How to turn sales from necessary evil to moral responsibility

I don’t know about you, but I always hated the thought of having to do sales and marketing. Coming from the artistic world these things are almost curse words, a necessary evil that one wishes weren’t necessary: Sales, and Marketing.

In art, you are pouring a lot of yourself and your identity into the end product, so to Sell or to Market becomes associated as somehow putting a price on yourself. Going around marketing, tooting your own horn and asking for the sale, runs eerily close to prostitution. Being a sell out. Compromising your integrity.

All in all, not associated with positive concepts.

In the artist’s ideal world, one only has to DO and everyone will magically know about it and understand its value without any other effort from the maker/creator/performer. This way of thinking is not only common among artists, it’s very prevalent among makers of any kind and the source of many disappointments.

Because that, unfortunately, is not how the world works.

Forcing myself to learn about sales and marketing

When I was starting out freelancing and wanted to make a living as a developer, I realised I was clearly lacking in these shunned areas. I needed clients in order to have work, and to get clients I needed to know about sales and marketing.

I had to dive in to the “evil land”.

One of the places where I found a lot of good material was Brennan Dunn’s site Double Your Freelancing. After reading many of his free articles, I also ended up taking his online course Double Your Freelancing Rate and joining that community.

Here I found something that was totally different from what I had imagined selling and marketing would be like. Honest. Respectful. True to one’s core values. And a genuine desire to make the client’s or customer’s life better, always looking for the win-win situation. This was something I could stand behind.

I followed the rabbit trail of value based pricing, listening to podcasts like the Art of Value with Kirk Bowman and Ditching Hourly with Jonathan Stark. While many concepts were becoming clear for me and I understood the principles, actually having to talk to people and sell to them was still a huge resistance point.

One thing that finally made it click for me was a podcast interview whose episode I’ve unfortunately forgotten, but it was an interview about having sales conversations and I’m pretty sure it was Liston Witherill who was talking. What he said blew my mind.

The selling as serving mindset

When you’re a solo entrepreneur or part of an agency or small to mid-size company, the resources for marketing will always be limited. Either by your own time or by the money you can spend on it. This will by definition mean you are not going for the mass market. You will never be able to reach “everyone”, so let’s just stop even trying.

This also has some benefits. Not being mass market means you don’t need to play by the mass market rules, where you broadcast your message over the world regardless of whether anyone listens or cares.

It’s a mindset difference. Going from seeing selling as pushing things people don’t need onto them, to seeing selling as serving. Selling is serving, if you are doing your due diligence right.

Suddenly marketing becomes matchmaking more than anything else. To find and reach those who have the problem you can solve. Your job is simply to serve them by solving their problem.

If you are giving an offer to the world that is needed, if you can solve a painful problem people have, then you owe it to them to let them know about it. Talking about what you do then becomes closer to an obligation rather than egocentric.

Marketing in this context is explaining to people what you do and what problem you solve, perhaps through content on your website and social media. Selling is the process where you meet a person and they talk about their struggle and together you find out if you can solve that particular pain.

It was this sales conversation that the interview I listened to was about. The interviewee was talking about the most important skill for having effective sales meetings. And it turns out, the most important skill for a salesperson is the same as for an actor or performer.

Can you guess what it is?

Nope, it’s not about pretending or playing a role. Quite the opposite.

What the actor and the salesperson have in common

I had a period of my life when I binge-watched the TV series Inside The Actors Studio, where James Lipton interviews famous actors about their craft. The beginning of the series started with the audience being current students of the Actors Studio, and the interviewed actors were alumni of the school invited back to talk about how they approach their craft. Later seasons and episodes invited anyone who “made it” in Hollywood, including non-alumni and non-US actors.

I watched the interviews of many of those considered to be the biggest movie stars. Meryl Streep, Clint Eastwood, Glenn Close, Paul Newman. It was fascinating to listen to how they approach the craft of acting in front of camera.

Simply put, I love listening to anyone who has mastered something talking about their craft or skill. And as a stage performer myself, I could relate very well to the artistic aspects but also appreciate and come to an understanding of the differences between the live medium vs recorded.

Watching interview after interview, there was a theme that just kept recurring. Many of the questions James Lipton asked the guests were the same, to find each person’s perspective and individual point of view. But one question repeatedly would get the same response.

If you want to hear one example of the answer, go find the episode where Clint Eastwood appears on Inside the Actors Studio and listen to what he says.

The question (phrased a bit differently):

What is the most important skill to learn for an actor?

And the answer?


Awareness in the present moment

Now here I was, listening to business podcasts, and hearing exactly the same advice – but from the perspective of sales!

The most important skill to cultivate in sales, is listening.

Listening to the person in front of you, not jumping to conclusions, not trying to push your own agenda, script, or your own preconceived notion upon them. Honestly listening to what they say, and act/react accordingly.

It also applies in marketing. What does the other party want? What problems do they have? Is it something I can solve? Should I mention what I do, are they likely to be interested or not? Perhaps they know someone else who would be interested?

Listening is easier when you are in research mode, like gathering written data or doing user interviews and the like. But to be in a synchronous conversation with somebody – and you want the outcome to be in a certain direction – that’s when taking time to listen can be really hard. But oh so important.

This requires awareness, presence in the moment, and a fair bit of trust in yourself and what you offer. Both acting and selling requires you to fully be in the present moment, and actively listen to what the other person says.

I can hardly claim that I have turned into a master salesperson. I don’t know if I’m ever going to enjoy it either. Perhaps with enough practice I can reach a level where I’m more or less comfortable.

But what happened is that I have stopped cringing at the thought of doing Sales or Marketing.

If I listen well, I won’t feel like pushing snake oil or attempting to persuade otherwise reluctant people to pay me. Because I won’t even try. I don’t need to tell everyone about my services, only those who are likely to be interested and benefit from them.

I also want to extend my aim towards the impact I have on my surroundings – whether you call it the community, the environment, society, the world or the universe. A solution that is a win for the seller, a win for the buyer, and a win for the world as a whole. Going for win-win-win, being mindful of the ripples I leave behind me.

If all I need to do is to genuinely want the other person’s life to be a bit better, and to listen to their struggle, pains and problems? And match their pain with a solution of mine?

Well, I can do that. And I think you can do that too, even if you hate the thought of sales and marketing.

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