Let’s start with this assumption: “I am not a salesperson.”
Or at least I thought I wasn’t. Until I was given the sole responsibility for ad sales for a local publishing company two years ago. I received no training and had no prior experience in sales, but I accepted the challenge nonetheless. I put on my best smile, comfy shoes and went out on the town knocking on business doors, not in the least bit deterred by the “No Soliciting” sign.
That is not to say I didn’t have my share of doubts and bouts of regret for agreeing to take on that role. But I kept chugging along and soon enough I felt like a natural. I felt unstoppable. Which brings me to what I believe is a universal truth: Those things which are the most challenging can have the most surprising and empowering results.
What do you want to be when you grow up? As children we grow up wanting to be chefs, writers, artists, policemen, firemen, teachers, veterinarians, and engineers. We grow up wanting to be many things. We never grow up wanting to be salespeople, because we tend to have negative perceptions of selling.
In his groundbreaking business book To Sell is Human, Daniel Pink conducted a survey to gauge people’s perception of selling. The survey’s results were pretty much what I anticipated because I had those same perceptions myself. Selling is dirty. Salespeople are dishonest, sleazy and aggressive. We associate sales with door-to-door selling, telemarketers that interrupt you at dinnertime, underhanded used car salesmen and street peddlers hawking counterfeit designer handbags.
But successful salespeople are the complete opposite of those things. Sales is the start of how business is conducted, how people connect and how things get done. Pink is right when he says that we are selling even when we don’t realize it.
The problem for me was not believing I could do it. For someone who spent most of her childhood buried inside books, extroverted was not a word used to describe me. So naturally, I believed that careers requiring a lot of social interaction or persuasion were not my best fit.
But I was wrong. As humans we are fluid, dynamic beings that evolve and mature if we work consistently towards improvement and dare to step out of our comfort zone. In sales, I am completely out of my comfort zone but I also experience an adrenaline rush in the front lines of business. Even in my awkward moments, I feel like a natural.
I realized this only after I accepted and took on the challenge. This realization is empowering.
The lessons of selling
I believe that much like basic programming, selling and negotiation are skills have to be explicitly taught in our schools curriculum, to better prepare our students to thrive in the workforce. Selling can easily teach children about the importance of perseverance in the face of adversity and about how to persuade and negotiate.
Nothing happens unless you seek it out and ask for it. Trite statement, sure, but this is the ‘everydayness’ of sales. We are all trying to convince someone of something all the time and we all need to put ourselves out there to make it happen.
When I was selling real estate advertising products I loved working one-on-one with realtors and hearing their struggles, offering solutions and convincing them that my solutions were better than the competition. It wasn’t all rainbows and unicorns, but I did receive kudos for my presentation and my ability to convince. Who, me? Yes!
For someone who never thought herself having the guts or stamina to sell, receiving that kind of positive feedback made me realize that I had crossed a personal threshold. What other opportunities or experiences have I missed out on just because I was too afraid to put myself out there?
Also, selling means you have to accept rejection as a natural part of life. Not everybody will say yes, not everybody will care what you have to say or what you have to offer. And that is ok.
We have this mantra in our community, penned by Keith Nerdin: Entrepreneurship is for everyone. Then that means that selling is for everyone. If you’re an entrepreneur and cringe at the thought of selling, you’ll probably go hungry. Whether you are selling a product, a service, your firm, skills or even just trying to get someone to agree with you on an idea.
We are natural-born sellers, we just have to break out of our shell.
Have you ever thought about the role of selling in your life?
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