Is that you? It was me.
I was 6 years into my career in management consulting. It was becoming clear that the road to advancement no longer lay in more expertise. Instead, it lay in what was euphemistically called "business development."
I was no dummy. I knew what "business development" meant. It meant the dreaded Sales Monster Under the Bed.
Business Development, the Euphemism
You know something's wrong when they cloak a supposed activity in the passive voice. If they couldn't even look you in the face when they said "develop business," it just proved they really meant "sales." As in, "sales." Blecchhh.
I knew I had to do it. But what was it? And what was the least horrific way to go about it? You know the list:
- Write white papers
- Write articles
- Go to industry association meetings
- Make cold calls
- Explore existing client relationships
- Do mailings
- Send holiday cards.
Holiday cards felt a little intrusive. At least white papers relied on expertise. The rest were too horrible to contemplate.
The Sales Monster
In retrospect, my fear of sales was self-fear, aided by the intangible nature of professional services. Lawyers, accountants and actuaries, I later found, all suffered from the same malaise.
It just all felt so personal. I had joined consulting because it seemed a meritocratic society of the intellect. The implied promise was I'd get rewarded for being smart.
That promise was being broken. Suddenly it was personal. Clients weren't just buying expertise, they were buying me. Or not. That wasn't just unfair; it violated my belief that Content Mattered.
Worst of all, of course, was if they didn't buy. It was hard to rationalize a loss; it meant, ineluctably that They Didn't Like Me. I understood Sally Fields' acceptance speech very well.
Vanquishing the Sales Monster
It took me 15 more years to realize that every thought I'd had about sales was wrong. And it was more a process than an epiphany. There were a few books along the way that helped:
But it was more life experiences than books that changed my view. If you come right down to it-I had to grow up. I had to develop and change as a person in order to understand the keys to sales.
I had to recognize the ultimately paradoxical nature of sales: the best way to sell is to stop trying to sell, and to focus instead on helping others get what they wanted.
Learning the Truth
You cannot learn this truth by reading this blog. Or by reading any book or article. You probably won't learn it from anyone telling you. It seems to me that we all learn things the hard way-from our own experience. And my experience is that hard lessons, negative examples, bad experiences, are better teachers than good ones. Sad but true.
But sometimes, someone can say something in a way that makes it click for you. It can pull together your own learnings and make a light bulb a little brighter. And that can help a lot.
So, here's my own Top Twelve list of ways that I found to say something that I found meaningful. I hope one of them can turn on a little light bulb for you.
Whatever you do; if the Sales Monster still lives under your bed, remember-it doesn't have to be that way.