Selling Your Ideas, Your Vision, Yourself: Whether You’re a CEO, a Manager or Simply a Human Being

By Barry Maher

Way back when  was 16 and selling magazines subscriptions door to door, I learned a lesson that no one who ever wants to sell anything to anyone should ever forget.

My fellow high-schoolers and I would generate the sales leads, pretending to be “one of the kids in the neighborhood,” even though we’d been shipped in for the afternoon from towns that were miles away. Then we’d hand off the lead to the crew chief who would go back and close the sale.

I was the top kid in the office. I set more appointments that led to more sales than anybody else, and I was constantly being called up to roleplay in front of the other “kids in the neighborhood.” I thought I was as slick as Vaseline on a marble floor. Since we were paid on a bonus system, and money was our true measurement of success, most of my peers agreed with me. And as far as I could see, I was getting better and better.

One day I was working with Terry, the number one crew chief, the top closer in the company. I was pitching a middle-aged woman through her screen door, and Terry was standing just out of sight, listening. I was in peak form and 16 years old and showing off, and damn I was good. The prospect was wary, coming up with a number of objections, but no matter which way she tried to squirm, I was there first waiting for her. I had her boxed in—wrapped up with a pink ribbon tied around her. All ready for Terry to move in for the close. I handed her off to him, and went off to work my magic farther on down the street.

Later, Terry came out of the call holding a contract. He caught up with me on the sidewalk in front of a house where I’d just finished another pitch. The first thing he said was, “You know something? You’re the best salesman I’ve ever seen.”

“Really!?!” I mean I knew I was good, but this was astonishing!

He nodded. “And that lead you just got, she said the same thing.”

“No kidding. Well that’s gre. . .”

“There’s only one small problem.” Terry held the unsigned contract up in front of my face and slowly—very slowly—tore it up in eight or nine pieces. Then he stuffed them into my shirt pocket. (The company might have been a bit shaky on some of the stricter elements of honesty, but they were way ahead of their time about littering. They knew it was rotten PR.) “The problem is that you aren’t supposed to be a great salesman, you’re supposed to be one of the kids in the neighborhood.”

          Truth: When you’re dealing with a good salesperson you might think, “Boy, this guy is a great salesperson.” When you really are with a great salesperson you think you’re with one of the kids in the neighborhood.

If you aren’t speaking from conviction, if you don’t really believe what you’re saying, you’re never going to be a great salesperson. Not unless you’re one of the best actors that every lived. And if you’re that good an actor, you’ll probably be better off—those you’re trying to sell will certainly be better off—if you just go to Hollywood.

Good salespeople are polished and professional. And just a little slick. They’ve got a great pitch. They might be very likeable but they make most prospects just a bit wary.

Great salespeople might be as polished as the Crown Prince of Moravia if that’s who they are or they might be as folksie as Will Rogers or Abe Lincoln. They might be a disorganized sloppy mess and not particularly articulate, though they’re always likeable—very likeable. And somehow they do always say just the right thing. Since they so obviously seems to believe in what they’re saying, it doesn’t seem to be a pitch. They “just seem to make a lot of sense.”

And they’re never slick. They’re genuine. The longer they talk, the less wary the prospect becomes. When the time comes for the great salesperson to close, buying from him or her is often as natural and as easy as ordering a fine meal at a favorite restaurant.

Great salespeople are aggressive and persistent and non-threatening: which means they’re subtle and likeable enough that few ever perceive them as aggressive and persistent.

If a prospect tells you you’re a great salesperson, you aren’t.  What he’s saying is that he feels that he’s being ‘sold’ something he would never purchase on his own. He may rollover and buy, but he won’t be happy about it.  He won’t be happy to see you on your next visit, and he’s far more likely to develop buyer’s remorse and re-contact you the next day.

To me, the highest praise a salesperson can receive from a prospect is simply, “You make a lot of sense.”  People who say that don’t feel sold, they feel their needs are being met. Of course they may never have realized they had those needs until you walked in the door.  And I guarantee they’ll buy more from the salesperson who appears to make sense than from anyone they consider “a great salesperson.”

And yes, pretending to be “one of the kids in the neighborhood” when you aren’t is not the way to sell. And, even at 16, I should have known better. In order to be “one of the kids in the neighborhood” you’ve actually got to live there.

© Copyright 2013, Barry Maher, Barry Maher & Associates, Las Vegas, Nevada, Los Angeles, California

While Not All Motivational Speakers Are Great, All Great Speakers Are Motivational.

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