How to Sell

How to Sell

I will teach you how to sell!

Yes, I’m borrowing that phrasing from another personal finance blogger. But as I’ve been working on a Kickstarter campaign for an offline project — which will, I dearly hope, have been successfully funded by the time you read this post — and working 12 hours a day plus to sell myself and my talented friends, I am reminded how lucky I am to already know a lot about sales.

Why everyone should know how to sell

You, yes you!, need to know how to sell. By this I do not mean the by-now-cliched interview tactic that was often utilized in the investment banks where I worked; a 40-something man with a midnight blue suit looks at you skeptically over a wide walnut desktop and says, deep-voiced, “sell me this pencil.” You should not sell him the pencil; if anyone needs a pencil, they will buy one, and you need not get involved. By “knowing how to sell” I mean, knowing how to sell yourself.

It’s often the case that you are selling a product — I’m selling a literary magazine, for instance, filled with the words of both myself and many other people. What might be in it could be not about me at all. It’s an object printed on paper. But I know from my experience that I am not convincing people that my product is fantastic. The only way I can sell this magazine is to sell it as a product of me.

You are always selling yourself

Yes, there are exceptions to this rule; some people are selling really cool stuff, like a stainless steel coffee filter or an unusual iPhone holder. While even they are selling themselves, their product has subsumed their identity. But for most of us, whether we are looking for a job or holding a garage sale or promoting a creative project or raising money for a venture capital fund, we’re selling ourselves.

Of course, the job thing is the most obvious. When someone is considering who to hire for a position, they are not going to know about the salient characteristics of the product (you and your potential job performance) unless they’re told about it. You can’t just show up and have them look at you and figure out how great you are unless you sell your greatness. You can display your confidence best by saying you’re confident. You can display your great head with numbers best by describing your great head with numbers. And that’s my first lesson.

Tell, don’t show

Sure, this goes against my writerly nature to say. But the human brain is weird. It will believe a thing if it hears it enough. That’s how implanted memories and altered memories work; neurologists who study the workings of the brain will tell you that you don’t remember an event as it happened to you; you remember the last telling of the event, even if that telling was to yourself. The more you think about an event, or talk about an event, the more the reality will be replaced by the way you think and talk about it.

So if you’re sitting across that big walnut desk from the 40-something man in the midnight blue suit, and you simply use the word “confident” and the phrase “quant jock” enough, that man will think later about you and remember your confidence and your quantitative abilities. (Also, it’s true, right? You’re so confident and number-smart!)

If you’re selling a nice big pottery bowl at a garage sale, describe it. Tell a story about it. Come up with the characteristics that you think your potential buyer might like (say, “beautiful” and “delicious food”) and tell a story about how you served delicious food in it at a party and everyone thought it was so beautiful. Say how it was hand-crafted. Just like in internet searches, use your keywords, a lot.

Think like a cheerleader!

Be aggressive, B-E agressive! B-E A-G-G-R-E-S-S-I-V-E! Yes, I was a cheerleader. And while I am now imagining all you readers charging down the line with a growl on your faces, this is not exactly what I mean. I mean: say what you want. Be positive. “Ask for the sale, ” as they say.

One thing I know to be true (and yet often forget) is that you must communicate your confidence in your product — you! — by expressing certainty that your customers will be ever so pleased with the result. Words to avoid (in cover letters, email communications, pitches, interviews, and interactions with others): “if, ” “maybe, ” “might, ” “perhaps.” Take out the question marks. As a friend reminded me when I was tweeting about my project, “no, it’s not ‘if you want to support me please’ it’s ‘you would love this magazine! Contribute now!”

From that point forward I used all my emails and “updates” as a chance to practice sales speech. I said that I was thrilled with the support I’d received and that I knew more people were out there who needed to donate, too. I talked about how many people “believed” in my project and its mission; how much “pledging” we’d received. I stopped sending emails asking for advice (I got a lot of it) and started sending emails asking specifically for money; then, for a specific amount of money. I was infectious in my enthusiasm and belief. Just like a cheerleader!

You are getting happy! (Very, very happy)

Think of yourself like a hypnotist, but instead of sleepiness you are forcing your subjects to become giddy with delight. If you are in person, smile. If you are over the internet or phone, smile as you type or talk. (Seriously: you can tell the difference in your voice if you’re smiling.) Think happy thoughts. Fill yourself with happiness and you will communicate this happiness to your customers, who will believe they will be happy with whatever you’re selling to them.

Because I communicate via Twitter, Facebook, email, and blog for the most part — with my three often arguing boys near at hand — I use my sales skills on myself before I type. I often think to myself, “will I feel the same way in 20 minutes after coffee/a meal/I calm down?” If I won’t, I’ll wait until I’m cooled off. I don’t believe in white-washing one’s life to seem hunky-dory cotton-candy every second. But I do believe in those corny quantum physics sayings, like “you create your day” and “life is what you make it.” On the days when I feel like sharing my woe, I’ll get commiseration, but no one will respond with a cheery smile and a joke. Nor will they feel very much like buying my magazine.

There’s a lot more, of course, about sales; stock brokerages and real estate agencies often have weeks of training on these skills. But these three things are really the cornerstone to sales; and they’re not always easy. Practice these in small interactions and try them out on big ones. Be that confident, wonderful, wining person you’ve always been.

I look forward to reading your positive comments on my post!

3 Responses to “How to Sell”

  1. Anonymous

    I loved this article. I didn’t think of it that way although I might have known deep down. I thought I’m not in sales, but that’s not true, we’re all in sales. I’m in the esthetics business, and I sell myself everyday all day by looking a certain way. This article provided a great reminder and a confirmation.

  2. Anonymous

    lol this reminds me of a job interview I once attended. The interviewer asked me to try and sell her the bottle of water from which she was drinking. I looked at her and said “I would, but you already own it.” We chuckled and she was like “No, but seriously.” And I was like “I see you just took a drink out of that bottle. I bet you’re still thirsty. And the only way you can quench your thirst right now is to buy that bottle of water from me.” I got offered the job (I declined for another offer) but it had to be one of the more bizarre interview scenarios I’ve been in.

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