Everyone Sells.

Take-Home Message: There’s nothing wrong with selling. 

A few months ago, I overheard someone having a conversation about how they didn’t get a degree just so they could be a salesperson. This reference to sales as a lowly, dark-arts job almost made me laugh. It made me consider my own thoughts about the art of selling, and how I feel when approached by a “salesperson.”

I hate feeling like I’m being sold. It’s a degrading feeling for me when someone is telling me what I need, particularly when the person has failed to ask what I want. From my own observations, this feeling is universal. We all hate being sold. It makes us feel like we’re being duped or something, I suppose. And we all hate having the wool pulled over our eyes.

So, when someone even resembles a salesperson, we immediately throw up our guard and march to a different tune. It’s like an evolved defense mechanism we all have and frequently use.

I think we should stop shirking away from these encounters so quickly, though. In fact, I think we should embrace them and use them as learning opportunities. I believe this and am seeking to combat this behavior because I think we are all salespeople in one way or another. We all believe in something, work for something, and want to connect with others on some level. To do this, and to do it effectively, we have to be able to reach out to others, and in some sense, persuade them of the legitimacy of our ideas.

Everybody has a product to sell–no matter whether you’re an employee, a founder, or an investor. It’s true even if your company consists of just you and your computer. Look around. If you don’t see any salespeople, you’re the salesperson. –Peter Thiel, Zero to One

Peter Thiel makes a compelling case in his book, Zero To One: Notes on Startups, or How to Build the Future. He discusses sales as a skill requiring immense time and effort to look flawless. He also says it’s something that works when hidden. Because, no one likes feeling sold.

But, in the world in which we live, there are an immense number of goods, services, and ideas which are being slung all around us. We are each being sold on something almost perpetually. Some people are terrible at selling, while others are so good we never see them coming. Most of our encounters, though, even if they are not situations which involve a monetary transaction, require a sale.

Because of this, I believe we should start regularly engaging the people who attempt to sell us something, be it idea, product, or service. I think each of these encounters provides an opportunity for learning and improving our own techniques.

I think in so doing, we can transform our view of sales. I personally have attempted to shift my outlook lately on this. I’ve been approaching some of these interactions with the mindset that the “salesperson” is attempting to add value to my life, rather than dupe me. It’s allowed me to have much more friendly conversations with these people, and even on occasion, learn a thing or two.

As I’ve set out on my own mission to “sell” ideas, I’ve thought it important to become a better listener to others who are attempting to do the same. I’ve learned a lot from changing my mindset to one less hostile. In the back of my mind when I’m being sold, whether it’s an idea, product, or service, I’ve been attempting to think of Frederic Bastiat’s words: “By virtue of exchange, one man’s prosperity is beneficial to all others.” 

I believe Thiel’s and Bastiat’s words both have practical importance to our lives. We are all selling things, and because we are, we can all be better off. I think it’s important to recognize the value of being better off as a result of exchange. In fact, it’s been only out of recognition of this that I’ve been able to make any ground in improving my attitude with “salespeople” who are just doing the best they can.

I’ll close with this thought because I think Ash Ambirge summarizes this transaction process eloquently.

Sales is about a mutual exchange of pleasure. The first keyword is mutual, and the second pleasure. When a transaction between a seller and buyer takes place, it isn’t because the seller is greedy and the buyer is stupid. Buyers are not stupid; they know exactly what they’re doing. And what they’re doing is giving you something you want (money) in exchange for something they want (what you sell).

–Ash Ambirge, You Don’t Need A Job, You Need Guts

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