It’s one of the first questions I ask when I’m looking to hire someone. And it doesn’t matter what the role is either. The reactions I have got to this simple question, ranging from pure horror to disdain to fear to amusement to “of course, I can”, were always instructive and interesting.
A guy I met, who worked in strategy, had a typical reaction. Initially, he thought he hadn’t heard the question correctly so I repeated it. Then he went quiet and started to look very confused until in a quiet voice he said “you understand I work in strategy?” Yep, I sure do. So, can you sell or not?
I ask this question to elicit a reaction. I want to see whether the person understands that the obligation to ‘sell the organisation’ is a core responsibility of everyone who works there. I want to see whether they are willing and able to talk about, promote and ultimately ‘sell’ the benefits of the business to others even if it is not a defined responsibility of their role.
It’s bemusing to me that some marketers, strategists, finance people, administrators, creatives and even CEOs that I know actually believe they have no obligation to ‘sell’ anything. They believe that the responsibility for sales and business development resides exclusively with those few people that have the word ‘sales’ in their job titles. Even worse, many of them consider ‘sales’ to be beneath them as if talking to customers (existing and prospective) is less important than the next meeting they have to attend.
Here are a few things that I’m sure of after nearly 30 years in business:
• Sales is the lifeblood of an organisation
• Most businesses that fail do so because of a lack of revenue
• The ability to positively influence others (a key aspect of leadership) is learnt best by negotiating and selling (something)
• The ability to prosper (for individuals and for the organisation) is directly linked to the capacity to influence others – customers, staff, suppliers, stakeholders etc – to follow your vision and ultimately do business with you.
Anybody can sell. It’s a mindset more than anything else and a willingness to be continuously opportunity focused, understanding that every interaction you have is a chance to leave a positive impression. It takes practice, of course, but the effort is well worth it, in my view. It will protect you in the long term too. You have to want to do it, however, and that’s the hard part.
So, can you sell?