When you think of going into business, you may think of the freedom you’ll have as your own boss (see Part 1 of this three-part series, You Are The Boss), or about all the good work you can do and people you can impact. At some point, however, it occurs to you that you’ll need to sell your services. If you’re like many people, that’s enough to make you stop before you even begin.
Selling is a loaded concept. I often picture a man in a leisure suit and loafers asking me what it will take for me to drive this car off the lot today (ewwww). Selling conjures up images of being pushy, of not listening, or not taking no for an answer. Or of an endless stream of people all of whom you’re supposed to talk to and say something clever and just right so they’ll like you and buy your stuff! Or, um, is that just me?
The fact is that selling can be pretty easy, maybe even fun. Dictionary.com defines “to sell” as:
to transfer (goods) to or render (services) for another in exchange for money
to persuade or induce (someone) to buy something
The first definition is straightforward: I have something you want; you give me money; I give you the thing. It’s the second definition that tends to tangle you up. There’s something about the words “persuade” and “induce” that conjure up the sleaze factor. (Like the used car salesman above. Not all who sell cars are like that, btw, just the ones I seem to be lucky enough to encounter.) You might get anxious at the thought of talking with a stranger, or be less than articulate at describing your services, or feel flustered when someone stares at you in expectation. This is your amygdala kicking in, activating your fight-or-flight response. Very handy if you’re being chased by a lion; inconvenient if you’re trying to sell your services to someone and your words are coming out all backwards. Scary, run away!
The big secret about sales is that it’s a conversation between two people, who are pretty normal and who don’t bite. The other person is looking for what you’re offering, and now they are sitting with you over coffee, asking you to describe your work, hoping that you can help them with their problem. This potential customer is just like you, with the same hopes and dreams, hero’s heart, and crazy amygdala trying to kick in. Often they are as scared, if not more so, than you. They’ve made themselves vulnerable by asking to meet you and admit they want/need help with the thing you can do for them. Seen through their eyes, you could be *the answer*.
It may feel like pressure to you when they look at you with this longing — your inner voice might be saying, “What if I can’t deliver?” This is the time to say to your amygdala “thank you for sharing” and to remember that sales is a conversation between two people. Come from your heart and share your expertise in a compassionate way. Think back to a time when you were in their shoes, seeking expertise, and act like you wished that person had acted. Keep focused on the topic and stay conversational; this is not an inquisition for either of you.
At some point you’ll need to ask the question, “Are you ready to work together?” Make an explicit offer, as selling does not work well on inference. If you don’t explicitly ask to work together, your meeting could end with them thanking you for your time and saying they’ll be in touch; they need to think about it. That is a frustrating feeling and one you can avoid by making a real human connection via conversation, then asking the question about working together. And remember during this whole time — breathe.
Sales is a skill, one that you can learn. You can build your skills by reading books about selling or watching those who do it well, and practicing in settings where there is not a lot of pressure. The learning and practice will boost your confidence. Ultimately, though, selling is not about the techniques you use or the words you choose. It’s about a conversation between two people, both of whom are hopeful, and you already know how to do that.