You Don’t Have to Hate Selling

Are you in a role where there is some expectation that you will “sell” a service or product, but you don’t really see yourself as a “sales person”? So many people, when they face the prospect of selling, experience deep feelings of dread and loathing. But it doesn’t have to be that way.


Let’s start by looking at just why you feel that dread and loathing. Commonly, what I hear are statements such as, “I feel I’m asking someone to do me a favor,” or, “I’m trying to persuade someone to buy something they don’t need.” Those concerns are based on a manipulative model of selling –a picture that’s deeply ingrained in our mind, in the form of those time honored salesmen of snake oil and used cars.


But there’s a different way of selling.  Consider the case of a leader I’ve been working with. She is a great sales person – but she wouldn’t call herself a sales person. She runs a business that provides a highly specialized service to corporations. She says, “I love working with interesting companies, doing interesting work, really being able to add value to what they’re doing.”  She is energized by the challenge of showing potential clients how the service her business provides is not a commodity – though it sometimes looks like a commodity on the surface. She believes her approach is unique in ways that can help clients. If not, she’s happy to walk away. That’s what we call a collaborative model of selling.


People who love to sell collaboratively have the following characteristics:

  • They really believe in the potential value of what they offer.
  • They truly want to learn about a potential customer, so they can think about how what they offer can help them.
  • They ask a lot of questions about the customer’s goals and challenges, or share hypotheses they’ve generated about the customer’s goals and challenges, before they offer anything.
  • They’re not afraid to hear “no,” because “no” teaches them about what is and isn’t important to the customer – and shows the other person that they care more about addressing goals than making a sale.
  • They believe the customer might have a problem they can help with, but the customer doesn’t yet realize that.
  • They’re not thinking about what the customer thinks of them, just about the idea of making a connection with the customer over common interests and goals.
  • If they find that what they offer can’t help a particular prospect, they would rather say so and walk away, happily.


Interestingly, research has shown that people are more effective in selling when they feel their efforts benefit others. It’s called “prosocial motivation”.  So the next time you’re asked to sell what you do, forget about all the pitches and techniques, and focus on understanding what the person on the other side of the table really cares about, and how what you’re selling can enable that.

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