“Help”, Don’t “Sell”

Yesterday I met with a very smart, conscientious guy who takes great pride in helping his clients. He said, “I know I have to get better at sales, but I hate it!” So I recalled my journey.

“Selling” is not something I’ve ever really enjoyed or done well. Maybe it’s bad experiences with people trying to make their commission off me, or in software, having to deliver on promises that someone else made. Or maybe it’s just the general sense in the culture that the shady used car salesman or the desperate predators in Glenngarry Glenn Ross represent “selling”.

Coffee is for closers

In this world, “selling” is something the sales rep does to the prospect. It’s for the sales rep.

When I started working for myself, I knew I had to make sales. There was no way around that. I bought a bunch of “sales” books and tried to follow their advice. (In fairness to the authors of these books, they were going for “you just joined the sales team at IBM”, not “you have to do all the sales and marketing and delivery for your tiny firm.”) It generally didn’t go well. I was uncomfortable, which made me awkward, which made the prospects uncomfortable, which is not what you’re going for in sales. I lost opportunities I “should” have won, which didn’t really help my mindset.

Maybe I just wasn’t trying hard enough. So I tried harder. More activity, but similar results, and more misery.

I tried thinking back to my experiences as the tech assistant to various sales reps– what were the most successful ones doing? And why did I seem to like to the most successful ones? Was it because they were the slickest and had the best sales tricks? I realized that the most successful reps, at least in my limited experience, seemed most focused on the customer. They had the fewest “tricks”– they just wanted to understand the problem and help the customer solve it.

Was this really possible? Or was I just delirious in my desperation?

I thought back to other experiences where I had bought something. Of course, I could easily recall some bad experiences with pushy sales people. But what about good experiences where I had started with a problem and ended up with a solution better than I realized was possible? In some cases I had done a bunch of research and figured it out on my own. In other cases, I had talked to someone, a sales person, no less, who had used their knowledge and experience to help me. They had sold me, very successfully, by not “selling”, but by “helping”. That was something I could do. That was something I liked. And that was something I was (reasonably) good at.

Changing that one word changed my whole approach– in my own head, in my actions, and in my results. I hope it can help you, too.

p.s. Want 2 other important mindset shifts?


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