When I was a kid, way back in the seventies, a rather infamous comedian named George Carlin had a bit on profanity about the seven words you can’t say on television. Funny how times change. Half of them are heard regularly on prime time now, and the rest are surely making regular appearances on the cable networks. I’m not going to tell you what they are because this is a professional column and frankly, I don’t remember them all. Go get George’s CD.
In business, I’ve noticed a dirty word that many “professionals” don’t dare utter either, especially when describing themselves and what they do. Curious? The word is a verb with highly negative connotations that have been heaped upon it over the years. It rhymes with hell, which is where many people think they will reserve their room in if they engage in this practice. It is of course, sell. That’s S – E – double hockey sticks – SELL. Now people who consider themselves professional salespeople don’t have this hang-up, but many others ranging from doctors to engineers to landscapers do, mainly because of some unscrupulous salespeople in their life experience has left them with a
bad taste in their mouths for the word. They feel that to sell is to unfairly influence unsuspecting people into buying something that they don’t need. This definition couldn’t be further from the truth. Funny thing is, every businessperson knows that they need sales to survive, sales are the lifeblood coursing through the veins of the company, providing necessary cash flow. How do you get sales, then, if not to participate in selling?
There is a built in arrogance by many business people around their products and services. “Why, this stuff is so good that it is self-evident. Everybody needs my service for the betterment of society.” Government people and non-profits hate the tag of being salespeople. They think they’re somehow above it. Let me tell you, if you want me to send you money for a presidential candidate or to save the endangered tsi-tsi fly, you had better show me why it’s in my best interest to do so.
Gang, to sell is to persuade, plain and simple. There now, persuade is not so bad, is it? People who sell perform a valuable service. When I sell engineering and consulting services to small companies, I am recognizing real needs and providing solutions to them that will benefit that company financially. Just because those companies may not have known those needs existed before I came along doesn’t mean they weren’t there and costing them, big time. Take a look at the history of the world and it’s filled with people who sold things. Imagine what this planet would be like if Henry Ford had reservations about taking the Model-T to the public, after all, he didn’t want to come across like a used-horse salesman (think about it, you’ll get it eventually). Thomas Watson, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs and all the other pioneers of the information technology revolution were salespeople first. These inventions have shaped the world in which we live for the better.
To sell is to communicate ideas to others. When you convince your wife to go to see Arnold’s next film instead of a chick flick, you are selling. Getting the kids to do their homework without beating or intimidating them—selling again. Ask the boss for a raise—you’d better be an effective salesperson.
So why am I making such a big deal about this? Well, I’m trying to se…persuade you that if you want to succeed in the business world and life, you had better learn to sell your ideas and yourself, even if you’re the company janitor. You will never be able to do that if you have inhibitions about selling. Here are a few ways to get over it and move up the ladder of success.
Consider the examples that you just read. Maybe you do sell, after all. Tell yourself that’s OK. Get up in the morning, and look at yourself in the bathroom mirror. Shave (guys) or put on your makeup (ladies) first. Make sure your spouse is not within earshot. Now repeat twenty times, “I SELL. SELLING IS GOOD. SELL IS NOT A FOUR LETTER WORD.” Just do it for a couple of days, and after you stop laughing at yourself you’ll see that your perceptions about this dirty word will change.
Remember, business survives due to selling skills. Sales provide cash flow. Your career moves forward in part due to your selling skills. Selling your ideas provides personal credibility. You can have fabulous methods to change the world or your company locked up in your mind, but the world won’t change if those thoughts aren’t freed through the process of selling. We don’t know all the good stuff about you or your products and services. It isn’t obvious. Tell us, or better yet, sell us.
Once you have convinced yourself that to sell is OK in the eyes of humans and God, take some action and go sell something. You don’t have to go and sell Amway soap to your grandparents and cousins. Think of something that you know is important to other people and try to persuade them to your point of view. You’ve got their best interest at heart, not yours. They benefit more than you do, even if they’re paying you, because the check will have long since been spent while they’re still enjoying what you’ve sold them.
If you’ve really bought into the fact that it’s OK to sell, that you don’t have to be Willy Loman to succeed in the art of persuasion, that you’re still a nice guy, you may want to sharpen those skills and get good at it. There are tons of sales training programs out there, audio-tapes to listen to while you’re driving to enhance your skills (hey, I’ve got some great ones, call me!), and day-to-day situations that you can use to bone-up and learn to sell more effectively. It doesn’t matter what your field of expertise or what you think, there is nothing, and this columnist means nothing that will improve your career more than better communication and selling skills.
So re-frame your position, examine the sales dynamic, take action, and practice those skills and REAP the success that you deserve. You’ll earn more guilt-free money for your business or yourself and improve the planet simultaneously. Sounds like a pretty good deal to me.