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Sales: Shedding the used car salesman image

One of the things that most people in the knowledge work force do every day now is sell. We sell ideas, viewpoints, or particular positions on how to move forward and I think there’s this leftover negative connotation around sales from an era that’s long gone. I think a lot of people when they hear “sales”, think used car salesman and all of the negative imagery that sort of comes with that. It’s really not appropriate anymore because a lot of that stereotype was built up around the unevenness of information. In the case of the used car salesman he knew a lot more about the history of that car and the current state of it than you did, so when you got one that didn’t work out you tended to feel that you got the shaft.

Now even in that particular business the information awareness has evened out because of things like Carfax and just the ability of the customer to communicate dissatisfaction with the product and thereby affect future sales. So I think it’s changed a lot of how sales are transacted and a whole host of other areas. With this vast amount of information now available a premium has been put on honesty, customer service and delivery. By falling down in any of those areas it can have real and immediate consequences for an organization.

Now getting back to the idea that almost all of us are in sales and if you’ve ever read Thomas Pink’s book To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, that is the kind of sales that I’m talking about. It’s an excellent book and I think everybody should read it but one of the things I want to key in on is this idea demonstrated in the book. It was the idea that if you agree or believe that a lot of your job revolves around your ability to sell things like your ideas to coworkers etc., in order to perform you spend a lot of time thinking about how to communicate things. Your performance is predicated on getting those ideas into the implementation phase and I think one of the things that everyone finds themselves trapped in, myself included, is overcomplicating things or simply struggling to communicate things that are very complicated.

Sometimes what I try to do when faced with a challenging communication problem is I think about what an advertisement would look like for what I’m trying to sell. We live in the age of YouTube, digital shorts, and TV advertisement. Figuring out how you would get your message across in 30 seconds is sometimes a good way to think about how you might get your meaning across in a 30 minute meeting. I know for me, I trend towards talking more. If I’m given the time, I could spend an hour, hour and a half on any one idea. While that’s all well and good if you can’t sum it up in that 30 second period probably right at the beginning of that hour, then you will probably struggle to convince them no matter how much time you have. So a lot of times I will try to step back and think if this was a 30 second commercial how would I do it? No holds barred. You know you can have the James Earl Jones voice talking, open up to a clip that looks out across the pyramids or some other type of fantastic venue, but just open your mind up to that level of creativity. Press down what you’re trying to convey into that short little time space. If you can just run through that little mental exercise I really think it could help. Even though it may seem silly, especially if it’s a serious topic and you’re trying to work to make schools safer or trying to pull cost out of large IT portfolio, whatever it is, try to distill it down into that basic short format. I think you’ll find it helps you to connect the dots on how to convey things.

So I’m curious what other people think. I’d really love to hear what other tricks people use to help them come to that summation point where they’re able to quickly give the elevator pitch of the project or idea that they’re trying to convince their team, organization, or even an outside organization to partake in.

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Dick Davies

Define the main message and then repeat repeatedly toward the marketplace. I can and do find more entertaining ways to promote as we go along, but staying on the right message sells more that glitz.

Dannielle Blumenthal

Random ideas from me and others –the overarching concept being to entice the customer to come to you first rather than the other way around.

1. “Have breakfast with the customer” — a former boss taught me this. Excellent salesman, he thought from the Clint’s perspective at all times and actually did have breakfast lunch and dinner with them.

2. “Let it be their idea”–another former supervisor who was brilliant at this. I don’t know exactly how she did it.

3. “Solve their immediate problem well” and then they will call you to solve others – eg sell them stuff they need

Joshua Millsapps

The “Let it be their idea” is how my wife gets me to do most things. I love the part about having breakfast with the customer as well. People discount the importance of social interaction to getting results, but trust and insight into personalities are part of getting things done.