Ask generation Y these days what they do. "I'm the inspiration connoisseur for this new start up, oh I'm the community facilitator for this tech company, I run strategic grass-root marketing for blah blah blah." When was the last time you heard, "I'm in sales." I have responded, "So are you in sales?" to these people and in reply, they usually say, "No, no, not me, I don't 'do' sales." I had a negative taste in my mouth in regards to sales as well. When I heard the word, I would think of someone going door to door with encyclopedias or a used car salesman approach, or any of the numerous stereotypes in movies. It has gotten to a point where it almost feels like people are selling their souls to endorse products you know they don't believe in; promoting it on twitter, exclaiming, "This (artificial, awful for the environment) toothpaste tastes awesome."
I recently changed my idea about sales after reading the Steve Jobs' biography, as well as the Harvard Business Review's profile on "The Secret to Smarter Sales." Steve Jobs' approach to sales was absolutely genius and changed my trajectory. His employees are creative, (his digital team and his sales team) focus on beautiful products, and yet they are able to sell, sell, sell. It made me start to think about the difference between being able to sell anything, and being passionate about what you are selling.
I was very insecure about the idea of selling for quite some time. Coming from a teaching background, where I would "sell ideas," watching brains being molded and shaped into mini wordly citizens, the idea of using my understanding of humans to sell them something they were purchasing seemed like manipulating. I remember when I was in college and worked for the fundraising/phonathon, and I would be on the phone with customers for 45 minutes, others would come up to me and ask me, "what are you even talking about?" I would generally always get the person on the other line to donate something, but that wasn't considered sales to me -- that was considered conversation. I can fundraise for the 200 nonprofits I work with easily, but that isn't considered sales to me because it is good for the world. I have always felt because I have always sold with soul as the foundation, it wasn't actually selling.
And then it dawned on me, if you believe the product you are selling is something of need to the person you are selling it to, it is deeper than sales; it is a meaningful transaction between two human beings. Steve Jobs wouldn't even look at market research; he believed he knew what we wanted, (and wouldn't you agree?). I called my dad recently with my insecurity around selling and he asked me if I believe in what I'm selling. My reply was I don't ever even associate myself with things I'm not passionate about so yes. Then he told me, "Okay, then there should be no problem in selling it. It should be natural." When asking him about how to sell, he said "Sales are a persuasive extension of your personality." In other words, "Just be you."
In a time of a recession, with people who graduated three years ago still looking for jobs, everyone should be thinking of every job as a sales job. Whether you are focusing on community, creative, digital, or you are a line cook, your value will increase by bringing in new business, and by helping to support the company you work for. At the end of the day, whatever job you are in, you should be cognizant of how you treat the people you are selling to. Think about the other person on the other end of the phone or computer and don't be afraid to ask them how their day is. If you aren't able to sell, sell, sell without feeling like you are selling your soul in the process, you should reevaluate how much you believe in the product and yourself.