I am not a “Salesman”

For two decades, my primary professional role was Sales. Yes, I did marketing as well, and some biz dev strategic stuff, and some management, but my primary role was getting business.

I succeeded. And never felt comfortable doing it.

used-car-salesmanI’d see “real” salespeople – folks who could establish rapport at the drop of the hat, or relentlessly drive a deal to its conclusion, or blast past yearly quotas by July, and I’d feel thoroughly inferior. Yet there I was, in Sales (ummm…high-end healthcare stuff, not like the guy you see over to the right!)

Over time, I came to realize that my discomfort stemmed from a mis-match – pushing a product, or hitting numbers, or winning a deal, simply didn’t drive me. I want to help people. I want to think things through, and solve problems. I care more about telling the truth than making the sale. I am an analyzer, not a promoter; a native introvert, not a schmoozer.

But, people bought from me because they trusted me. So I succeeded anyway. Until hitting the wall and finally admitting to myself, “I’m not a Salesman.”

This was a liberating realization. Now I could be free to tap into what I truly was – a problem solver. A resource-finder. A connector. A consultant. And I decided to go off on my own and create my own job/role/company built around precisely those things.

Can I sell? Actually, yes. I can be very persuasive. People listen to me and follow my advice – not because I’m a promoter, but because I’m a listener and a problem-solver. And is there a place in this shark-infested business world for someone who wants to help other people, for someone who cares about doing what’s right, for someone who wants to build a network in order to do good?

Yes, there is. And that’s why I’m sharing this. Are you mis-matched in your role, driven by something other than what that job requires? Get honest – don’t be afraid to look in the mirror and say, “I’m not a….” Then work on identifying who/what you really are, what your value-add truly is.

Perhaps you can make a new professional life for yourself. It’s worth the effort, time, and risk. And if you do it, let me know if I’ve “sold” you!

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About Steve Woodruff
Steve Woodruff is a blogger, a Connection Agent, and a consultant in the pharma/healthcare industry. He specializes in helping people and companies make mutually beneficial connections.

12 Responses to I am not a “Salesman”

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  2. ambernaslund says:

    I’m sure I won’t be the only one to tell you how much this resonates with me.

    I was a professional fundraiser for nearly 7 years. I loved the personal aspects of my job – meeting with donors, meeting with companies, connecting with the people that benefited from the organizations I worked with. But I hated the pitch. I always felt so odd with the “ask”. Ick. I was successful, but I was uncomfortable. Likewise, because I could build relationships, people gave based on trust and our connection to the organization.

    I did professional business development, too. And again, I was successful. But I wasn’t at home. I did client services, too, and that was much more of a fit for me, but I missed the satisfaction of knowing that I’d brought a client on board in the first place based on a relationship we’d built.

    And as a marketing director, I was always frustrated by being behind the curtain on communication and not interacting with the people that actually should be shaping that outreach.

    Part of what social media has done for me is validate that hybrid between communications, business development, and customer service. It’s the in between that takes the best elements of these roles and jettisons the old ideas of how they’re “supposed” to work. For the first time in my career, I feel at home.

    And I, for one, am so glad that you’ve been brave enough to find the place that works for you. It’ll make you successful by default. 🙂 Cheers, Steve.

  3. Lewis Green says:

    I, too, tried sales and once worked as a public school teacher. The first kept me awake nights; the second put me to sleep during the day. (I’m kinda in the A-type category.) Fortunately, both occurred decades past, and I have always recognized bad fits quickly and never hesitated to leave a job if it wasn’t working. Imagine all the poor souls who stick around forever just to get a paycheck. I couldn’t do that.

  4. Pam Martin says:

    “And is there a place in this shark-infested business world for someone who wants to help other people, for someone who cares about doing what’s right, for someone who wants to build a network in order to do good?” Well Steve, yes there is, and amazingly enough that place can be in… wait for it…. SALES!

    The worlds you describe in your post aren’t mutually exclusive and I believe that truly successful sales people realize that. The validity lies in questioning the promise or solution that you’re selling, not painting the sales profession with the large brush of “pushing a product, or hitting numbers, or winning a deal”

    Not everyone is cut out for sales. I too “care more about telling the truth than making the sale” but I also realize that without the sale- all the discussion is just rhetoric.

  5. Jane Chin says:

    I went into pharma sales and barely made it through the year. I couldn’t do what the job explicitly and implicitly required me to do. The worst part was that my numbers weren’t even true to my performance. When I started working less hard in sales I did better than when I was busting my butt working even on the weekends.

  6. @Pam, you bring up a good point – my major purpose in writing was to address the mis-match issue, but I perhaps implied that it’s not possible to do all that good stuff in sales. Ooops – of course, for someone who has a right heart and a calling to sales, then it can be done (and more power to you!). I just didn’t have that calling, to remain in a sales position per se (or for that matter, in management, for the same reason – not natively wired to do that task well either!
    Thanks for visiting…
    @jane, @lewis, @amber, you already know how much I value each of you!

  7. Brett says:

    Definitely know where you’re coming from on almost every word of this.

    First, it’s interesting how well we “sell” when we don’t think we’re “selling.”

    I was a sales manager for a Xerox agency out of college. I was OK at it, but it didn’t drive me. Hitting my numbers wasn’t enough; it was just copiers, after all.

    In the meantime, I decided to build a website for my band, and loved it. Not so much the technical side, but the communication side of things. I would willingly stay up into the wee hours of the morning working on it.

    I realized that, while I can sell, it’s not what drives me.

    Specific to sales and marketing, it’s hard for the two to be distinct within the confines of most businesses today.

  8. Paul Fountaine says:

    Having worked in sales and being self employed for nearly 3 decades this struck a note with me. I have had a decent amount of success selling, but have never fit into the “sales” guy image you speak about.

    It never made sense to me to sell something that wasn’t a good value, or that didn’t help the buyer. So I have caused more than a little frustration for the higher ups when I wouldn’t conform to their idea of what / how to sell.

    The role I feel more comfortable with today is that of a sales manager / coach, as there is no shortage of short-sighted sales people being trained by corporate America with all kinds of silly unproductive sales techniques and habits.

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  10. Michelle says:

    Hi Steve,
    I would comment that the slight introvert while uncomfortable at selling, often comes across as genuine and approachable. Especially to another native introvert.

  11. Geoff Morris says:

    Steve, I loved your article, and I liked reading the following comments from you guys!

    I feel the same; I love selling, negotiating and helping people but only in my own honest way. I don’t feel motivated to necessary make lots of calls because “it’s a number’s game” – in fact I think when you try and push yourself to do more volume for the sake of it, depending upon what you’re selling I think it may be worse because you focus on your number stats and that becomes your main focus rather than truly listening to your prospects, being more selective and finding buying signs… and following up on people as individuals by asking relevant questions rather than with rigid linear script.
    People who trust you WILL volunteer information of what they are looking for also without being coerced by set questions.

    Also – I thinking sounding like a sales person only mostly seems to appeal to Managers and Sales Managers (maybe resellers). I thought this was just in the UK! When you sell to end users they hate being coerced and want to feel comfortable buying from you.

    And yes Paul… WHY are managers so short sighted to base their judgments on what they perceive good sales people to be like and yet ignore all the other variables about what makes a person BUY!!

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