Everyone Is Selling Somebody Something
Here is what all effective salespeople know in their job that they can use in their lives without knowing Dale Carnegie from Carnegie Hall:
- They know how to negotiate. It’s a skill needed and acquired when dealing with customers, suppliers, and employees. Negotiating involves listening carefully, evaluating variables, overcoming obstacles, and reaching agreement, and doing it if possible without strife, personal attacks, and burned bridges. You may think it’s all related to settling contracts and making sales. But it’s also part of getting your youngsters to eat their vegetables and working out with your spouse whose job it is to clean the cat’s litter box.
- They learn determination. The best salespeople still hear the word no frequently. Instead of seeing it as a rejection, they consider it a challenge. So much of life depends on us not giving up on our goals, and many of us never learn how to do it.
- They gain confidence. Nothing delivers self-confidence better than overcoming obstructions to score a victory. It’s not just key to making sales; it’s also an asset in handling crisis situations, small or large.
- They get other people to agree with them. In sales, it’s part art, part science. It’s also vital in so many aspects of business and personal life, from getting a raise from your employer to changing your teenager’s conduct.
- They practice self-discipline. Most employees in large corporations can sleepwalk their way through much of their workday from time to time and still take home their salary. Depending on commissions earned from your sales almost exclusively means that coasting through a workday costs you money, so you are always aware of the connection between performance and payment.
The Art of Legitimate Selling
You don’t have to be a shark to succeed in business and rise to a sizable level of wealth and income. Because you don’t.
The one thing you must be—in business and in life generally—is someone who understands the role that selling plays in so much of our lives. Sometimes it’s hidden, and sometimes it’s obvious. The trick is knowing how to apply selling skills without the customers knowing they are being sold.
For any reason. Ideally, they provide their trust and support not because you want it from them, but because they want to give it to you. So here is Robert’s definition of the perfect sale: the customer believes he or she has been in control of the situation, and has completed a transaction that benefits both buyer and seller.
The Biggest Myth About Sales and Life
Are some people “born” to succeed in sales? Is there something in their DNA that makes us say, “That woman could sell snow in Alaska”?
There can be, depending on the situation. Some have appeared on Shark Tank, trying to sell us on the idea of investing in their business idea. They have been effective enough—and their business plan has been promising enough—for some of us to close a deal with them. This doesn’t prove that salesmanship is natural to some people, as if it were a genetic factor such as the color of their eyes or the shape of their chin. And it certainly never leads to closing a deal all on its own.
Even more than that, we Sharks aren’t interested solely in buying what’s put in front of us. We’re interested in the opportunity to build a business that will thrive and grow over the long term, one that is likely to require our personal involvement in its management and expansion.
It’s true some people have an aptitude for writing or music or some other creative work. They are rightly referred to as “born writers” or “born musicians.” However when it comes to the art of selling, the biggest factor in determining someone’s success is not “natural ability.” It’s training and enthusiasm. This works even if you have zero experience in selling.
Inside the Shark Tank
Each season between 40,000 and 50,000 people either apply for an audition on Shark Tank or are invited to submit information on their business venture for consideration. Many applications are rejected immediately based on the quality of the submission. Others move through a multistage selection process before being invited to make an in-person pitch to the producers
Meanwhile, Shark Tank analysts scout business media and business trade shows in search of companies with an unusual product or service and an apparent need for investment funds. Out of those thousands of people and their business dreams who apply or are selected for consideration, about 225 are invited to make their pitch. These are further winnowed down until about 150 appear on air each season.
Why do they appear on your TV screen while the majority of people don’t? Here’s what Robert says:
To put it bluntly, they’re boring. They may be wonderful people, salt of the earth, and even succeed in making a deal with us, but if in the opinion of the producers they fail to seize your interest, they won’t make it into your home via your television screen. You can fix many things in television and movies, but you can’t fix boring. If you are fat, thin, bald, wrinkled, or almost any other physical situation that doesn’t play well to audiences, it can be corrected. But if you are boring, you are stuck with it, and Hollywood will move on without you.
Shark Tank producers look for businesses and people that they know will make great TV, and the most important part of this mix, by far, is the people and their situations. Entertainment of all kinds is based on those two elements, reality show or not. The business aspect is secondary. You don’t win two Emmys and numerous other awards because you have a great business show on television. You win those awards because you have an entertaining show whose subject matter is business.
None of us Sharks is consistently “nice” to each other. There are times when we honestly do not like each other, and we hold nothing back. That’s what makes it a true reality show. Each caustic comment you hear and each roll of the eyes you see on the show is impulsive and real. No one on the show tells us what to do, how to act, or what to say. Everything is close to the surface, including our feelings. The only thing we may be mindful of is the personal brand each of us has established over the years. They are unique to us—on Shark Tank, at least—and they go a long way toward building the viewer loyalty we enjoy.
