For many years, I hated sales. Then I learned to stop selling. That’s when my business really took off!
When I was about twelve years old, a college student enlisted my teenage brother into a multi-level marketing scheme to sell household cleaner door to door. Like all MLMs, the multiplier for this system was for my brother to create a down-line of other salespeople. I was close at hand—and, as little brother, an easy mark. So I got drafted into sales.
I memorized the pitch for selling the product. It seemed simple enough. All I had to do was go up to a house and knock or ring the doorbell. When someone came to the door, I was to introduce myself, explain that I was offering a phenomenally effective cleaner, demonstrate the product by spraying some of it onto the doorpost and swiping it clean, and then ask for the sale and take the order. Pretty easy, right?
So I hit the streets.
Five blocks, thirty-some demonstrations, and about two hours later, I had sold two bottles. Needless to say, I was pretty discouraged.
Apparently the distributor of the cleaning product had anticipated this disappointing start, because they had put together a sheet of pointers to go over after my first day in sales mode. I read the sheet, took some encouragement from the upbeat, “you’ll get ’em next time” tone of the advice, and vowed to try again the next day.
After maybe three or four weeks of lackluster results, I informed my brother that I was dropping out of the program. That was bad news for him, especially when his sponsor found out. No one in MLM wants to lose anyone from their down-line. So I was heavily pressured to stick with it. But in the end, I bailed.
What made this foray into sales especially humiliating was that the college kid was selling cleaner right and left. I heard about people who had bought whole cases of the stuff from him. It was like magic! The product practically sold itself (at least, that’s the way he represented it).
So I walked away assuming the problem must be with me. “I’m just not a salesman,” I concluded, with no small degree of shame.
I lived with that mindset for the next twenty years. To me, sales seemed to be about talking people into buying stuff they really didn’t want or need. Yes, I could see that almost every business succeeds or fails depending on whether someone can sell what they have to offer. But sales just looked like a game of persuasion in which someone uses a clever pitch and a forceful personality to get someone else to hand over their money.
People Love to Buy
Then one day I came across this curious piece of logic: People don’t care what you have to sell. People only care about what they want. If you can give them what they want, they’ll buy it every time.
The person pitching this way of looking at sales was a man named Jeffrey Gitomer.
Gitomer was talking about the issue of value. What do people value?
I had already been clued in to the importance of value by Peter Drucker. Drucker had observed that no one ever buys a product for its own sake. They buy a product for what it will do for them. So (to use one of his examples), a teenage girl who buys a pair of shoes is not buying the shoes. She’s buying a fashion statement. Later, however, when she becomes a young mother, she starts buying things like durability, price, comfort, or fit.
Gitomer has drawn out the implications of that insight better than anyone I know. In fact, his trademarked slogan is: “People don’t like to be sold, but they love to buy.”
That is so true! And that way of looking at things revolutionized sales for me. It not only changed the way I saw my customers, it changed the way I saw myself.
You see, if my game was simply to get people to part with their money, then I was just using people, and my business was purely and inherently selfish. But the more I started paying attention to what really mattered to other people, the more I considered what I actually had to give them that would benefit them in a meaningful way.
Looked at from that angle, sales is no longer about persuasion, it’s about altruism. It’s not about taking, it’s about giving. The issue is no longer, “Here’s what I’ve got and here’s how much it costs,” but rather, “What do you really want, and how can I help you get that?” In short, I no longer sell to people. I focus on giving to them instead.
There are a thousand other ways in which Gitomer has transformed my take on sales.
You may or may not think of yourself as being in sales, but you are. Even if you’re not selling a product or service for your employer, you’re always selling yourself (whether you realize it or not). In countless ways (most of them unperceived) you and I give off messages to other people that say, “Here’s how I add value—or not.”
If you’d like to get better at how you’re coming across in that way, I encourage you to sign up for Jeffrey Gitomer’s Sales Caffeine, his weekly e-mail post. Sales Caffeine always presents both a challenge to conventional thinking as well as a practical path for improving one’s game. By reading it you’ll not only become better at sales, you’ll become a better person.
NOTE: This endorsement of Jeffrey Gitomer is completely voluntary on my part. I in no way have received or will receive any form of compensation or benefit by making these statements. Some things are just good enough to tell other people about.
Question: Tell me about the greatest challenge you encounter when trying to sell something.
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