To catch a fish, you must see the world through a fish’s eyes.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, one in nine Americans works in sales. More than fifteen million people “officially” make a living by convincing someone else to make a purchase.
But dig deeper and a startling truth emerges: Yes, one in nine Americans works in sales — but so do the other eight out of nine. Whether we’re employees trying to get a raise, entrepreneurs persuading funders, neighbors encouraging recycling, parents and teachers cajoling kids, or lovers wooing their partners, we spend our days trying to move others.
The reality is that selling is something each of us does all the time — whether we know it or not. We are all trying to influence others to see things our way. We are all, as Daniel Pink puts it, in the “moving business.”
So, given that we’re all in sales, how can we get better at it? Here’s my three-word formula for success: Attitude. Empathy. Story.
First of all, we’ve got to stop feeling embarrassed about being salesmen. In my book Double Your Sales — An Honest and Authentic Approach to Professional Selling, I challenge professional advisors to put aside archaic notions of salesman as glad-hander or back-slapper or truth-stretcher, and to disabuse themselves of the notions that selling is an unsavory business, that “sell” is a four-letter word.
The truth is that no business, no relationship, no organization of any kind, can survive without mastering the art of persuasion. We need to get over our hang-ups.
The capacity to move people, to influence others to take action, is a tool. Like all tools, it is not inherently good or bad. It all depends on how it is used.
Salesmanship is a force for good if used with integrity and with respect for others. If we succeed in creating win/win outcomes that give everyone what they need and want, we should be proud of ourselves, not embarrassed.
Before we can persuade others to see things our way, we must be able to see things their way. We must put ourselves into their world. We must, as a former U.S. president famously said, “feel their pain.”
To catch a fish, we must learn to think like a fish. Years ago I heard and memorized a clever little couplet that makes this point.
If you would sell
What John Smith buys,
Then see the world
Through John Smith’s eyes.
To move John Smith to action, we must see things from his perspective.
In the early 1980s, the Fisher Nut Company used a catchy tune and a clever jingle in their commercials: “We take the nut very seriously . . . At the Fisher Nut Company.”
John Smith may be a nut, but if we wish to sell what he buys, we’ve got to take him seriously.
He may be right or wrong; his views may make sense or not; his expectations may be reasonable or irrational; but it is his world, and in his world, he is king.
So, how do we feel his pain and see the world through his eyes?
The most authentic and reliable information available to us about John Smith’s world is in his stories. As Sartre wrote: “A man lives surrounded by his stories and the stories of others; he sees everything that happens to him through them.”
Like all of us, John Smith has assimilated life’s happenings and made sense of them by translating the events of his lives into stories. Over time, those stories became the reality he lives in, much like the water fish swim in.
Paying close attention to his stories — listening with the ears of the heart as well as those of the head — allows us to see how he sees the world. It permits us to understand his worries and concerns. With this insight we can propose solutions that are meaningful and valuable to him.
* * *
Successful win/win selling is ultimately about accurately identifying the other person’s problems and then matching them up with our solutions. As we do so, we create value all around. With a new mind-set, a healthy dose of empathy, and the age-old technology of story, we will succeed in the moving business. .