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The Purity of Sales

When I was a kid, I never envisioned that I would enjoy sales.  I was pretty shy and not willing to approach strangers or speak up.  I did have a newspaper route, but that didn't require any selling skills.  If you lived in my neighborhood and wanted the morning paper delivered, you had to get it from me.  Nothing quite like monopoly power to diminish the need for good sales skills.

Early on in my career, I got bored with engineering and volunteered to move into sales when the start-up I was at had an abrupt change of business strategy.  I wasn't shy at this stage, and I really enjoyed working with customers.  I liked consultative sales -- finding the right solution for the customer's problem.  I have hired people who can sell anyone anyting, but that's not me.  If I can solve your problem (or if I think I can), I can be pretty aggressive in getting you to agree.  Persuasion, not arm twisting.

Sales skills are useful throughout life.  You have to be really subtle if you use them on your spouse.  But, they are helpful in negotiating and navigating your way through almost any situation.  Can you position what you have so it solves the problem that your boss/customer/partner/vendor has?  I have always recommended that marketing people go into sales for a time.  Most marketing people don't have an appreciation for how hard it is to get a customer to actually agree to buy something.  It's so much easier to generate some level of interest (marketing) than to get a customer to part with their money (sales).

As we are raising money for our new fund, I am in sales mode all the time.  Also, for our investment style, I have to sell my way into deals.  I love the challenge of trying to understand what your potential investor/portfolio company is looking for and positioning our skills and capabilities as the solution.  You have to build trust, think on your feet, listen well, and follow through.  Nothing is as challenging as overcoming objections (or indifference).  But, when you make progress and 'get the order', nothing is as satisfying.

There is a purity to sales that is unlike any other role.  You are measured only on results.  Trying hard and taking direction is nice, but doesn't matter.  If you succeed, you are the biggest hero.  If not, you're outta there.

One of my favorite movies is Glengarry Glen Ross.  This is an absolute must-see for anyone in sales (and that's more of you than you think -- every entrepreneur, CEO, and consultant is in sales in my book).  There is a scene when Alec Baldwin announces a sales contest for these hard luck sales guys.  It's part of a 'motivational speech' (language is not safe for work).  The contest goes something like this:

1st prize -- a new Cadillac

2nd prize -- a set of steak knives

3rd prize -- you're fired!



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