An Introvert's Guide To Selling Yourself (Or Anything Else)
"Get out there!" "Dominate." "Always be closing."
When we think of sales, we think of the iconic image of Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross. “Put that coffee down!” he yells at a terrified Jack Lemmon, Baldwin’s Alpha lumbering over Lemmon’s Beta male, with Donald Trump-esque predation. “You can’t close shit, you are shit,” he sums up, wearing a watch that costs more than Lemmon’s car. I call this the “fuck you” stance of sales.
Like the patriarchy, the image of the salesman as an alpha male asshole is internalized into our work culture. Worse, the obnoxious, dominant salesperson can be extremely effective in communicating power. But here's the thing: What makes someone a great entrepreneur can make them a crappy person.
Because we think success is about being a shark, we forget that kindness, caring, and pride in your work is one of the most powerful tools. We worry, as women, we’ll be stereotyped and our work devalued. But the gifted introvert salesperson is a secret weapon for any organization or small business.
Bathroom hiders (my term for introverts, shy and socially anxious people like me,) face many common hurdles when it comes to selling a product or negotiating a deal.
But know that your wonderful empathy, plus a commitment to doing great work, make you a strong salesperson and negotiator. You just need to stop trying to be someone else.
I learned how to sell by watching people around me; when I ran marketing departments I was constantly being sold to, and I tried to pay attention.
Many gifted salespeople come up through the ranks selling like everyone else, until they reach a point where they’re confident enough to sell like themselves. And that doesn’t have to mean playing hardball, like the real estate agents we watch on Million Dollar Listing, or the cast of any number of films and TV shows about Wall St or Washington DC.
When I started my own business and had to start selling, rather than being sold to, I tried to mimic everything I’d learned. I tried to act like an alpha dog.
The ask...without asking
When I meet someone, even a client, and I can tell they aren’t happy where they are, my brain starts creating new career opportunities for them. Ironically, this has turned out to be a great skill for biz dev. Sometimes I have even placed clients in a new role—and then I get to work with them again!
The most successful business owners I know always go the extra mile and build towards that longer term relationship. But it’s not always directly related to their business. Some are excellent sources of recipes, travel ideas, child-rearing techniques…even tarot readings.
Discovering the interconnection between client work and life can foster both professional and personal success. The key for introverts is to sell with authenticity and passion. Build loyalty by being interested in the actual client and what’s going on in their world.
Send articles, books, magazines—anything that you think will be of interest to either a past client, current client, or prospective client—with no ask attached to it. Paradoxically, that leads to more sales than an ask ever would.
Craftspeople care about their work long after the contract is signed, while salespeople just cash the check and move on. Hands-down, the easiest way for a hermit to keep business going is to do great work and then figure out some painless ways to drive word of mouth among happy customers or clients. Here are four steps toward building a craft-based business:
Check your sales.
Obviously, you shouldn’t lie to a client (although a little embellishment is expected), but it’s just as important not to lie to yourself. You need to look at how you feel while you’re actually pitching. Do you feel like you’re saying what you think the client wants to hear, or faking what you think you should be saying? Does getting the project give you a sinking feeling? Sales are about more than a healthy spreadsheet (though that’s great!).
Not only should you check in with clients as a good business practice, you should want to check in—to see how they’re doing, to let them know what you’re doing, and, most important, to see if they’re happy. If not, you should offer to fix it. A good craftsperson wants what they build to be working for the client, not only to lock down the sale.
It’s better to set clear boundaries about resources and time right from the beginning, because, in the long term, a client respects a contractor who can deliver the work, not only a promise.
Examine your clientele.
Are you proud of those you work with? If you’re not, chances are, you’re not proud of the work either. That doesn’t mean everything you do needs to be glamorous and high-profile, or the work you’ve always dreamed of.
You can even take on a stinker for the pay, from time to time. But you should take as much pride in a teeny, low-paying, low-profile project as you do a major one—and treat the client the same.
Pitching for Introverts
As BlogHer co-founder Elisa Camahort puts it, the first part of a great pitch is owning your expertise. When you own your expertise, you are very clear in why you are an expert in what you do, you express it clearly, people feel it, and the benefits of working with you become clear. Being a master craftsperson means you know exactly why and how you own your expertise.
Selling like yourself requires a lot of practice. It must feel authentic, but it must also be effective. However you feel it, you have to be able to put it into words, and these words should be flexible. And you must be able to pitch for your company, a specific product you sell, or your professional services—for instance, as an expert speaker, writer, or teacher.
How? One of the most effective tools an early boss taught me was to develop a “boilerplate” pitch.
This is about 200 words of focused bio sentences mixed with a lot of specifics. It’s your “Who I am and what I will do for you.” If you have the basic language, you’ll be amazed how it will carry you through many growth experiences in your career.
And, if you’re worried it makes you a braggart to sell yourself, don’t. Experts offer good counsel and get things done.
Excerpted from Hiding In The Bathrooom: An Introvert’s Roadmap for Getting Out There (When You’d Rather Stay Home). Copyright © 2017 by Morra Aarons-Mele by permission of Dey Street Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Words: Morra Aarons-Mele
Photo: Daria Kobayashi Ritch