How to sell something — even if you hate selling?
I don’t like to sell. Some people do, surely, but I’m not one of those people. I hate it.
Or to paraphrase Dorothy Parker’s famous saying, “I hate to write, but I love having written.” For me, that would be, “I hate to sell, but I love having sold.”
Don’t get me wrong: I respect the art of selling immensely. To me, salespeople are heroes who keep the wheels of our economy turning. Public relations is just a lubricant.
But selling isn’t just done by salespeople, much like PR isn’t just done by PR professionals. We must all communicate — and we must all sell, whether it’s our products, our services, or ourselves. Fresh out of university, I quickly realised that my lack of sales chops was going to be a serious problem.
During this period, I even listened to many self-help tapes on how to become a better salesman and I watched my fair share of Glengarry Glen Ross. Like ABC. Always. Be Closing.
I wanted to be a closer … I mean, I do want that coffee!
My first years in the industry was all about selling article ideas to journalists over the phone. Over and over again. I remember locking myself into the bathroom just to breathe for a couple of minutes before going at it again. Life as a twenty-something PR junior looking to make a name for himself was rough.
When I was sitting in the subway on my way home after a day’s work, sleep depraved, with nose bleeds and bolting headaches, I often fantasised about pursuing another career. I dreamt of becoming a teacher. What could be more meaningful than teaching, I thought.
Teaching, it seemed, was my Ikigai.
Ikigai is a Japanese term that translates to “the reason for being” or “why to get up in the morning”. Some say that being a teacher is a calling and I can understand that.
Perhaps ironically, I wasn’t exactly popular amongst my teachers in school. I often argued against my teachers and I jumped on any chance to provoke and challenge. I had ideas about knowledge and how to present it and I always felt that I would do a better job than all my teachers — combined.
Does this make me a megalomaniac or a narcissist? Well, I like to believe that I formed strong and passionate opinions about teaching at an early age. But that’s probably what a megalomaniac or narcissist would think, so I don’t know.
During my university years, I had a girlfriend who studied to be a teacher in history, politics, and religion. True to form, I read all of her course literature, ranging from Michel Foucault to Jean Piaget.
From all of these books, this quote by Danish existentialist Søren Kierkegaard struck a chord with me:
“If one is truly to succeed in leading a person to a specific place, one must first and foremost take care to find him where he is and begin there.
This is the secret in the entire art of helping.
Anyone who cannot do this is himself under a delusion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must understand more than he — but certainly first and foremost understand what he understands.
If I do not do that, then my greater understanding does not help him at all. If I nevertheless want to assert my greater understanding, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basically instead of benefiting him I really want to be admired by him.
But all true helping begins with a humbling.
The helper must first humble himself under the person he wants to help and thereby understand that to help is not to dominate but to serve, that to help is a not to be the most dominating but the most patient, that to help is a willingness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not understanding what the other understands.”
This is how I want to be taught! This is how I want to teach!
Late one night on the subway, I remembered this quote. If this is how I want to teach, maybe this could be the way I want to sell, too? Sure, whomever I’m selling to must agree on some form of compensation first, but to me, that’s only a small consideration along the much more important road to knowledge.
And so my Ikigai ended up changing my whole approach to sales — and it still does.
Now, I think this mindset works because I genuinely think that I have something to teach people. Something that’s valuable and worth every penny. Something that will help people.
Put in another way: If you’re honest and confident about helping people, sales won’t even feel like selling.