Still Afraid of the Sales Monster Under the Bed?

I was still afraid of the Sales Monster Under the Bed when I was 32.

I was 6 years into my career in management consulting.  It was becoming clear that the road to advancement no longer lay in more expertise. Instead, it lay in what was euphemistically called “business development.”

I was no dummy. I knew what “business development” meant: the dreaded Sales Monster.

Business Development, the Euphemism

You know something’s wrong when people cloak a supposedly reputable activity in the passive voice. If they couldn’t even look you in the face when they said “business development,” it proved they really meant “sales.”  Blech.

I knew I had to do business development.  But what was it?  And what was the least horrific way to go about it?

You know the list:

  • Write white papers
  • Write articles
  • Network
  • Go to industry association meetings
  • Make cold calls
  • Explore existing client relationships
  • Do mailings
  • Send holiday cards.

Holiday cards felt a little intrusive. At least white papers relied on expertise. The other steps were too horrible to contemplate.

The Sales Monster

In retrospect, my fear of sales was self-fear, aided by the intangible nature of professional services.  Lawyers, accountants and actuaries, I later found, all suffered from the same malaise.

It just all felt so personal. I had joined consulting because it seemed a meritocratic society of the intellect. The implied promise was I’d get rewarded for being smart.

That promise was being broken. Suddenly it was personal. Clients weren’t just buying expertise, they were buying me. Or not. That wasn’t just unfair, it violated my belief that content mattered.

Worst of all, of course, was if they didn’t buy. It was hard to rationalize a loss; it meant, ineluctably that They Didn’t Like Me. I understood Sally Fields’ Oscar acceptance speech very well.

Vanquishing the Sales Monster

It took me 15 more years to realize that every thought I’d had about sales was wrong. And it was more a process than an epiphany.  There were a few books along the way that helped:

But it was more life experiences than books that changed my view.  If you come right down to it—I had to grow up.  I had to develop and change as a person in order to understand the keys to sales.

I had to recognize the ultimately paradoxical nature of sales: the best way to sell is to stop trying to sell, and to focus instead on helping others get what they wanted.

Learning the Truth

You cannot learn this truth by reading this blog. Or by reading any book or article. You probably won’t learn it from anyone telling you.  It seems to me that we all learn things the hard way—from our own experience.  And my experience is that hard lessons, negative examples, bad experiences, are better teachers than good ones. Sad but true.

But sometimes, someone can say something in a way that makes it click for you.  It can pull together your own learnings and make a light bulb a little brighter. And that can help a lot.

So, here’s my own Top Twelve list of ways that I found to say something that I found meaningful. I hope one of them can turn on a little light bulb for you.

12 Insights on Trust-Based Selling
    1. Closing the Book on Closing
    2. Handling Sales Rejection Without Becoming a Narcissist
    3. How Sales Contests Kill Sales
    4. I Can’t Make You Love Me If You Don’t
    5. Sales, Narcissism and Therapists
    6. Selling Professional Services
    7. 10 Myths About Selling Professional Services [pdf]
    8. What Clients Really Want
    9. What to Say When the Client Says Your Price is Too High [pdf]
    10. When to Ditch the Elevator Speech and Take the Escalator or the Stairs
    11. Why Nobody Cares About You (and You Should be Glad They Don’t!)
    12. Why Should We Buy From You?  Good Question! [pdf]

If you’d like more help in vanquishing your own sales monster, you can also consult my book Trust-Based Selling (as the Trust-Based Selling print edition or the  Trust-Based Selling ebook for Kindle).

If the Sales Monster still lives under your bed, remember: it doesn’t have to be that way.

0 replies
  1. Chris Downing
    Chris Downing says:

    I went down the same road as you Charles – but the more I read the more I felt I didn’t know and the less of a pro I felt. The real leap forward was when I was in a position to go talk to hundreds of Directors in the FTSE top 1000 companies and ask them how they’d like to be sold to. At the same time I was talking and briefing the sales teams on what the Directors said and helping build stories around why these Directors would want to talk to the salesmen. It was a liberating experience because I could talk to Directors about what was going wrong with people trying to sell to them.

    They told me three things that created a block when sales made pitches –
    “Don’t tell me how to run my business.”
    “Don’t ask dumb questions you, or anyone, could find out from public sources”
    “Don’t sell to me you know us, when you really don’t understand where we are and are showing it in what you say.”

    What that tells us is that ‘sales’ in any form has a big bad reputation with anyone in authority on the buyers’ side and that means they really don’t want to get into sales conversations. And if the meeting potentially looks like it will head towards any of the above three on the “Do Not” list – they will blow it out.

    They also told us the three hot buttons –
    “Tell me something that will improve revenues and margins”
    “Tell me something that will cut costs”
    “Tell me something that will improve customer service and loyalty”

    If you look at life from their perspective, why would they want to talk to anyone who didn’t want to really help them with that list?

