sales force is to maximise its performance, the directives from the sales director have to be watered down, changed or tweaked enough to prevent mutiny from his staff.  He does this through negotiation and on occasion, duplicity or massaging of figures.  Resentment features high in his world.  He knows he could be a top Sales Director given half a chance but also knows that he depends upon his staff for his success.  The Sales Manager measures success in a number of ways.  The following might be high on his list:

  • Accuracy in forecasting revenues/sales.
  • Ability to complete allocated tasks on time.
  • Consistently on or, over-target performance.
  • Willingness to follow directives unquestioningly and with enthusiasm.

Probably drives a Vectra or Mondeo.  If he knew anything he might be one of the callers into Crime Watch.

Sales Meeting - Whinge fest.

Sales Trainer - Someone who couldn't hack the actual job of selling but claims to have the answers.

Self starter - What training?

Service/Product - Second rate thing you have to try and sell.

Service (post sale) - Follow up which the customer wants and Risk Management would like to abandon as it may transgress their rules or cost money.

Sing from the same hymn sheet - Get our stories right before compliance interview.

Sir - Sharp operator who's made a fortune and supported loads of charities or knows the right people.

Stretching - (e.g. targets) Fantasy land.

Suspicion - Normal atmosphere that exists between Sales and the REMs.

Synergies - Surprisingly, another part of your company is doing the same as you.

Take on board - Throw away phrase means 'I hear what you say but I'm not listening' or 'You will now do what I've said' - depends upon seniority of person speaking.

Team - Guilt device to make you keep your trap shut and stop rocking the boat.  i.e. Not a team player indicates you should, from now on, defer to superiors at all times even though your revolutionary viewpoint and ideas may save the business from going down the pan.

Team Dynamic - Atmosphere of distrust and resentment.

Thinking outside of the box - You're being original again.  Stop it!

Time Management - Fitting in a trip to the supermarket while visiting customers.

Total Quality Management (TQM) - What your company doesn't have.

Unacceptable - Has degrees of meaning.

  • Failure to achieve target - The sack.
  • Particularly bad behaviour at the Christmas bash - The sack.
  • Also used in response to your suggestion, which will mean that Risk Management will have to be more flexible in order to help you win a new customer.

Valuable Contribution - Phrase saved for retirement party.

Values (Company) - Pretentious and fanciful notion that your company is important enough to have such things.

Leave a comment



good....what about the other left outs like reward programs, ATL BTL activities, market penetration etc?
02/03/11 anand


How true, hey but " get with the program" and "go the extra mile" "do the math", "it's a numbers game" etc etc and so it goes on and on and on and on.

oh we love the life of a salesperson :)
25/06/10 clickgoes


really it's worthy, but you should have been more explicit
15/04/10 Abhi
IT salesguy

IT salesguy

I thought it was a brilliant jargon buster too - "Team Dynamic - Atmosphere of distrust and resentment" hahaha! so true!

LouisXIV - The reason why salesmen sell things that don't exist is that they are constantly told by the development guys that it will be ready by a certain date...

So of course they go out to line up the first sale of the new-fangled product, its an easy sale if no one else can help the cusotmer.

You guessed it - The product never actually comes into production after all and we have just wasted 6 months of everyones time! Hooray!
29/01/09 IT salesguy


I am a new sale man who sell MP3/4 ,bluetooth headset, mobile memory card and notebook cooling pad.From I worked until now .I am always working hard to make our pentional customers to buy our products . Finding ways to make them belive me ,It's my job.I belive I can sucess!Because I like my job very much .come on !baby!
25/08/08 Alicexiaoxiao


What a great jargon buster, I found this page when searching for academic definitions of Risk Management for a thesis, wish I had it on my website!. My problem with sales people is why they spend so much time trying to sell products we don't or can't make instead of those we have spent millions developing.
03/04/08 LouisXIV


I thought it was cute. The Sales meeting - whinge fest made me laugh out loud! Well done.
05/09/07 Julia


I've thought about it but I feel my talents lie in being undiplomatic.

Why are you called Aardvark? Do you sniff ants through your nose?
28/09/06 Eddie


Hey, Eddie. Ever considered a career in the Diplomatic Service?
27/09/06 Aardvark


How is this a gripe? My gripe is that you've been allowed to waste peoples time with this nonsense.
27/09/06 Eddie


What is all this about? It's a bit long don't you think and really not all that interesting. Downsize = the sack. That made me laugh though.
25/09/06 Roxy


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