Sell Yourself First

Nobody knows how to sell any more. And I think there may be a couple of reasons for this.

One could be cultural; we are so overwhelmed with messages that people have lost the time to be sold to. TV, websites, radio, billboards, smartphones, dasherboards, team jerseys – the messaging never stops. And curiously, selling, real selling and not just “generating awareness”, demands time. It takes time to explain something. It takes time to sell.

And the second is that “selling” has become a dirty word in our language. It has become synonymous with lying. With cheating. With conning. Now, this may have something to do with our culture’s state of messaging overload, but for whatever reason, there is an inherent subtext – if you need to “sell” it, it’s probably crap. Lipstick on a pig, and all that.

I think that’s because for selling to work, you have to be willing to admit that it works – and that it works on you. And admitting it works on you these days is akin to admitting that you are a mark, that you are a fool, that you are easily conned by the tin-plated promises of whatever huckster happens to grab your lapel in the street.

And yet, I’ve been around some great salesmen – not a lot, but a few. People who understood who they were talking to, and understood what their needs were. Who realized that the more effectively and efficiently they meet those needs, the more business they would get. The more business they would keep. The more money they would make.

And who doesn’t want that?

Thomas A. Freese has noticed the same problem, and has written “Sell Yourself First: The Most Critical Element in Every Sales Effort” to rectify that situation. The fact that his book is not really saying anything revolutionary, that its often just covering the basic tenets that anybody should be aware of is beside the point.

Freese’s book is a valuable tool for anyone who has to sell.

And that’s all of us. It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, what company within that business, what role within that company within that business. Everyone has to sell. Want your client to buy something? You sell. Want your boss to believe something? You sell. Want to get a job? You sell. Everyone sells. And the sooner we get over whatever cultural biases we’ve developed about it, the better off we’ll all be.

My father used to say that good writing was just clear thinking. So if I can paraphrase that old Creative Director for this topic – in many ways Freese believes that good selling is just good communicating. And to communicate well, you need to be willing to spend the time to know a couple of things.

For example, you need to understand the mindset of the person you’re selling to. At one point in my career I had one client who liked – expected, demanded – to be surprised in the presentation. He wanted to walk in cold and feel the full force of the idea in the meeting. And at exactly the same time, I had another client who hated surprises. Who wanted to be kept in the loop at every step of the process and who actually wanted us to present to her before we presented. Figure that one out.

We were successful with both of these clients in part because we understood this. Had we not, the work, no matter how brilliant, would never have gotten a sniff.

And where does the “sell yourself” part come in?

Freese believes that the customer’s first and strongest perception of the company is the person who sells it to him. If that person appears uninterested in him and his business, the customer will project that onto the company at large. If that person seems like a trusty right-hand in his success, the customer will project that onto the company too.

Thus “selling yourself” – not just being nice or friendly or polite but demonstrating that you (and by extension your company) are vitally and deeply committed to the customer’s success.

How do you communicate that commitment? Indeed, how can you actually be that committed? By doing the things that great sales people have done since the beginning of time. Understand your customer. Be engaged. Make their success your success.

You know, like great advertising does.

Sell Yourself First was published by Portfolio/Penguin on 1/3/11 – order it from Amazon here or from Barnes & Noble here – or pick it up at your local bookseller ( find one here). 

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