Selling is hard. Selling yourself can be harder.
It helps when you’re a maniac on a mission like Steve Jobs was. Or like Mark Cuban is. And Jeff Bezos.
All the difficulties of selling can be boiled down to one thing, fear!
Most folks focus on the fear of rejection, but I’m not sure that’s it. Haven’t we all experienced enough rejection to know it won’t kill us? We’re not still teenage boys or girls. We’re adults and we’ve all been rejected many times.
No, it’s not fun being rejected. Yes, we can take it personally…even when it’s not personal. But does that really prevent us from selling? More specifically, from selling ourselves? Hum, wait a minute. If we’re trying to sell ourself and we’re rejected, it is personal. It’s very personal.
Okay. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m way off base.
I got my first real sales job when I was about 16. Thinking back on it, I had no fear walking into a local stereo shop and asking them if they were hiring salespeople. They weren’t, but somehow – I’m too old to remember – I ended up in the back office with the owner of the company. He grilled me about various gear and I answered his questions because I was confident. He hired me and I had zero experience. It was my first attempt. Little did I know it would be the start of a long career in consumer electronics.
I’ve tried to dissect that first blind leap I took over 40 years ago to see what I can learn about my own selling hangups. There are key things that I think can help you (and I’m still working on improving myself, too).
- I was so passionate about hi-fi gear that I studied it constantly. I knew more about hi-fi gear than any of my friends. It was an obsession.
- That obsession fueled my confidence in my knowledge. I knew – or thought I knew – far more than I needed to in order to succeed selling. Turns out I was right.
- Knowledge, confidence and a bit of naiveté helped me get my first job. Hum, maybe that’s a formula for success?
- My desire was strong enough to compel me to want to get a hi-fi sales job so I could stop just reading about all this cool gear. I wanted to be around it and get hands on experience.
- I didn’t think about what I had to lose because I was so young I didn’t have much to lose, other than my pride. Maybe it wasn’t that I had nothing to lose, but that I didn’t think about it. I was too focused on what I wanted to care about anything else.
- I knew what I wanted and went after it.
I’m not an extrovert. At least not in the sense most of us mean it. I’m not a wallflower, but I don’t much care for crowds. Nobody ever called me, Mr. Party.
You may be so outgoing you make me look like a hermit. That’s okay. The point is, successful selling isn’t the exclusive domain of extroverts and it’s not off limits to introverts.
Selling is persuading. That conjures up some nasty things for some people. Manipulation. Talking somebody into something. Coercing. Pitching.
No wonder when you think of all the bad language used by salespeople, sales trainers and sales consultants.
- An “Up”
The verbs and nouns are impersonal. Reminiscent of the verbiage used by the con men of the 1940′s. No wonder so many people hate it. They think it’s something it’s not. Well, they think it’s something it shouldn’t be. Unfortunately, the world is filled with self-important, pompous salespeople who find success by manipulation and coercion. That doesn’t mean it’s how most successful selling happens because when you stop and think of all the selling that is happening around the world right now…you know that most of it is being between people who like each other, who are benefiting each other and who are finding value in doing business together. It’s not all as adversarial as some may think.
How does that impact your fear factor? Does it affect it at all? It should.
There’s another reason for the fear. Lack of preparation. Ask even a seasoned sales professional to deliver a 20 second elevator pitch and he’ll likely stumble. I guarantee he won’t end the “pitch” on time. It’s not because he’s an idiot. He just hasn’t prepared in advance. Successful selling requires pre-thinking and lots of preparation.
Two things cause this: laziness and ignorance. We can just be too lazy to put in the work. And we just don’t know what to do. We’re not stupid. We just don’t know what we need to know. Couple these two things together and too often we try to wing it. If winging it works, great. But if it doesn’t work, we’re stumped. Plus, winging it doesn’t increase our confidence. It erodes it. So our fear grows. We find it easier to do nothing. And easier isn’t profitable.
Facing Our Fear – The Only Path To Success
So what can we do about our own resistance to selling…especially when it comes to selling ourselves, our ideas, our products and our services?
1. Have something valuable to sell.
Con men don’t worry about this step. They’re driven solely by getting somebody’s money as quickly and easily as possible. In their world, they must gain at the expense of their “marks.” They can’t provide because they have nothing to offer other than dreams and illusions.
You have to be different. You have to provide something people find valuable. Sure, it’s great when people instantly see the value and beg you to buy, but that’s not often the case. Even Steve Jobs had to do incredible amounts of education. He spent lots of time planning, strategizing, engineering and working to prepare.
Too many people rely on having a great idea when great execution of an average idea would be better. Get the value of your offer up. Don’t confuse value with pricing. You may have higher value if you can lower your price. Just work at lowering your cost so the numbers work to help you create a sustainable (profitable) business. However, it could mean you raise your prices because the market will bear higher prices and it will improve the appeal of your offering to a higher end crowd. Whatever strategy you employ, just make sure you’re busy adding value that can be easily perceived by your target market.
2. Have a specific target market.
Everybody isn’t a market. Who have you created this offer for? Who would be most excited to hear about your offer?
Be as detailed as possible. Spend the time to really figure this out. Be realistic. Don’t delude yourself about who will be most attracted to your offer. Argue with your own logic. Triage your target market notions and ideas vigorously. Be tough on your strategy. This is time well spent.
I’d also encourage you to think about who you want to serve. This may not be an important step for everybody. Some people are in a family business that goes back many generations. Others are in an enterprise because the return on investment is attractive. However, there’s a subset of business owners or entrepreneurs who are heavily guided by serving a specific crowd or a particular kind of person. Weigh that into your strategy.
3. Now, it’s time to ruthlessly pursue buyers.
You owe it to them. If you did a great job at step #1 then you’re robbing people of the opportunity to have something valuable. Do NOT assume that your value is so high people ought to find you or seek you out. It’s your job to get the word out. It’s your job to find people in your target market and to present them (with education, with information, with answers to their questions or whatever else it takes) so they’ll buy. Or not.
You’ve gotta push. That doesn’t mean you’re pushy. It means you’re relentless and undeterred. Don’t get distracted at this step. Fact is, you can’t afford to get distracted at any of these steps. You just have to do them!
Don’t sweat it if you mess up. Just let one thing embarrass you – DOING NOTHING. Be embarrassed if you let fear stop you. Be embarrassed if you let laziness hang you up. Otherwise, don’t let anything embarrass you.
Don’t overthink it. We can all be prone to overthinking it. We think people are thinking about us more than they really are. They’re not thinking about us. They’ve got their own work and their own problems. They’ll think of us if we give them something highly valuable. That’s good. If we fail, they’ll forget us faster than yesterday’s news. That’s also good. One way, you make a sale. The other, you get to move on and find somebody more suitable.
No harm, no foul…as long as you’re taking action. That means, as long as you’re selling then you’re heading toward success. If you stall or delay, you’re failing. If you stop, you’re dead.
Yes, selling is a business life or death proposition. You have to find a way to do it successfully. It’s the only way you’re going to get customers. Without customers, you’ve got no business.
Bottom Line – Which One Is Harder? Surviving Or Dying?
Well, when you put it that way…
I wish it were all that easy, but it’s not. You know it’s not. It’s like the person who has an unhealthy lifestyle. Their doctor tells them, “You’ve got to change or you’re going to die.” Some die because they just refuse to change.
Some businesses die or never get started because people refuse to sell. Don’t let it be your enterprise that dies.