    So to cut to the chase – if you can do that for them in their specific business or market and you have some sort of track record to prove it, you are nearly their. This is the hot button that will get you seen – but there’s one last hurdle to clear. Credibility.

    To be thought of as credible you mustn’t tread on the landmines of my first list of three – to do that you’ll be asking a lot and listening a lot. But before you get to a more lengthy meeting you’ll need a short 4 minute meeting to ask whether your track record of success with a company like theirs is of any interest – if you hit any of the issues in the second list – who wouldn’t listen for a couple of minutes?

    I say a couple of minutes because the track record of sales in any form is bad and a couple of minutes of anyone’s time de-risks the meeting to something like a shared coffee in Starbucks. If you set up the meeting for 7.30 in the morning or 6.30 in the evening you can do a meeting like this as your target buyer is starting out for home or just arriving at the office. Last rule – it’s a two minute input by you and three by the client and then it finishes – don’t get pulled into going upstairs and having a full blown one or two hour follow-on meeting. This first meeting is all about seeing if you both match up – your capability and their needs and wants – you’ll use this short meet to sort out whether to carry on and have a longer meeting next week, whatever.

    Because your aims are much lower you’ll find making the call to set this all up is so much less stressful than trying to get through and set up a one hour session. It’s short….”Might be a big impact on the bottom line, has been successful with a business just like yours, worth having a coffee and a couple of minutes chat to see if we might dig deeper?” Simple as that.

    (I’ll even do a You Tube video on the subject if anyone’s interested.)

  2. peter vajda
    peter vajda says:

    Great post and comment.

    “But it was more life experiences than books that changed my view. If you come right down to it—I had to grow up” (Charlie)

    My experience says telling folks what to do “right,” even “grow up,” does not (always, usually) work. Growing up here, for me, means moving from the 3-4-5 fearful and scared child in the adult body and adult clothes into an emotionally mature adult is what’s required. Many folks read the books, etc. and still are held back by fear.

  3. Ed Drozda
    Ed Drozda says:

    Indeed Charlie, even after we let go of the notion of the “used car salesman” idea(sorry to those who are but you know the stereotype), selling is one of those things that lots of us dread and all of those same folks need to do.

    As a service provider I recognize all to well that it is “me” that I am offering for sale. Eek! It has taken me a long time as well to get over it and move on. In the end it came down to this. I have something that small business people truly need. It is not so much about selling (who cares if I sweeten the medicine) it is about knowing that I can make a difference in the growth of a small business. By shifting the impetus from whom I am selling to to what I can do, I have become vastly more at ease (and effective) at bringing my services to a greater number of people.

  4. Harrison Greene
    Harrison Greene says:

    I have always believed that a sales is what happens when someone says ‘yes’ to an idea. And when they say ‘yes’ they do so emotionally first and logically second.

    I have never made a sales presentation but I have given many ideas to people who said yes. Connecting emotionally is a huge leap of trust and needs to be respected. When you get it, it is never forgotten.

    Sales people get shopped and dropped. Trusted advisers get invited into the board room.

    Thanks for a great article, Charlie.

  5. Mike
    Mike says:

    You hit the nail on the head with “the best way to sell is to stop trying to sell, and to focus instead on helping others…” A focus on how your product or service can really help others will give you the resolve to push forward.

  6. Barbara Garabedian
    Barbara Garabedian says:

    Harrison, you said a mouthful when you say, “… sales is when someone says Yes to an idea”! Most people sell themselves and their ideas every single day, albeit they don’t consider themselves salespeople. Anyone who has persuaded someone else of an idea or a point of view…is a salesperson. It worked because you honestly believed you had the appropriate solution for their situation.

  7. Andy S-H
    Andy S-H says:

    I’ve been successful in sales for 17 years and still get the odd day of doubt about “sales” (I’m human!) I remind myself of 2 things:-

    1. Sales is THE most important role in any company wanting to acquire and keep customers. Nothing happens until someone sells something!

    2. I am a business person helping other business people to solve their business problems.

    When I think like this, I never have the thought that I am a sales guy trying to sell something. My mindset it that I know I am an important person at my company, trying to help an another important person at another company to solve their problems. Suddenly everything becomes natural all round!

  8. Andy S-H
    Andy S-H says:

    Sorry for the double post… I LOVE Khalsa’s book – “Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play”. If you haven’t found it yet he has a series of podcasts that talk about the concepts in the book narrated by Mahan himself. They really bring meaning and passion to some of the key points from the book. He has a compelling style of presenting. I found them on iTunes and listen to them regularly.

  9. Charles H. Green
    Charles H. Green says:

    I can’t believe I missed thanking everyone for their contributions on this: Andy, Harrison, Mike, Barbara, Ed, Peter, Chris.  I found everyone’s comments thoughtful, insightful, productive. A lot of great one-liners in here too.
    Thank you all. 


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