Sales is a skill set. It’s one that is incredibly important for professionals to learn, even though – especially even – you’re not in sales. Knowing how to sell, is really about knowing how to listen and how to serve. And once you’ve figured out how to do that, you’ve got a leg up on everyone else.

In Zig Ziglar’s book, Secrets of Closing the Sale: For Anyone Who Must Get Others to Say Yes! he asserts that everyone is in sales. However, he goes on to explain that sales isn’t what you’ve been led to believe. Selling is helping. It’s listening. It’s serving a need.

Stop selling and start helping. – Zig Ziglar

I get a lot of calls from people trying to sell me stuff. I don’t remember most of them. The ones that stick out are either the REALLY, REALLY bad ones or the ones where I feel like someone did my job for me.

While I don’t need a good sales experience to make a purchase but those fantastic experiences stand out. They’re memorable. And I’m guessing regardless of what you’re selling, you want to make a positive memory.

At some point, everyone is selling something – interviews, business proposal, promotions, etc. – and being really good at listening and service is how you stand out.

The Tale of Two Saleswomen

About a year ago, I got a call from a saleswoman – let’s call her Jill.   She selling advertising and sponsorships, and I have to tell you that I hate buying either. There are times where it’s worth it, but 75% of the time I don’t see the ROI. However, I take the call because I want that 25% opportunity.

I tell Jill as much and through our conversation give examples of when I would buy. I ask Jill to make specific recommendations based on our conversation.

Jill sends me 10 different advertising and sponsorship opportunities in a huge pdf file.
I then start getting weekly calls from Jill asking if I’ve looked through the materials and if anything looks good.

I get where Jill is coming from – she wants me to have all the options in case something stands out, but I don’t have time for that. Jill makes more work for me. 

Yesterday, a new saleswoman calls me from the same place, selling the same thing – we’ll call her Peggy.

I tell her what I told Jill. Peggy then offers me 4 things she thinks might be a good fit.
Peggy asks me about my needs, my past experiences with successful purchases and brainstorms ways to make what she has more valuable.
Peggy then sends me one email, 10 minutes after our call with two recommendations and one extra option “just in case” plus a ticket to one of the events so I can get a feel for it.

Now, I’m not saying I’m going to purchase any additional sponsorships or advertising but I do remember Peggy.  I looked at everything she sent me and I’ll likely take her calls in the future. In fact, I remember her well enough that I had a hard time writing Peggy instead of her real name.

Peggy knew who I was before she called me, all my previous purchase info is in her CRM. But still she asked questions, walked through my reservations, offered alternatives and then sent me what I said I wanted as well as something I’d find valuable even if it wasn’t what I explicitly stated I’d need. 

Selling for the non-salesperson

Just about everyone has their bad sales and good sales story. But most don’t think about how often you sell yourself in a professional setting. Every job interview, every project plan, every board meeting or business proposal starts with trying to sell a solution or an idea.

  1. Start by listening – what is the actual issue?
  2. Ask clarifying questions – do you really understand the problem?
  3. Read between the lines – what other issues might be at play?
  4. Offer value – does your solution address all their pain points – stated & unstated?
  5. Make it easy to say yes – is your delivery tailored for the audience?

There are lots of skills you can work on that will help you sell yourself, but truly selling someone requires digging in and getting to the heart of what they need. Then figuring out how to offer a solution that addresses that need. In a sea of mediocrity, being able to listen and serve is so rare.

No matter what you are selling, you need to learn to sell. You need to know that selling means helping. You need to stand out when selling so that you’re memorable like Peggy.


Have you read Zig Zigler’s book? What did you think? What other skills are important for selling?


Cropped photo by rawpixel on Unsplash