Win Without Pitching®: Thinking

I had forgotten how much fun it is to sell.

It’s been a couple of years since I fully delegated the sales function at Win Without Pitching but last week I found myself taking a few sales calls. I logged off of each one with an overwhelming sense of exuberance. “That was fun!”

I wondered how many other people felt the same way. At the end of the week I posted a twitter poll asking, “Is selling fun for you?”

Forty one percent of respondents feel the same as me—selling is a blast for them. Great. Selling should be fun.

But the majority (59%) do not see it as such, with 31% neutral on it and 28% dreading or despising it.

I suspect many of the 41% who have fun selling are in jobs where selling is their sole or primary job, and the majority of people who do not love selling have another primary job (CEO, strategist, account manager, etc.) and selling is a bolt-on requirement.

It’s this latter group that I’m most interested in, the subject matter experts or managers who view selling as the distasteful thing they must do in addition to the thing they love to do. I think they can learn to love to sell, too. The reason I think so is because I used to hate selling.

Why Is Selling Fun (For Me)?

Surprised by how much joy I found in selling last week, I asked myself why? Why is selling so fun for me? The answers might be instructive for you.

Our Clients Fascinate Me

Someone only reaches out to us when they have a problem, and these problems fascinate me. I’ve seen them all before, but there are always variables about a firm that make it difficult for the client to fully grasp the problem or to implement a solution.

I’ve heard David C. Baker say to his clients many times, “Your problems are not unique. What’s unique is the dysfunctional way that you have combined these problems.”

There was a period a few years into the business where perhaps I was a bit blasé about the problems of our clients. I would think “Yep, I’ve seen this before. The problem is that your motivational make-up is too skewed to the need for affinity.”

Or, “Your biz dev person is always one tool away from being able to sell. They lack the drive to do this.” Or, “You don’t see the offerings of your firm as meaningfully different from innumerable other firms.” Or “You transmit and don’t receive.”

But seeing the problem is only the beginning. With more time and experience I became fascinated with the hunt for the reasons why they were stuck in the problem.

If you don’t find your clients’ unique situations fascinating, ask yourself why?

I remember hiring team members only to find out later they were not interested in our clients’ businesses. I thought these businesses were innately fascinating. It had never occurred to me that someone wouldn’t think so. That was naive of me but we’ve taken the lesson forward: we don’t hire people—for any job—who are not fascinated by what our clients do.

I Am In a Position of Authority

After 20 years of putting my thinking out there for the world to judge me and my team by, it’s rare that we find ourselves in a conversation where a prospective client sees us as one of many possible solutions.

If someone reaches out to us, it’s likely that they are ideologically aligned. They may be considering another option that’s a little bit different from us, but it’s not often that we are seen as a like-for-like alternative to other options.

These inbound inquiries are far different from the outbound work I used to do in my agency career, with the power dynamics fully reversed. I do the long-game work of putting my thinking out there in a provocative way that drives people to us because I disliked the dynamics of being the pursuer.

My personality could only stomach so much hunting and rejection. I liked outbound in small doses when I could be strategic about it or when I could find a novel way to do it, but I hated being in the position where I had to sell something quickly to justify my salary or feed my family. It just did not bring out the best in me.

Selling Is a Teachable Moment

There is something indescribably delightful about selling selling. Each moment is meta, with the client partially engaged in the conversation and partially removed, observing how I navigate the sale. They are listening for content but also observing, trying on for themselves what I am doing and saying, asking themselves “Is this how it’s done? Can I learn to do this?”

I am teaching as I sell and I love to teach.

You don’t have to be a meta salesperson to have the sale be a teachable moment. Your experience may not be quite as recursive as mine, but an advisor, consultant, coach or expert of any kind should understand this is where you model what the client will be buying. For you, too, the sale is the sample of the engagement.

Your tone, manner, pace, professionalism—they all signal the quality of your expertise. If you appear less than fully competent in the sale, it communicates you will be less than fully competent in the engagement.

I Am Not Constrained By Solutions

Finally, I have to admit one of the reasons I loved my sales calls last week is that I was taking calls for customized private training. I have written about the tradeoffs inherent in productizing your expertise (and I will again soon), and one of them is you listen to the client only long enough to match the right product to their situation.

Selling products is a more rote exercise that moves at a faster pace and does not require the salesperson to have a deep knowledge of—or interest in—the client’s situation. When unconstrained by solutions, however, the engagement is bespoke. And like a tailor must measure the customer, so too must a seller of customized expertise take the detailed measure of their client before they can customize a solution. From a buying point of view, this is an entirely different experience.

For the seller of off-the-rack suits, the measuring is cursory. “Try these on and let me know which one fits you best. I have to help this other customer, but I’ll be back to answer your questions and ring up your order.”

Don’t get me wrong—selling off-the-rack solutions is a viable business model, it just comes with tradeoffs, and one of those tradeoffs is the salesperson is never as engaged, as deeply interested in the client as I was last week, in my role as the custom tailor.

Fun Should Be a KPI

When I look at the testimonials from our most successful clients, the most common transformations are profit, confidence and a sense of mastery or control, but also on that list is the discovery for some who previously disliked selling that “selling has become fun.”

That’s the one that speaks to me the most—the creative person who started a firm and had to learn all these other business skills, who embraced pitching over selling because they dreaded or despised the idea of what it meant to sell, and then ultimately had their conversion: they learned to despise pitching and to love selling.

That was my journey, roughly, and I was reminded of it last week. If selling isn’t fun for you then you’re doing it wrong.

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Join Blair Enns live for the Win Without Pitching Workshop and learn how to take control of your sales process (and actually enjoy it). 

Blair Enns
Blair Enns is the Win Without Pitching founder and CEO and the author of The Win Without Pitching Manifesto and Pricing Creativity: A Guide to Profit Beyond the Billable Hour.
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