You’re great at sales

It is an oft-repeated tenet of Sales Gurus that “everyone is in sales”.

Oft-repeated, but seldom explained, reinforced, or justified. I can, after all, make a pretty strong argument that I’m not in sales: my business card quite specifically says Marketing/Operations/Technician/Accountant.

So defend your claim that I’m in sales.

What Is Sales?

Well, let’s take a step back. When we say “sales”, what do we actually mean?

Well, one perfectly legitimate definition is “people in the sales department”. This is a very useful definition for many purposes, like HR reports, business cards, planning your day, and figuring out whether you want to talk to that guy across the room.

But it’s not a useful definition when you’re trying to decide if someone is good at sales. (Is he in the sales department? Yup, he’s good!). For that purpose, we need some idea of what sales involves, and what its end goal is. So in that case, you want a definition that looks more like “the process of persuading prospective parties to engage in a specified, desired transaction” (a definition that includes nonprofit sales teams, who are actually looking for donations, and startup sales teams, who are actually looking for venture capital). That’s the definition being used by books teaching sales techniques: they’re trying to help you improve your ability to persuade others to engage in whatever transaction you’re supposed to persuade them to.

But looked at that way, there’s really nothing to distinguish it — really — from any kind of persuasion (as I noted in an earlier post on using counterarguments to strengthen a sale.) There’s not necessarily any point in distinguishing between a person who makes their living by selling stuff, and a person who makes their living by persuading people. And since there’s a word for the former, you may as well lump everyone in the latter category into “salespeople”. This means that people who persuade voters to elect their candidate are salespeople (as, I’m sure, many would tell you themselves), lobbyists are salespeople (ditto), and diplomats engaged in peace negotiations are, at least sometimes, salespeople, and none of those really offend our sensibilities about what constitutes a “salesperson”.

You are, at least sometimes, a salesperson

So with that definition in hand, let us point out that everyone persuades people to engage in specific, desired transactions. You persuade your parents or your date to buy you a meal. You persuade your date to go out with you in the first place. You persuade your partner to attend the opera or ballet, and they persuade you to attend monster truck rallies. You persuaded your employer to hire you. You persuaded a teacher to extend a deadline, or grade more leniently.

The primary difference is that salespeople know, have names for, and study all the techniques that you kind of use instinctively.

The “Just look through the list of shows this season, and we’ll talk about it tomorrow” method? There’s a name for that.

The “Go on one date with me, and if you don’t enjoy it, I’ll never ask again” technique? There’s a name for that.

The “I can turn in something now, but I really feel that I would learn a lot more from the assignment if I can have another three days” line? There’s a name for that.

You are, usually, a great salesperson

If you look over those transactions, you see that, actually, you’re pretty good at convincing people to see things your way. It helps, of course, if you and your partner both like opera AND monster trucks, at least a little bit (there’s a name for that, too, it’s called “qualifying the prospect”), or if the teacher already likes you (that’s called “building the relationship”). But sales isn’t as hard as you think: you’ve been doing it for years, through thousands of transactions, and you’ve gotten pretty good at it; you just called it “convincing” instead of “sales”.

You are, sometimes, a lousy salesperson

But we all have our favorite techniques, and we often overuse them. It’s easy for me to get carried away with the blast-them-with-data approach, and people’s eyes glaze over. My ex-husband used the if-you-don’t-I’ll-be-sad technique so often that I divorced him.

Different techniques work better in different situations, and the more ideas you have, the better off you’ll be.

You may or may not “be in sales”

Is everyone in sales? Not necessarily. Many people don’t spend a lot of time doing any negotiation and persuasion, and a lot of people don’t make a living from it.

But it’s clear, from the examples above, that everyone can benefit from learning more about sales. It can help you get better grades. It can help you get more raises. It can help you get better jobs. It can help you get more attention, reputation, and credit.

So when the sales gurus say “you’re in sales”, they may be wrong. But what they mean is “You can benefit from reading my book, because it can help you be a better persuader”. And in that, they are absolutely correct.

Resources for Further Reading
My favorite sales book:
Sales Dogs: You do not have to be an attack dog to be successful in sales
Jeffry Gitomer’s Sales Bible
Can I Have 5 Minutes of Your Time?

OK, I have to confess that these are actually the only sales books I’ve read. And after writing all of that, I’m thoroughly convinced that I should read more. So please leave a comment with your recommendations.

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This article was cross-posted on my business blog, NeoAgora Marketing. You browse there for more information small business marketing if you’re interested.