Sales is a Leadership Opportunity

  • Jeff Gibbard
  • 7 min read

How do you feel about sales?

  • Do you enjoy the initial qualifying meeting?
  • Do you relish the close?
  • Does every part of it make you want to run and hide?

How we feel about sales is a product of our experiences on both sides of the sales equation: as the salesperson and as the prospect. Too often these experiences have been uncomfortable, manipulative, or lead to long-lasting remorse. We’re all familiar with the meme of the used car salesmen — a greasy, slick, smooth, fast-talker who’s gonna do what it takes to “get a deal done today.”

As a result, these experiences impact our future willingness to engage in the sales process. We get filled with fear, with apprehension, with dread. We don’t want to become the person I just described.

That would be awful.

Bad sales experiences are a symptom of a much larger problem. However, I think the symptom comes with important insights and instructions for ways we can dramatically improve business, society, and ourselves. So today, we’re going to explore sales, try to resolve the tension we feel around it, and provide a blueprint to save business and possibly the world.

Instead of feeling like we’re manipulating people, we can feel genuinely valuable. Instead of feeling guilty, we can feel proud. Instead of feeling gross, we can feel whole. This is the superhuman approach to sales.

But first, let’s start with a familiar story…

or click here for the TL;DR

Hustling for Sales

The first time I remember ever formally having a role in sales was back in 2008.

I had just begun working for a management consulting firm, and one of our many responsibilities was to cold call executives at companies to sell our consulting services.

I did not like this.

man in white dress shirt wearing eyeglasses sitting by the table using macbook

Some of my colleagues would boast about their 100-dial days. Others would talk about having made 50 calls before lunch. It seemed to me that we were in a competition to see who could bother the most people, all hoping to get someone to buy something they didn’t ask for.

As far as I could tell, it was manipulation.

If I had to choose a word to describe how it felt to be in this role, I’d use the one I’ve heard thousands of times to describe sales: icky

Change a few details of this story and this is how many people are first introduced to sales: interrupting or being interrupted, and either trying to get someone to buy something they didn’t ask for, or being the target of such an unwelcome experience.

The One Thing in Common

So, what was it that felt so uncomfortable about those cold calls to me?

I believe that all negative experiences in sales have one things in common: The customer doesn’t want or need what is being sold to them.

This is the single element that makes sales feel icky.

What makes sales feel icky, gross, or uncomfortable, is when the salesperson knows this fact, and either through malice or coercion-by-quota moves forward anyway. Some justify this by believing “the customer really does have a want or need, but just doesn’t know it yet.” They believe their job is to enlighten the customer about their own needs.

This is — at best — self-deception.

I want to pause here and ask you to reflect on this.

Really think about it because the remainder of what I’m about to get into builds upon this single insight.

The Second Factor

Throughout my own sales experience and speaking with others who thrive or suffer through sales, I’ve learned the second important factor is belief. Do you believe in the product/service/solution you are selling? This can span from a practical belief in the basic utility of your product as one of many competing solutions in the marketplace to fervent devotion to your solution as the single best option there is.

This is the secondary factor because it only plays a supporting role, rather than primary in the experience of selling. To illustrate the point…

IF the customer wants or needs what is being sold, BUT the salesperson doesn’t believe in the product/service/solution being sold, they can likely still sleep at night knowing that it is not their job to set consumer preferences.

By contrast, IF the customer doesn’t want or need what is being sold, even if the salesperson believes in the product/service/solution being sold, it doesn’t change the fact that it will still feel manipulative to sell someone something they don’t need.

That’s the thing, whether you believe in what you sell or not doesn’t change the directionality of the sales conversation if there isn’t an existing want or need. However, if you believe in what you’re selling AND the customer has a want or need, that’s where the magic happens.

Sales is Leadership

In my book, The Lovable Leader, I lay out a framework consisting of three basic elements of effective, people-first leadership:

  • Care
  • Trust
  • Safe-Travels

Toward the end of the book (SPOILER ALERT) I suggest that the lessons in the book can help in any area of life where you have relationships. Any good salesperson will tell you that sales is about relationships. Referrals don’t spawn from burned bridges. Credibility doesn’t grow from lies.

Therefore, I believe the same lessons that apply in leadership can apply in sales. Sales is an opportunity for leadership. When you care enough about your prospect to listen to their needs, when you are committed enough to building trust that you are honest, and when you are willing to create safety by being there even after the close, the way you sell will change forever. It will never feel icky.

Under these conditions you will never sell someone something they don’t need, and you will be honest about where you do and don’t believe in what you’re selling.

The Canary in the Coal Mine

This post is about sales, but of course it’s also about something bigger. We need to go beyond a single sales interaction or sales role. We need to talk about the environment that sales exists inside of. Let’s expand the conversation.

  • What if we stopped selling people things they didn’t need?
  • Amplified further, what if we stopped selling things we didn’t believe in?
  • How might that ladder up to change the world?

Every time we sell someone something they don’t want or need, we diminish trust, we diminish care, and we diminish safety. We promote overconsumption, we promote waste…we harm the world.

Everything is connected. Everything exists in a complex web, a system in which the smallest unit of activity impacts something else in the system. What we choose to sell and how we choose to sell it can be an act of revolution.

TL;DR

  • Don’t sell anything to people if they don’t want or need it.
  • Don’t sell anything you don’t believe in.
  • The best sales experiences and the most rewarding close is when someone buys something from you that they need and that you deeply believe in
  • What we choose to sell and what we choose to walk away from selling can change the world.
Becoming Superhuman
Becoming Superhuman
Sales is a Leadership Opportunity
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