We’re All Selling

“A.B.C. Always be closing.” When I hear the word salesman, this is what comes to mind. Scenes and images like this lead us to believe that selling is a zero sum game, with all of the benefits going to the seller, and very little accruing to the buyer.

There are two types of products- ones that are bought and ones that are sold. Insurance falls into the second bucket. So does my book (sorry).

A successful insurance agent has a network, charisma, knowledge, and the ability to persuade. As a 21 year old, I had none of these things. Michael Novogratz said “I’m good at selling the dream…I can get onstage and get people to start saying ‘Hallelujah! Hallelujah!’” I don’t have this ability, and this ability is what’s required to sell insurance products. I left the business after eighteen months, having not sold any policies to somebody who didn’t share my last name.

My first job opportunity after this was at a wire house. I was excited for an opportunity to learn about asset management. I hoped to find somebody who would take me under their wing and show me the ropes. And then the hiring manager told me to take out a pad of paper and write down as many people as I knew. Ugh, this again. I was anxious to get into finance, but I was no more excited at the prospect of selling mutual funds than I was at selling whole life insurance.

People will always be closing, but the way things are sold today look as much like the Glengarry methods as an iPhone looks like a telegraph.

In Daniel Pinks’s To Sell is Humanhe tells the story about an enterprise software company called Atlassian that did $100 million in sales without a single salesperson. The CEO told him, “We have no salespeople because in a weird way, everyone is a salesperson.” Pink says, “At Atlassian…traditional sales isn’t anyone’s job. It’s everyone’s job. And that paradoxical arrangement is becoming more common.”

Sales today is everyone’s job.

Scott Galloway wrote, “I can look each person in the eye and claim I believe what I’m saying to be true.” This how I feel about what I do every day and it’s a topic that I kept coming back to when I spoke to Jeremy and Wes. I sell my version of the truth. I sell a belief. A belief that I believe in with every fabric of my being.

Scott Galloway isn’t asking for something tangible like money. He’s engaging in an intangible transaction. He sells his ability to communicate unique thoughts and what he’s asking people to part with are time and attention.

I’m selling the tangible and the intangible, with most of my time dedicated to the latter, which ties directly into the former. Between Twitter, the blog and the podcast, I’m asking my readers to  give up a few minutes of their day. All of this is done to communicate with current clients and convert readers into new ones. But unlike when I sold insurance, or tried to anyway, the product I’m offering today is bought, not sold.

I’m not looking to proselytize or convince anybody that our way is the only way to invest. I put out my beliefs every day and trust that it finds the right audience. This has been an incredibly rewarding experience, considering that I started my career selling a product that people didn’t want to people that I didn’t know.

People today are more likely to be selling a service as opposed to a manufactured product, which comes with a different set of challenges. Ben said, “You’re selling yourself or your firm’s ability to deliver on promises.” This is why the only way that what we’re doing works is if we’re as transparent as possible. If you’re selling a belief that clients don’t truly believe in, the benefits will only accrue to us in the way of fees, as they’ll bail at the first sign of trouble. So we don’t over promise. We don’t sell our ability to see the future. We don’t pretend that our tactical model will sell at the top or buy at the bottom. But we do tell them exactly what we’re going to do and then we do it.

I used to think that selling was a dirty word, but I’ve realized that we’re all selling to varying degrees. And while I’m selling every single day, I don’t feel like a salesperson. I’m just being myself. However, the incontrovertible truth is that I am selling. I’m selling myself and my partners and my firm. I just hope that what I’m selling is not a zero sum transaction. That it’s a mutually beneficial relationship. Daniel Pink said “To sell well is to convince someone else to part with resources- not to deprive that person, but to leave him better off in the end.”