April 19, 2007
News & Opinion: You, Inc. by Harry Beckwith and Christine Clifford Beckwith
Living Is Selling
It's easy to dislike selling, or even the very idea of it.
From childhood, you are conditioned to dislike it. In frontier tales of snake oil salesmen, plays like Death of a Salesman and Glengarry Glen Ross, and movies like Boiler Room, the images of salespeople radiate gloom. Selling is dishonest, dehumanizing, and cruel, and only the slick survive.
For a time, some do. But let's skip that momentarily. Let's deal, instead, with an easily overlooked fact:
Living is selling.
Start from childhood, and remember all the sales calls you made. You worked up a sales pitch to get your parents to take you to Disney World, raise your allowance, and extend your curfew. You pitched them on sleepovers, a nicer bike, perhaps your first car. For that matter, you sold them on the accident that "Wasn't really my fault" and on a report card that seemed to suggest some backsliding. And on and on.
Your childhood sales career prepared you for adulthood, when you tried to sell your college on admitting you, an employer on hiring you, and the car dealer on dropping $500 from the sticker price. You sell your friends on going to your favorite restaurant. A husband and wife sell constantly: What movie shall we go to? Who takes the dog to the vet? Who?s going to get the groceries?
And on and on.
The question is not, are you a salesperson? The question is, how might you become more effective? Just as important, how might you make your life richer?
As it turns out, the answer to each question answers the other.
Life is a sale. And the path to success at both living and selling is the same.
The Heart of Every Transaction
Inexperienced salespeople invariably start their pitches with the price and the product, then talk about the company. Only at the end, and perhaps not even then, do they finally sell themselves. Experienced salespeople proceed in the opposite direction. They sell themselves and their organization, then discuss the product. At the end - at the very end - they say, "Now, let's talk about how little this costs, considering everything that you will get."
The first thing you sell is yourself.
What You Really Sell
We hear the word "popularity" as adults, and it almost sounds like an artifact extracted from the remains of our old schools. The filmmaker John Hughes felt this, and knew that his adult audiences would, too, when he made his classic movie Sixteen Candles.
A familiar tale of adolescence and high school, the film contains a classic moment. The Cute Girl is envisioning her future with her Hunk Boyfriend.
She paints for him her picture of their adult bliss together:
"We're married, and we're like the most popular couple in town."
Audiences laugh. But one day we realize life is more like high school than we had dreamed, and that inane observation in Hughes's movie describes our future. Meryl Streep once warned us of this, too. "I thought life would be like college, but it isn't," she said. "Life is like high school."
The actress was lamenting that mastery, which professors seemed to value so much, counts for less in life than she had hoped, while popularity seems to matter far more.
Every high school had its Ardis Peters. Her parents were not affluent. Her face appeared more quirky than pretty. She never tried out for cheerleader, and might not have succeeded if she had. Yet we could not resist her, possessed of a quality everyone loved but few understood or could define.
We only knew we liked her. Looking back, our reason is clear: Ardis had a feeling about life that drew you in. Around her, you shared that feeling.
Your memories may go back even further, to your school's Carla Strand. Even at the age of seven she embraced life, and it embraced her back. Everyone wanted to be part of her life, because she enjoyed it so much, and passed it on.
Meryl Streep, Ardis, and Carla suggest an important lesson. Yes, you sell your skills in this life. You sell what you know and can do. If by using your skills you are able to help enough people, you will become secure and may become rich. Beyond that, however, the most critical thing you sell is literally yourself: your being. People "buy" optimists because they enjoy their company.
They "buy" people with integrity because people with integrity do what they say they will. Like Maytag washing machines, people with integrity can be relied upon.
Our education points us toward mastering our craft. But how should we behave, act, and feel? Schools don't teach us that, and many teachers set examples we should ignore.
But Meryl Streep, Ardis, and Carla remind us that we did learn something in high school: Attitude matters. Attitude sells.
Develop your skills, sharpen them, and then sharpen them more each day. But never forget that people buy all of you.
Success and fulfillment come from developing all of you - starting in the deepest parts.
What People Value
Nothing More Than Feelings
To see what people really value, watch when they put their money where their mouths are - literally.
Watch how they tip.
Repeated studies of restaurant guests show that people do not tip any more for efficient and prompt service than they do for flawed and slow service.
Instead, people tip more when the waitperson makes them feel good. If the person very briefly touches the diner, for example, the diner typically tips more. A warm smile, a "Hello again, Mr. Peters," or any other hint of "I like you" all elicit bigger tips, too.
When The New Yorker magazine recently reviewed these findings, one commentator announced that he was disturbed. Why do we refuse to pay more for "service quality," but will pay more for trivial little gestures of apparent friendship? We pay more for those "trivial gestures" because they are not trivial; they are what we value in a service.
People value - and pay more for - the way you make them feel.
One of the world's largest insurance firms recently interviewed other firms to handle its payroll. After interviewing the three finalist firms, the three members of the selection committee were stumped. They decided on a perfect solution.
They flew to each finalist's headquarters, took a short walk around, and "got a feeling" for each place.
When they walked into the third company's lobby, something immediately somehow "just felt right." They stayed but four minutes, and then headed home.
From the airport back home, they called the third company with the multimillion-dollar good news.
So often, that is the difference. Not superior competence. Not more years of experience. Just something tiny, like the feeling that you give people.
People buy feelings.
You, Inc.: The Art of Selling Yourself by Harry Beckwith and Christine Clifford Beckwith. Copyrght © 2007 by Harry Beckwith. Excerpt taken from Chapter 1.
About Dylan Schleicher
Dylan Schleicher has been a part of the 800-CEO-READ claque since 2003. Even though he's stayed on at the company, he has not stayed put. After beginning in shipping & receiving, he joined customer service and accounting before moving into his current, highly elliptical orbit of duties overseeing the ChangeThis and In the Books websites, the company's annual review of books and in-house design. He lives with his wife and two children in the Washington Heights neighborhood on Milwaukee's West Side.