Compare Mark Cuban, for example, with Kevin O’Leary. Both are aggressive; unyielding; and, to many people, terrifying to face. But they are different people in their approach to business. Kevin spends more time building his brand than anyone I know, and it’s based on greed and intimidation. Along with billing himself as “Mr. Wonderful,” his supposed total focus is on improving his cash position every day, over and over. He once declared that he considers every dollar he owns a soldier, and each morning he sends his millions of “soldiers” out into the world to seize prisoners—dollar bills—and bring them home by sundown.
Mark loves wealth every bit as much as Kevin, but his view is not skewed toward building his immediate cash position. He and I are interested in building viable companies that will grow and prosper in the future, providing employment and security for hundreds of employees and eventually a substantial return for us as investors. If you think of this difference between us when you watch a Shark Tank episode, it will explain how Mark, Kevin, and I evaluate the deals offered us by the pitchers. We have different goals, different ways of dealing with people, and different attitudes toward business generally. The differences define our personal brands.
As cold and hard-hearted as we Sharks may be when making an investment decision, we can—and do—respond to a positive emotional link between us and whoever is looking for our money to fund their company.
That’s the show’s total premise: five successful businesspeople, each with a different background and focus, searching for ways to make money by competing against the others. And yes, we’re talking real money here—our real money. When a deal is done and the necessary due diligence is completed, sharks hand over the cash as promised.
The pitchers are there offering us an opportunity to make money from a serious business proposition. They did not show up with the goal of convincing us they’re nice folks who need a helping hand.
It’s supposed to work that way. When it doesn’t … well, things can run off the rails and lead to the kind of outburst that occurred between Lori Grenier and me that has become infamous. I told Lori her actions had “pissed me off,” angry words were exchanged between all of us, Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary followed me out of the studio trailing wisps of smoke, and none of it was staged. It was all very real, driven by anger and serious disagreement.
How do the producers react to these outbreaks of anger and frustration? They love ’em. They even have a name for them: Shark bites.
None of this had any long-term effect on the relationship between us. As I indicated earlier, we really are like a family whose members are comfortable expressing themselves without holding anything back.
The World Owes You Nothing—Except Opportunity
The world owes you only one thing: opportunity. That’s it. That’s all.
You will have to accept some risks to do it, but that’s the nature of life. Nothing worthwhile is achieved without risk. Most of the serious risks we face in life exist not because we want to take them, but because we need to take them.
I didn’t start my first company so I could make enough money to buy a Ferrari or two. I started it because I had been fired from my previous job and needed to pay the bills. I took the risk of applying my sales ability and becoming an entrepreneur to escape the certainty of being broke and homeless. The choice was easy. Risks are an inevitable part of life. Success lies in taking measured risks, and avoiding the big risks that can destroy your dreams of success.
Think of a Job Application as an Ad Campaign
Say what you will about advertising agencies, the people who work there are generally very smart and impressively creative. The best are also methodical about preparing campaigns on behalf of their clients, and they fine-tune their campaigns to maximize the impact.
So here’s a thought. Why can’t applicants for a job use the same approach? Why can’t they apply similar planning and detail to help move their name closer to a full-scale interview and, in the interview, “close the sale,” so to speak? They can.
Below are five steps that apply classic ad agency tactics when applying for a job
STEP 1: DEFINE YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE
Advertising professionals don’t make a move until they identify whom they want to speak to about the product. Hit-and-miss targeting doesn’t work. You need to know as much about your audience as you can gather.
Too many job applicants fail to take the basic step of learning who is in a position to hire them. Whatever kind of job you are applying for, always address your pitch to someone who can assess you and your qualifications. Make it as specific as possible. Don’t send your application to some fuzzy title like office manager or programming department. An Internet search or telephone call can reveal the name of whoever fills that position, and a few minutes on Google may tell you their background.
STEP 2: CREATE YOUR OWN USP
USP stands for “unique selling proposition,” which is a feature of an advertiser’s product that the competition cannot match. Advertisers like to communicate their USP with a slogan. Disneyland calls itself “The Happiest Place on Earth,” and for years M&Ms have been reminding people that their candy “melts in your mouth, not in your hands.”
Don’t try to frame your USP within a slogan unless you’re applying for a job as an advertising copywriter. On a job application, it’s best to deliver your USP when discussing your education, your background, or some ability or experience that sets you apart from others. If you can honestly say “I am an avid swimmer, and I qualified for the all-state freestyle swim competition in my junior year” or some similar achievement, add it to your application.
STEP 3: WHAT TAKEAWAY DO YOU WANT TO CREATE?
“Takeaway” is the impression your sales pitch will leave when an employer finishes reading your letter or recalls your job interview. It sums up the kind of person you are and the benefits you offer as an employee or associate.
Takeaways are best expressed not in clearly defined terms (she has a college degree and two years’ experience in our business) but in feelings and impressions. Your takeaway could be either negative or positive depending on the content of your written application or your behavior during an interview. Obviously, you want positive takeaways, such as:
- She is a positive person with a good deal of ambition and confidence.
- He seems totally up to date on all the technical aspects of the job.
