In my opinion, selling is one of the necessary evils of running a business. Whether you’re pushing a product, a service, or both, you have to let people know you’re out there if you want them to buy. But many of us don’t like it, aren’t comfortable with it, or just aren’t interested in being salespeople. Is it possible to sell without a pitch? I believe it is.
I’d rather get a thoughtful yes than a regretful one.
The stereotypical idea of sales involves the car salesman approach where someone is aggressively trying to convince you that you need that thing right now and if you walk away you’re ruining your life. It’s the barrage of LinkedIn requests where as soon as you accept, before any real engagement has occurred, the person sends you a message asking, or sometimes telling, you about how they can help you. Or in the current day where it seems everyone is a coach and has taken the same courses about how to sell, it’s the person who offers a free webinar where you join, listen to them talk for 30 minutes without really saying much, and at the end they offer their secrets if you buy their course or join their group – which, of course, is usually thousands of dollars but if you sign up today you can get it at a massive discount. And, even if you don’t, you’re going to get bombarded with emails and last chance offers until you have no choice but to mark as spam and wonder how you got bamboozled again, thinking you might get some helpful tips for free. It makes me cringe.
Look. I get it. These are all proven sales techniques that have worked for a lot of people. I’m not negating that. It’s just not my style. It works for plenty of people, and I know that’s why so many people are taught certain things. Don’t let them go until they’ve bought something or committed to a time. Yep, sound advice. But I know that sometimes people need to take their time to think over a decision, and I want to give them the space to do that. I’d rather get a thoughtful yes than a regretful one, where someone ends up with buyer’s remorse and feeling like they were pressured into it. I’d even rather have a no than a yes that makes me look like a bully.
If I can take a few minutes to be helpful, why wouldn’t I?
I was talking to my good friend Eric about this the other day. He’s been in sales for most of his career, so I consider him to be an expert at the topic. It came up in the context of people who do the bare minimum but still expect to be recognized, praised and promoted. You know the type. They don’t want to do the work, but they want the rewards. And that kind of behavior reflects in how they are with people in general, not just in business. For me, it goes back to something as simple as the Golden Rule. Treat people how you want to be treated. It’s not that complicated.
If someone reaches out to me about a job and I’m not available, or not interested, I’ll let them know right away and, if I can, recommend someone else they can ask. This accomplishes a few things. First, it leaves them with a positive impression of me. Secondly, it helps them in the next step. Hopefully my referral is available. I know how difficult it can be to find the right fit for the types of projects I usually do, especially when you’re working with someone new. A referral is always better than a cold call. Third, if someone I know and like gets the job, that helps someone else. So a simple, kind response just helped at least 3 people. I’ll also let them know they can reach out to me if they need any additional resources or if I can be helpful in any way. Again, that connects me with a good experience. Maybe the current job isn’t right for me, but maybe the next one will be, and chances are they’ll reach out again because of how I handled that interaction.
In another situation that came up recently, someone I worked with on a project emailed me asking for help. Technically, I was done with that project, but it was something that wouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes, and I knew how heavy her workload was, so I was happy to do it anyway. It’s the same as when someone asks me a question and I don’t have the answer, but I know I can find it pretty easily. I’m probably not going to spend an hour doing someone else’s research for free, but if I can take a few minutes to be helpful, why wouldn’t I? Because while I wholeheartedly believe you should never work for free, I also believe that there are times when I can afford to just be kind.
When I was talking with Eric about all of this, he said, “Do you know what that’s called? That’s sales.”
Sometimes it’s more about building a reputation that makes people come to you.
And yeah, that makes sense. Sales doesn’t have to be about constantly pitching. Sometimes it’s more about building a reputation that makes people come to you.
My business is almost entirely referral based. I do get some clients from the podcast and social media, but at the core of my business is a group of loyal people who hired me because they worked with me directly at my old job, on another project, or someone we both know recommended me. Many of them have been with me since my first year in business. Some I met later on, and they’ve stuck around, too. I’ve had very few one-time clients, and I’m proud of that.
