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There’s a reason for those ads you’ve seen for home businesses, the ones that proclaim “NO SELLING!” That’s nonsense, of course. There is no form of small business you can start where you aren’t going to have to do some selling. Whether you are a high-priced consultant peddling your expertise or a craft consignment shop, you are going to have to sell yourself and/or your products.
But the ads appeal to many of us because we hate the thought of selling and because most of us are convinced that we can’t do it. Or, if forced (at gunpoint) to try to sell things to people, we’d be very bad at it. If there’s a reason why so many home-based businesses don’t seem to work for the people who try to start them, it may well be because there are too many people who think it is possible to find one in which they won’t have to sell anything.
Another problem here is that so many of us (particularly those of us with online businesses) have been conned into thinking that if only we market our businesses effectively, we won’t actually have to get our hand dirty with selling. And make no mistake selling is the dirty work. By comparison, marketing our businesses feels positively saintly.
Why? Because in the minds of many selling is inherently dishonest. The salesman who is successful must be lying through his teeth to get that many people to buy his product. The salesman who is honest won’t last long in sales. At the core of these attitudes lies the belief that the successful salesman will say absolutely anything to get people to buy. They will manipulate and coerce, at best, and lie and cheat, at worst. They go around pestering honest people; forcing them to buy things they don’t want by any means that works and without being overly troubled by ethics.
I haven’t made a study of this, but I have a feeling that we have the media to thank for this really very inaccurate image. Well, that and our own dislike for accepting the responsibility for our own bad decisions. But it’s not in your interests to walk around harboring these prejudices. You will find, as you are running your business that these attitudes – fear of selling – will get in your way.
The Truth About Salespeople
Salespeople are people, and some of them are more admirable than others, but a lack of integrity is not a prerequisite for the job. In sales, reputation within your industry is everything. If you earn a reputation for dirty, dingy dealings, nobody will buy anything from you. So operating with a lack of ethics might work for some guys for a little while, but for long-term success in a selling career, honesty is the best policy.
In other words, there is a profound difference between a salesman and a con man. Then there’s that other thing. A good salesman is there to sell you something. You know it and he knows it. If he is any good at his job, then he will believe that what he is trying to sell you is something that will genuinely help you in some way.
But, in the end, you are the only true judge of whether his belief is correct.
Unfortunately, people sometimes buy things that they didn’t need and (worse!) couldn’t afford, due in part to the skilled pitch of a professional salesman. In this situation, some of them will cheerfully let that salesman take the rap when the consequences of that poor decision come home to roost. It’s not fair but … there it is.
Being married to a professional salesman, I can tell you that the stereotypes are way off base. And, because he is really very, very good at selling, he is an interesting study for me. That’s because I, too, am one of those people who get the hives at the thought of having to sell things to people. All kinds of peculiar ideas come into my head: I don’t want to bother people, selling feels like begging (gimme yer money!), people will be mean to me if I try to sell them something.
The Truth About Selling
You’ll notice how all those ideas are self-centered? That’s really what stops people from being comfortable with selling. Their feelings are focused on how they will be perceived in a sales situation, which prevents them from either letting the qualities of their product enhance their confidence or from considering instead how they may be helping that prospect instead of bothering him.
That’s not unusual, by the way. I recently came across a book called The Lacy Techniques of Salesmanship by Paul J. Micali (Hawthorn/Dutton, 1982) In it, he makes the point that psychological studies have found that people are thinking about themselves 94% of the time. So, if you find yourself living up to that statistic, don’t think you are a monster of selfishness.
But you are probably getting in your own way.
Sales as Service
One of the things that watching my salesman husband has taught me is that sales, properly practiced, is really a service. In fact, he uses the terms interchangeably. He is a corporate salesman, he says. He also says that his job is to service his clients. That is, getting them to buy his company’s service — commercial collections, in this case — is only the beginning for him.
After that, he monitors their account to make sure his company is treating them well and performing the quality of service that he promised them. He has been known to duke it out with his boss on behalf of his clients, and his clients repay his loyalty with loyalty of their own. If he left his present employer to go to a competitor, it is very likely that his entire client list would follow him.
And, while he is doing all that, he is also persuading his clients to place more and better accounts with his agency.
Becoming A Salesperson
He is a salesman to his fingertips, and he is the only purely natural one I’ve ever seen. There have been many times over the last 18 years that he has been talking to me about something and I’ll have to stop him to ask him why he’s “selling” me. He’ll grin sheepishly and say that he kind of can’t help it. But people like him are extremely rare. Most salespeople are not born they are made.
And that’s really the great selling bugaboo. The bottom line is that most of us avoid selling as if it were the plague not because we think selling is evil but because most of us just don’t know how. The good news is that there are techniques to selling and they can be learned and mastered. But first, we have to acknowledge the errors in our thinking.
There is no running a small business without having to persuade somebody somewhere along the line to part with their cash for some product or service that you have to offer. You have to sell. When you do sell, you are only being dishonest if you are being dishonest. Otherwise, you are only helping people by giving them the opportunity to benefit from the product or service you have to offer. If you don’t genuinely believe that, then you are probably in the wrong business.