You may not know it, but you are a salesperson. We all are. Everyone is selling something: an idea, a persona, a product, a service, a brand, or something.
The first leg of my career was as a Sales Engineer. My title said so. It took me a little while to get over the stigma of “sales”. When I talked to people about what I did, I’d say, “I’m a Sales Engineer, but…” and I’d follow by saying how not sales-like my job was.
Now that I don’t call myself a salesperson, I realize that I still am. And I think all of us are.
Selling doesn’t require a monetary transaction
One of the best lessons I learned about sales in that job was that selling is about a lot more than a monetary transaction.
I had four distinct customer groups at the time. But I only sold to two of them. In the other two customer groups, the primary transaction I made was of our value as both a product and a company. I worked hard to convince them that we were the best people making the best product, and that the best was what they should expect.
In order to differentiate yourself outside of the price realm, you have to do so by de-commoditizing what you’re selling. A commodity is generally considered a mass-produced, unspecialized product. My sales pitch was designed to make sure that our product wasn’t considered a commodity. I had to sell that we were different than the other guy.
What strengthens your value versus mine can vary. For some people or companies, they may define their value by their brand weight. Others may define their value as their longevity or time within a market. Others may define their value as their knowledge of an industry or sector.
No matter what, if you’re selling value based on price, you’ll likely lose in the long term. A race to the lowest price is a race to the bottom. And if you wait in the process until it’s time to physically sell something, you’re already way behind a better salesperson.
What sales is about
So, we’re not always selling a monetary transaction. Then what is sales about?
Sales is about relationships
I can’t say how often I heard it. And it was true every time. Every experienced person I worked with would reiterate that sales is about relationships. When you make good, long lasting, genuine relationships, it makes “selling” secondary.
Sales is about knowledge
Part of my previous job was to be an expert about my product. What good was I as a salesman if I wasn’t technically knowledgable about what I was selling? People didn’t buy from me because I was the cheapest. They bought from me because, in part, I knew our product.
Sales is about reliability
Being reliable is challenging. I’ve failed being reliable, to friends and strangers, more than I’d like to say. It requires dedication and consistent commitment. Being reliable isn’t just about doing things on time. Reliability is about maintaining a sustained term of high quality output. It’s about doing what you say you’ll do. Reliability is wrapping up the last 10% of a project with the same fervor you do the first 90%.
It’s also about maintaining the two items above: developing relationships over the long term, and always striving to be more knowledgable. We’re not going to sell whatever we are selling very well if we only work on our relationships when it benefits us or if we don’t bring consistent knowledge to a relationship.
You’re always selling your value
Each of these non-monetary items help us differentiate ourselves and showcase our value to whomever we are selling to. You may be selling your personal value at work to your boss. You may be selling your value as a web developer to your client that has another proposal for half the price. You may be selling your value to another client that pays you to maintain their website for hundreds of dollars a month, when they could host it themselves for ten. You may be selling your experience in a job market. You may be selling your programming ability with your contributions to open source projects.
Even if you aren’t actively trying to sell yourself or your value, you are anyway. Other people, potential employers, future buyers of your yet-to-exist product already know you, and are forming opinions about how valuable you are to them. And you can’t stop them from forming these opinions, so you may as well start shaping them.
I try to sell myself as an expert within the WordPress niche. I write to sell my value as a good communicator. I attend and participate in conferences and meetups to sell myself as passionate about my work. I tweet and email and interact with other people in the WordPress community in order to sell the value of my relationships.
I sell in all of these ways, but I’m not responsible for many monetary transactions. I sell so that my employer sees that I’m not a commodity developer. I sell so that if I ever were to sell something in a monetary transaction, I’d have people to sell to, and I’d have something worthwhile to sell beyond my product: me.
So, you may as well start selling. Because you are already a salesperson.