Sunday, May 16, 2010

Selling: The Last Stage of Innovation

In business, you sell an idea, a product or service, but in a friendship or romantic relationship you are offering yourself. Either way, you are selling, and there is nothing wrong with that. The important thing is to be a truth seeker in selling; that is, to aim to uncover the truth about the transaction and the relationship; whether or not the person can benefit from what you have to offer and vice versa; in other words whether there can be a fair exchange.

Every successful creative idea begin in imagination and ends in a sale, where someone else buys into or pays for the product or service generated from the idea, because it has value for them. This is the process of Innovation, one of the Seven Dimensions of Wisdom in my SOPPHIA system. SOPPHIA is the Greek word for wisdom, and each letter in the acronym represents a set of skills necessary for success. The I is for Innovation, the process of generating ideas, and developing them to the point where they create social and economic value. Therefore, selling is the end point of innovation.

Sales skills are made necessary in part by the human tendency to avoid doing certain things that we need to do or that are in our own best interest. We tend to avoid taking certain necessary or desirable actions such as getting life insurance, making a will, and making investments for the long term as opposed to focusing on short term costs. The goal in ethical selling should not be to convince people to buy things that they don’t want or need; but rather to find the people who can truly benefit from what you are offering. Because we are all bombarded with offers to purchase products and services, it requires sales skills to even get people to listen closely enough to determine whether or not they can benefit from your offering. You must overcome defensiveness and mistrust in order for the offer to be evaluated accurately.

In selling, fear of rejection is just the symptom; the real challenge is to overcome the focus on your own needs and to experience genuine empathy for the other person’s. Effective sales persons recognize that many of the people they approach won’t need or want the service or product; so it’s important to learn to not take their unwillingness as a personal insult.

You establish this self-confidence by examining your fears and motivations, and the value of what you are offering to others. This doesn’t mean puffing yourself up and denying your real concerns and feelings. Rather it means making an honest appraisal of your purpose, and how the activities you are engaged in relate to that purpose; to something that you are truly passionate about and that is of benefit to others as well as to yourself.

The truthful seller must be convinced that what he or she has to offer is valuable, in relation to the specific needs of the buyer. Prior reflection is helpful in revealing your true beliefs about the value of your offering, and the circumstances under which it can and cannot be helpful to someone. You then enter the interaction with the potential buyer with this clear understanding; and you don’t hesitate to ask questions that reveal the buyer’s need for your offering. Similarly, you know when your offering is not likely to be helpful to the buyer, and you can avoid crossing that ethical boundary.

As in any interaction, the best first step is usually to meet people where they are. Initially, self-protectiveness is one of the natural responses to being approached by someone we don’t know well, and therefore don’t trust. Having and showing sincere interest in the other person, their welfare, and their point of view, is the best way to begin establishing trust. If you don’t experience that interest in the other person naturally, then you need to work on yourself, and release the internal locks that are blocking your connection with others.

People’s defensiveness in reacting to salespeople is similar to what happens in psychotherapy. All of us want in some way to be healthy and to do the things needed to sustain our health. But we will throw up all manner of defenses to avoid facing certain truths about ourselves and changing behaviors that are necessary to achieve that goal. While not confronting our defenses directly, the therapist also does not accept our initial presentation as accurately representing our true needs and desires. Similarly, the skilled salesperson asks questions that overcome our initial objections and should help us to make a decision to buy something that we really need or want.

Of course, this process can be abused and become a means of manipulating people into buying things just to put money in the salesperson’s pocket. This unethical practice may be more characteristic of salespeople than say doctors or lawyers, but it is certainly not limited to the former. Whenever one is providing a service or product for sale, there is always the possibility and temptation to cheat the customer.

A buyer who feels pressured or manipulated into a purchase, as opposed to convincing themselves with the seller’s help, will experience resentment, and is likely to retaliate by later canceling the order or returning the product. An addition fallout is that the seller in such situations may feel guilt; or at least is not likely to experience the satisfaction that comes from helping another person to meet their needs. The fulfillment that comes from helping other people is what contributes to happiness, a sense of achievement and satisfaction with one’s work. Ultimately this is necessary for long term success.

I’m Dr. Bernard Brookes. You can me via by web site at

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