We love to buy. We don't like to be sold to. “We’ve internalized an image of selling drawn from capitalism’s worst moments, which gives rise to a suspicion that selling somehow injures those to whom we sell.” That's a cultural stereotype.
The moral compass of a salesperson isn't fixed, neither is their skill. Selling is all about contextual alignment. We appreciate when we feel understood, when someone addresses our current problem.
I worked with hundreds of salespeople across the world: there is such a thing as good selling.
From the technician at my local appliances store who cuts through the Consumer Reports' ratings with his recommendations (yep, they stand the test of time), to the person who can cut sizable deals, good selling is providing a needed service and product.
Good selling is about acknowledging
the truth of human life.
A story to illustrate
Laura was a woman producer at a new agency that sold national, regional, and local advertising space: print, billboards, radio, and posters. Digital was still a few years away. Because she was new, her territory was the largest and most distant. The best went to the producers who had proven themselves.
A wife and mother of three, she still had groceries to pick up, and a house to run. Her high energy was sorely tested on long days spent driving across the region nonstop to call on prospects trained to avoid her.
One day, she called upon a mattress showroom. After announcing her appointment with the owner, the staff disappeared. Laura knew the drill: the sales person can wait.
She looked around searching for a chair to sit down. There were no chairs in sight. People were meant to try the beds, weren't they? So that's what she did. She perched on one of the beds.
But after a while, her tired body was screaming for rest. Fifteen minutes later, a crowd started forming in front of the store. Everyone talking and standing around. The owner glanced out of the office where he was "busy working" to see what was going on.
Why were all those people there?
Finally, out he came to see if the staff had inadvertently locked the store's door…
And then he saw her.
What everyone was looking at was a woman sleeping peacefully on one of the beds on display. Laura woke up with a start and, without missing a beat, said: “See? I can get you attention and interest.”
The owner was surprised into talking with her.
Six months after he signed a contract, thanks to the creative input and well-placed media buy, mattress sales were up considerably.
The showroom became a loyal client of the agency, as did many others. Each win following a patient dance with sales-resistant business owners and companies. Each time a new adventure for Laura. She built a book of business in the millions for the agency.
When I asked her what made her so good, she said: “You need to put yourself in their shoes. What's their world like? Then be a supporting character in their lives. Forget 'perfect,' that doesn't connect. Be real. Be trustworthy.”
Laura understood that you don't sell by sitting in an office, you need to interact with your prospects. She walked the talk, and taught her clients to be more visible.
I've watched her close deals at antiquity shows and apartment showings, in agencies, and in life. She's the reason why I'm such a pragmatic, hands-on strategist. Laura is my mother.
And yes, a sense of self-deprecating humor does help.
To sell is not only critical, it's also human. We sell all day long. We sell ideas to persuade others—“will you try a yoga class I enjoy so much?” We sell our skills in requests to connect—here are some ideas to do better in that department—and when we apply for jobs.
Here's a philosophical meditation on how to sell I've treasured, complete with an advert for the dignity of manual labor… in a Church. In closing, if I'm selling anything with this article, what I'm selling you is a better version of yourself.