I always joke with people that I will work with them once and then find my way to insert myself so they can’t ever function without me again. I joke, but it’s kind of the way it works out most of the time. You know that show I was working on for 7 months that was only supposed to be 8 episodes over the course of 3 months? Well, that’s finally done. And just as I was starting to wonder what will be next, the supervising producer asked if I wanted to stay on for the next season. Another 8, possibly 16 episodes. The position normally would’ve gone to someone local to where they’re shooting, which is no longer in Las Vegas, but since I managed to do it this whole time from home anyway, that part matters less than sticking with someone who knows the process and has handled it well.
How I sell is by doing a good job.
How I sell is by doing a good job. And it goes beyond when I’m hired. Yes, that’s the most important part of it. When someone hires me for a job – whether it’s one project, a monthly retainer, or a year-long commitment – I give it my full effort. I want to succeed, sure, but I also want my clients to succeed. And I believe the quality of my work reflects that every time. It’s really important to me that it does. The work we do affects others, and sometimes we don’t even realize the depth to which our participation helps or hinders a whole process. For me, it’s also about doing more than what’s expected. It’s a matter of being proud of what I do, and having that confidence in my abilities so my clients can, too.
I was talking about the Clubhouse app a couple weeks ago, and while it seems most people are open to the platform and are finding solid value in it, one comment struck me as… interesting. She said she didn’t like it because she couldn’t post links to sell her products, and if she couldn’t sell, what was the point? And yes, it’s true that you can’t post links anywhere in Clubhouse, but there are plenty of salespeople – they are definitely in there pushing their products and services every time they speak, whether it’s in a room they created for that purpose or if they’re on someone else’s stage trying to reach more people. It’s a different style for a different platform, but it’s still there with a mix of the over-the-top aggressive pushes, and other, more subtle ways of dropping information.
The natural way for me is to share my experiences and advice without any expectation for anything in return.
And then there are those of us who don’t even mention what we do unless someone asks us to. I don’t feel like I need to constantly pitch myself. It’s uncomfortable, and part of that is generational. I didn’t grow up with social media and this culture of constant sharing and promoting. I do share new podcast episodes every week across social, and I let people know when I’m co-moderating a discussion in Clubhouse. There is an element of self-promotion that I understand is necessary in the current market for anyone providing products or services. You have to let people know you’re out there doing what you do. I don’t know a way around that. But I do know that I have to do it in a way that’s true to who I am.
The natural way for me is to share my experiences and advice without any expectation for anything in return. This podcast is sales for me. It doesn’t cost you anything to listen, but if you like what you hear and want to work with me, you know how to find me. If I speak in a Clubhouse room and you find value in what I say, you can read my profile and connect on Instagram or Twitter. You’ll do that on your own if it resonates with you and the timing is right. I don’t need to try to force you. Do I? Am I doing this wrong? Probably, in many ways, I am.
If what’s right for sales contradicts what’s right for me, I’m going to side with me every time.
I hear from so many people that every post, everything you do, needs to include a call to action. I understand why. It all makes perfect sense that you need to give people something to do to keep the conversation, or the relationship, moving towards that sale. But if what’s right for sales contradicts what’s right for me, I’m going to side with me every time. I can’t help it – it’s the way I’m wired. I won’t apologize for it either. My style works for me. Business is good for now.
That doesn’t mean I’m not going to try different things. I do want to release some online courses. Maybe some eBooks. I’d love to monetize this podcast in a way that doesn’t shove annoying advertisements in your ears. I’d like to get some sponsors to help me cover the costs. Maybe set up a Patreon account. Eventually, I’m going to run out of people I know and will have to start reaching out to other potential guests. Every bit of that is going to require some degree of selling, probably more aggressively than what I have to do for the work I’m already doing. And that’s okay. I’ll deal with it when the time comes and figure out the best way for me to do it.
What do you think? Can you sell without a pitch? Or do you think you have to be pushy in your approach to getting new business? I’d love to hear your thoughts. Send me a DM on Instagram – you can find me @aardvarkgirl. And if you are finding value in this podcast, please take a minute to leave a positive review on Apple Podcasts or wherever you’re listening. Those ratings and reviews help me out, so I would appreciate it.
Do you see what I did there? That was me following the common advice and including a call to action in this episode. While also being true to my awkward nature and pointing out that this is a call to action. Yay! I did sales!