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Everything You Learned About Sales Is Backwards

Guest Author Blog by Bob Burg and John David Mann, coauthors of Go-Givers Sell More

Go Givers Sell More
Go Givers Sell More

“I’m no good at selling!”

Have you ever heard someone say that? Or maybe said it yourself? (Now, tell the truth.)

We hear it all the time.

Everyone who is not in sales thinks, “I could never sell” — and most people who are in sales secretly think the same thing.

There is a reason people feel this way: most of us look at sales backwards. Backwards how? In the most fundamental ways.

They see sales as convincing people to do something they don’t want to do. It’s not: it is about learning what people do want to do and then helping them do that.

They think sales is about taking advantage of others. Not so: in fact, it’s about giving others more advantage.

Most people think of sales as a talking business, when it is really a listening business.

Classic sales training focuses on the “close.” The true sales greats hardly notice the close; they are too busy focusing on the open.

Guest Author Blog
Guest Author Blog

But the biggest inversion of all, the great upside-down misconception about sales, is that it is an effort to get other people to do something. Ask most anyone to define sales and you will hear some variation of this: “Sales is getting people to buy something.”

The truth about sales is that it isn’t about getting at all. Sales at its best, at its most effective, is precisely the opposite: it is about — get ready for this — giving.

The word “sales” itself suggests this. It is derived from the Old English word sellan, which means, you guessed it, “to give.” Selling is giving: giving time, attention, counsel, education, empathy and value.

Admittedly, this is not how most of us have come to think about sales.

The traditional approach to sales aims to choreograph the process by putting control firmly in the hands of the salesperson. Which is probably why neither party really enjoys it. It’s not much fun to have someone try to control you. For that matter, it’s not much fun to be the one doing the controlling, either.

The problem is that little word, “control.” You can’t do it. Nobody can.

The classic sales process succeeds if you “make a sale.” But you can’t make a sale. Again, no one can. It’s impossible to make a sale, because no one can truly make other people do what they want them to do.

What you can do is create a context that allows a sale to happen when the other person makes a purchase. This is not semantics: this is the secret of all great salespeople.

Your job is not to make a sale, but to make something else: value. In fact, as a salesperson you can define your job with these three words: I create value.

When you spend time with a genuinely successful salesperson, pay close attention and you’ll find something surprising: none of the hundreds of standard sales techniques are what makes them excel at what they do.

Oh, they know about them, and when it will serve their customer, they may utilize some of them. But that’s not what makes them great.

Genuinely great salespeople are not great because they have mastered “the close,” or because they give a dazzling presentation, or because they could shoot holes in any customer objection from fifty paces. They are great because they create a vast and spreading sphere of good will wherever they go. They enrich, enhance and add value to people’s lives. They make people happier.

How do they do that? What is it that makes them great?

What makes a great salesperson great at sales is that he or she is wholeheartedly interested in the other person. The truth about selling is that it’s not about your product, and it’s not about you—it’s about the other person.

The remarkable thing about these consummate salespeople is that they are not as rare as you might think. In fact, you can find them everywhere. This is because being adept at sales does not require mastery of complex or elaborate skills.

The laws that govern good salesmanship are the laws that govern good relationships. Selling is not at its core a business transaction; it is first and foremost the forging of a human connection.

This is very good news, because it means that anyone can be great in sales.

It means you can be great in sales.

You might think that to do so, you need to have an outgoing, naturally jovial, gregarious personality. Not true. Shy people create relationships and get married. Introverts make great friends. You don’t need to be a “people person,” or any specific type of person, to be great at selling. In fact, the idea itself—that you might have to be a certain sort of person to be great in sales—precisely misses the point:

It’s not about you; it’s about them.

If you take away nothing from this post but those seven words, it will have been well worth the time to read it—because your life in sales will transform.

It’s not about you; it’s about them.

Focus on the quality of the relationship and on providing value to the other person, and you will create an exchange that is both more satisfying and more profitable.

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John David Mann and Bob Burg
John David Mann and Bob Burg
John David Mann and Bob Burg

John David Mann and Bob Burg are coauthors of Go-Givers Sell More (Portfolio 2010).

Burg is a highly sought-after speaker who teaches the principles at the core of The Go-Giver to audiences worldwide. A former top sales professional, he is also the author of Endless Referrals.

Mann has been writing about business, leadership, and the laws of success for more than twenty years; he is also the coauthor of The Secret Language of Money.

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