Why Everyone is in Sales

This is a multi-part series on Sales, Marketing and Persuasion. To see the blog post that inspired this series, click here. To see a list of all the blog posts on this topic: How to Sell Market and Self Promote.

If you’re interested in creating passionate users, or keeping your job, or breathing life into a startup, or getting others to contribute to your open source project, or getting your significant other to agree to the vacation you want to go on… congratulations. You’re in marketing.

You are a marketer – Kathy Sierra

I want to talk about sales. Specifically, I sell you on the idea that sales doesn’t have to be sleazy and that in fact a great deal of your success in life relates to your ability to sell.

First let’s talk about what I mean by selling:

Selling [in this context] is about creating an offer that convinces other people to do something that benefits you and usually costs them their money, time, stuff, political capital, etc.

An obvious example of sales is when you list your old Macbook Pro on Craigslist, you get money by creating an offer (Give me money in exchange for this Macbook) that was worth it to the buyer.

However, sales is also when you make an offer to your manager to get transferred to a new project at work (“if you transfer me to this new project, I’ll make you look really good by delivering big”) because your manager had to expend political capital and time/energy coordinating the move. Your offer needs to motivate him to take action and expend his resources.

In this light, selling is everywhere. Selling is getting people to try your new web app, or tweet your blog post or have coffee with you or recommend your services to their friends.

This post is called “Why Everyone is in Sales” because when you think about it, pretty much everything you do requires the cooperation of other people. Unless you live entirely off the land on a remote island, you will encounter other people and will need their help. Having money helps, but many of the things you actually want are only indirectly gotten with money.

You will need to sell. So it might be helpful to get better at selling.

From the book You, Inc. by Harry and Christine Beckwith:

Living is selling.

Start from childhood and remember all the sales calls you made. You worked up a sales pitch to get your parents to take you to Disney World, raise your allowance, and extend your curfew. You pitched them on sleepovers, a nicer bike, perhaps your first car. For that matter, you sold them on the accident that “wasn’t really my fault” and on a report card that seemed to suggest some backsliding. And on and on.

Your childhood sales career prepared you for adulthood, when you tried to sell your college on admitting you, an employer on hiring you and the car dealer on dropping $500 from the sticker price.

The question is not, are you a salesperson? The question is, how might you become more effective?

Now I realize this makes sales sound pretty self-serving but that’s because I’ve only explained half of the equation. The right way to sell is to create an offer that’s compelling and addresses your buyers wants and needs. You’ve got to provide something of value that is greater than the cost that the other party has to pay.

Give people what they want, and they’ll give you what you want. That’s how you sell without the sleaze. More on this later. For now, the take-away point is:

Recognize that your life is filled with situations that require skill in sales. Developing that skill is important and a worthwhile endeavor that does not require you to turn into a jerk.

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Jason Shen

Jason is a tech entrepreneur and talent expert. He is CEO of a performance hiring platform called Headlight, a Fast Company contributor, and an advocate for Asian American men. Follow him on Twitter at @jasonshen and subscribe to his private newsletter.

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  1. You can be very effective sales person once you are honest with your products. That is my own opinion.

  2. I usually give the following test to potential salesman … you have only three minutes to convince someone to buy something from you, what would you say? The right answer is: you don’t say anything. You spend your precious three minutes finding out what problem they have that you can solve.


  3. This is a really solid point. In a nutshell, selling is simply the ability to persuade others that what you have to offer is really valuable to them. The key to do this sincerely is to first investigate what exactly the customer is concerned about, by asking meaningful questions. Once have you identified their key emotional core, you can make a sincere decision whether or not your services will help them with their problem. Done correctly, selling is not sleazy at all, but a vital part of human interaction.

    Also see related: IDEO’s Human-Centric Design, Michael Ellsberg’s new book The Education of Millionaires.

  4. Love the article! People really do not realize how much selling they really do. I always tell my family members, who say they hate people who sell stuff, that they to are in the business of selling. Selling is one of the best skills someone can get better at.

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