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Whether you offer a service, a product, or your own hard work, all of us are selling in one way or another. And some of us find that a challenge, don’t we?

When I was at a consulting firm, we always suggested our clients consider their guiding values about work and about selling. Those are the deep beliefs that we may not even articulate often, but they’re part of our world view, and probably have been since childhood.

Examining my own guiding values about selling, I concluded that I came by my reluctance naturally. I grew up hearing negative messages about sales.

My dad used to call himself, with tongue only slightly in cheek, a public servant. Heading up the Glenview Park District, you could say he “sold” ideas, enthusiasm for recreation—and bond issues!

He didn’t peddle a product though, and I can remember his stories about guys coming into his office pushing some gizmo or other. Trying to persuade him that their big idea was just the thing he needed. Let’s just say his accounts were … not complimentary.

His dad, on the other hand, was (get this) a classic traveling salesman.

Grandpa spent his work week driving all over rural Indiana selling fertilizer to farmers. And I’m confident he was very good at it. He died when I was young, but I remember him as a hail-fellow-well-met, slap-you-on-the-back-and-buy-you-a-beer kind of guy who would have been a natural at developing rapport.

It would have been tough for those corn and soybean growers to say “no” to Grandpa. And I’d guess he was undaunted if somebody did happen to say “no.” I’d love to hear stories about his sales secrets.

Sadly, my days of sitting on Grandpa’s lap for a heart-to-heart chat are long gone.

Photo of Catherine John's grandfather and her as a baby.Fortunately, I have others to ask about their sales success.

Although there was no lap-sitting involved, I’ve gathered some wisdom about business development. It’s useful for me and might be for you too.

“Curiosity is important,” says Kathleen Quinn at the Northbrook Chamber of Commerce. “No matter what you sell – know who you are selling to, why they are buying, what they say they need, and what they may not recognize could help. When you get to know people, their business, and their “why” you can help them succeed!”

Digital marketing expert Mana Ionescu focuses on “getting to know what makes people tick and what they need, think, and why. And I think of teaching where I can. But often when I’m being sold to, I feel under attack.” 

She’s not alone in feeling under attack, is she? So how do we sell our services or ideas without creating that feeling?

I got a straightforward definition from Curt Mercadante who’s been coaching me about using LinkedIn to better effect. “Selling = communicating the positive impact someone gets from working with you.” 

And if some people are unmoved? Curt’s all for being a bit selective. “Not everyone should ‘get’ your message,” he says. “That’s vanilla. And vanilla = poverty.”

Eileen Kent told me her heart skips a beat when she gets to make a sales call. Not because she’s nervous, mind you, but because she loves sales.

Eileen’s a consultant to companies seeking government contracts. “With a desire to solve a client’s problems, whether I get the business or not, helping them come up with a solution is very exciting for me.”

As you might guess, given Eileen’s joy about selling, she’s comfortable asking for the business. Even if they sometimes say, “no.” She also says, “I don’t take rejection personally. Everyone has a reason and most of the time it has nothing to do with me. They’re just not ready. Or they need to try someone else first.”

The same focus on the client came up in a lot of my conversations about sales.

Fractional CMO Dan Gershenson says selling is a conversation, not a pitch. The dog-and-pony-show sales presentation has lost whatever luster it once had.

Instead, Dan says, a sales conversation is “an opportunity to be genuinely curious about what makes people tick, why they do what they do, where their aspirations lie, etc. So, selling, for me, is about THEM first.”

At Anchor Advisors, Business and Personal Growth Advisor Brad Farris told me he doesn’t even really think about selling! 

“I think about meeting new people — those people have someplace they are trying to get to, a goal. Can I help them get there faster, cheaper, or more easily? Great, I can offer them that help. If I can’t, is there someone else who can?” 

David J.P. Fisher didn’t get into the National Sales Hall of Fame for nothing. And he admits, some of the negativity around selling has been well-earned by a lot of poor sales practitioners.

“When you look at sales as a service you provide ‘for’ someone vs something you do ‘to’ someone, it opens up the opportunity for conversation and connection.”

D.Fish says it’s a process of creation, finding out about their challenges and then working out a solution together.

It can’t stop there, though. As he says, “For sales to be a truly creative process, you have to be comfortable moving the conversation forward and asking for the business.”

Ah yes. Moving the conversation forward and asking for the business. I could get a lot more comfortable with that.

So, think of this as practice. If you need to be more confident and compelling when you present your ideas, you and I need to talk. I can help you develop what you say, and as importantly, how you come across when you’re speaking so your message has maximum impact.

Especially if you’re in a new position where you need to make a strong impression every time you speak … or if you’re hoping to move into that new position. This is the time to get serious about this critical skill.

You can tell me how I did, and of course share your own thoughts about selling in a comment below.