I recall an art director I had once whose method of presentation was just to drop the work on my desk with no explanation. “If it’s good,” he would say, ‘I don’t have to say anything”. And I had a client once who said the same kind of thing: “if you have to explain the work to me, it’s not effective”. And I once had an account person who believed that all advertising, not just creative, was a sham because a really good product didn’t need to be “sold”.
I will tell you what I told all of them.
Are you out of your fucking mind?
“Selling” does not imply that the thing you are talking about is inadequate. On a planet in which we are inundated with more data than we can ever possibly process (34 gigs a day by some counts), doing something to stand out from that avalanche is simply cost-of-entry (and yes, that also creates more snow in the avalanche. I get that. It’s not a perfect system).
But “selling” also understands that the person looking at the work – say a creative director on an account – may not be the end user of the ad, and therefore may need some explanation that would be intuitive for the actual target.
Or, “selling” appreciates that, sure, maybe you actually are the customer, except no, not the way you’re thinking right now, Mr. Client, sitting in an air conditioned conference room high above a major metropolis when your customer is going to see this messaging outside the track at Talladega on their way into the race. So the work you are seeing must be contextualized for any of it to make sense.
Because what “selling” fundamentally understands – and what good sales people really understand – is that selling is not about the salesperson or even the product. “Selling” is about the needs of the person you are talking to. Selling is about what their problem is, what their expectation is, and what they’re thinking when they encounter your product.
I mean, do you really think a doctor does not “sell” when he is trying to explain a treatment to a patient who can only think about the life-threatening diagnosis they’ve just been given? Do you think a cleric is not trying to “sell” a plan for help when she is counseling someone who comes to them in a crisis that has turned their life upside down?
Of course they are. But in our culture, “selling” is evil. Plain and simple. Why is that?
Part of it probably has to do with the fact that it is seen as fundamentally different from “persuasion”, and that that difference has everything to do with lucre. “Persuasion” by itself is okay – a doctor “persuades” a patient to try a medication. A cleric “persuades” a man to stop drinking. “Persuasion” implies that these are acts executed purely in the best interest of the person being persuaded, and that the “persuader” is in no way compensated.
And if you learn that the doctor is getting a cut of every prescription, or that the cleric’s sobriety program is reimbursed by a government grant based on headcount? Then their “persuasion” turns into “selling”.
But that’s conflating “selling” with deceit, obfuscation, hypocrisy and greed. You can sell without those things, of course; hell you can even sell without those things even if the end result for you is, you know, to make money. But because “selling” is routinely confused with them, we have a culture that fundamentally does not know how to sell. We sit through presentations that are either as dull as bad wallpaper or are so clearly over-inflated that only an utter moron would fall for them. We watch ads that believe that just showing up in our feeds, on our sites, during our shows is enough, and that being convincing, persuasive, or god forbid relevant actually detracts from the implied honesty of the message.
We don’t teach it in schools, we don’t promote it in business, and we don’t reward it in culture. So of course no one knows how to do it.
Which is one of the reasons why a book called The Art of Selling Yourself could be so useful. It could fill a gap that is sorely lacking. It could explain to people not only the basics of selling – you know, listening to the person you’re trying to sell to, understanding what his needs are, understanding how what you’re selling can really help meet those needs, understanding that it can’t and the value of saying “yeah, I’m not your guy”, understanding what frame of mind he’s in that you need to adjust to – but could also explain how to nuance this information for the different situations people find themselves in. Like the fact that “selling up to your boss” requires certain insights that are fundamentally different from “selling down to your subordinates”. That “selling to a prospective client you know next to nothing about” is different from “selling to a customer you’ve had for years”. These observations would get into the real art of selling, the subtleties, the nuances, and could perhaps be illuminated with insights that really great salespeople have discovered over time. Not the hucksters, the con men, or the flimflam experts, but sales people you’ve probably never heard of but who have made their careers by turning their skill of persuasion into a, you know, art.
And if it actually helped people learn how to turn those skills to sell themselves – to get jobs, to get promotions, to get the things that they really wanted out of life? Well wouldn’t that be a kick in the pants.
That The Art of Selling Yourself is not that book is, of course, disappointing. That the need still exists, is frustrating. That there is still an opportunity for someone to write it, however, feels like a big idea. If I can just find someone to sell it.
The Art of Selling Yourself by Adam Riccoboni & Daniel Callaghan was published by TarcherPerigee on 02/07/2012 – order it from Amazon here, or order from Barnes & Noble here, or pick it up at your local bookseller (find one here).