Help People Get Closer to What They Want

Ask people what they think about sales.

They usually conjure up some image of a greasy used car salesman or insurance broker shilling crap.

This image paints sales as the act of persuading someone to buy shit they don’t need. Of a self-serving shark slinging stuff for his own benefit.

I don’t see that as real sales. Predatory sales, maybe. But it misses the mark.

Real sales involves helping people get closer to what they want.

It’s consultative. Like a doctor prescribing a solution to make your pain go away. Or like a librarian recommending a good book.

One of my favorite economists once wrote a great tome called Human Action. In it he describes the necessary conditions for someone to take action. These apply directly to buying decisions:

  1. Unease or Dissatisfaction with their present state of affairs
  2. Vision of a better state
  3. Belief they can reach the better state

Sales isn’t about lubricating the process to move someone to a different state. Sales is about understanding the nature of someone’s unease or dissatisfaction. It’s quantifying their vision of a better state – not your vision of a better state. And it’s helping them reach the conclusion that they have what it takes to reach the better state.

Great salespeople know a secret. Sales is not about the sales person.

It’s about another human being. It’s about that human being’s current state of affairs. It’s about that human being’s vision for a better state. It’s about that human being believing him or herself capable of reaching that better state.

The best sales experiences aren’t transactional or one-sided. They’re relational and mutually beneficial.

Sales enables the transformation of lives.

Sales works best when one human being helps another human being remove friction, unease and dissatisfaction from his or her life.

Sales is about making people more free. Not burdening them with more shit they don’t want.

That’s what I imagine when I think about sales. Sales enables other people to live fuller, richer, more meaningful lives.

From What I Need to What I Can Do For You.

The job market is not as scary as it seems if you’re willing to change your approach.

The easy approach is scouring job boards with a mindset that “I need an job” and blasting out resumes with generic cover letters. The mindset behind this usually overemphasizes the need.

But – this enhances the difficulty level of finding a job. Businesses don’t give two shits about your needs as an applicant. That’s harsh. But it’s true. They can’t afford to hire, let alone pay people on the basis of needs.

Instead of focusing on your needs – when applying, you should focus on how you can help a business meet its needs. How you can bring value to the enterprise.

Behind every business is a person or group of people. They all have needs, too. They all have families. They all have bills to pay. But if the business doesn’t make money, none of that matters.

So businesses look for ways to maximize the value of their time and dollars. This is especially true when it comes to hiring. Evaluating a candidate is often an evaluation of opportunity costs. In other words, everything a business says yes to means several things it says no to.

Consider a simple scenario:

A business needs help with bookkeeping, office management, and marketing. It has a $50k annual budget for these.

Sally has a family and a high rent. She needs to make at least $50k per year, but she has 10 years experience in a narrow range of skills. She also isn’t interested in learning new things. If the business hires Sally for $50k and she can only do bookkeeping and manage the office, it still needs someone to assist with marketing.

April is fresh out of college. Somehow she managed to walk out without debt. She doesn’t need a lot to live on and at this phase in her career she values experience more than money. She’s got some basic skills and an eagerness to learn. If the business hires April for $35k and she can take on some of the marketing and is willing to manage the office, then it still has $15k in the budget to go out and find bookkeeping help.

This isn’t meant to be a perfect thought experiment. It’s intended to paint a picture of the choices business face when they hire – and contrast the difference between an applicant’s needs and an applicant’s ability and willingness to create value.

It should be obvious that hiring the younger, eager, less expensive candidate and finding a creative solution for the other tasks is a better decision for the business.

It’s often easy on the job market to overlook that businesses are made up of people. It’s also easy to put too much emphasis on your immediate circumstances.

Fight the impulse. Instead, find a way to focus on the needs of the business.


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