- She comes across as warm and caring, open to a wide range of job options
STEP 4: USE A CALL TO ACTION
It’s asking for the order. It’s closing the sale. It’s encouraging the target audience to take the next step. In this case, it’s letting your potential employer know you are seriously interested in the job and look forward to an interview.
Advertiser calls to action are Look for us in your grocer’s dairy section, or Call us for details on this great offer, or a similar line. It speaks directly to the prospective customer. Or, in your case, the prospective employer.
Providing a means of reaching you to schedule an interview should be a basic part of any job application, but don’t use a wimpy close such as I look forward to hearing from you at your earliest convenience. Finish your letter with a line that communicates enthusiasm, confidence, and maybe a little urgency. Make it assertive but not aggressive—you want to sound confident, not conceited.
STEP 5: MAKE SURE THE PRODUCT LIVES UP TO THE PROMISE
The advertising business is filled with tales of outstanding campaigns that failed because the campaign was better than the product it was selling. Or because important details were mishandled. What does this have to do with your job application?
Social networking lets potential employers track down the “you” that is not revealed in a cover letter and interview. Employers know (or assume) that you are putting on your best face when talking to them. But the face you show the rest of the world can reveal the “you” that you would prefer them not to know.
Learn to Swim with Sharks Without Being One
When a boss or a coworker treats you in an abusive and disrespectful manner, your response may be to shrug off the incident and get on with your day. That’s not always the best choice. Bullying hurts. It’s emotionally painful, and pretending it never happened or that it had no effect on you fails to stop either the pain or the bully.
So what do you do? Some tips.
- Remind yourself that you are a target, not a victim. Seeing yourself as a victim is defeatist.
- Handle the bullying as though it’s a daily job task. Be methodical in how you behave, perform as well as possible on the job, and document each incident.
- Remain calm and unemotional.
- Keep and display your self-esteem, along with a positive attitude. Do not give the bully the satisfaction of knowing how his or her actions are affecting you.
- Avoid being isolated by the bully. Maintain connections with others around you; chat with them while avoiding direct reference to the actions of the bully and their impact on you.
- Never yell back at a bully or display any deep emotional response to the situation. Excuse yourself by saying you have a meeting to attend, a chore to complete, or you need to use the restroom.
- Start a “get out” strategy. Bullies usually do not change their behavior; it’s better for you to take control over your life than expect others to change.
Remember to speak up calmly, avoid making personal attacks on others, and be prepared to discuss whatever bothers you. This isn’t just good for your personal relationships and career, it’s good for your health.
How to Ask for a Raise
Executives of successful companies agree that good employees represent their most valuable asset. These executives don’t resent dealing with reasonable requests for raises as long as the employees making the requests are prepared to justify their value.
With that idea in mind, let’s see how you can maximize your chances of getting a raise:
- Timing is important. Don’t ask for a raise during your annual performance review meeting. Unless you need to follow your employer’s established schedule for raises, make your request three or four months before your review, when a raise can be budgeted according to your performance. Another hint: try asking for your raise late in the week, preferably on a Thursday or Friday. Managers tend to be more responsive just before weekends
- Do not beg or plead. There should be no connection between your life challenges and the operation of the company you work for. Any assistance offered by your boss or the company you work for should be viewed as charity, not as remuneration for your work
- Add to your worth with a commitment. Earning a raise isn’t about the past; it’s about the future. You are proposing that the increased salary or sales commissions you earn over the next twelve months will be more than balanced by an increase in your value to the company. Make this point effectively, and you improve your chance for more money.
- Look for ways to gain leverage. Try to find some aspect of your work that is valuable and unique, and be prepared to describe it. If you are the only employee qualified to perform some key aspect of the business, or are responsible for generating substantial sales or profits and your income is out of line with your contribution, don’t assume that your boss is aware of it. Make sure it’s known.
- Keep the Three Ps in mind. Practice your pitch until you know what you are going to say in response to the questions you are likely to be asked. Understand the company’s perspective when it comes to awarding you a larger salary or commission. And be proactive by asking what it will take for you to earn the raise
- Be confident, not cocky or arrogant. Unless you are both serious and prepared, never threaten to look elsewhere for a job if your demands are not met. Empty threats do not help your case. In fact, any threat of this kind could end your career with your employer. Whenever
- Bring proof of your performance. Look for ways to prove that your work has improved over the past year. Suggest that your improved performance will extend into the months and years ahead, in line with the company’s goals. Put the facts on paper, or use a PowerPoint presentation if necessary. A written summary of your expectations and rationale will be more than convincing to your boss; it will be helpful if he or she has to go up a level or two to get approval for your raise
- Never make it personal. You’re talking business, not the unfairness of life or the perceived unfairness of your boss. Stay cool and calm while discussing your request
- Overcome the gender difference. If you have the ability, the attitude, the training, and the ambition to perform your job at the level your employer anticipates, your gender should never be an issue when seeking an appropriate salary level
- If all else fails, change may be good. If you are honestly convinced that refusal to deal with your salary request is unfair, perhaps it’s better for you to move on. But be sure to prepare for the move and avoid making a snap decision.