Sometimes a change of circumstances provides the opportunity to take stock. To review where you’ve been and what you’ve done. A moment, a marker. A time to ask questions. Given the state of the world and a need to keep my brain occupied, I’ve been in reflective mood. What have I learned in the last decade out here in self-employed/small business land? How have I grown? Have I changed what I set out to be when I left the in-house safety of a 9-5 (okay 8-7) job? I was surprised by the answer. It seems that during that time, without even really noticing it I’ve become a sales coach.
A sales coach!
But I’m the story guy. The creativity chap. That person who helps others find, craft and share their stories. The one who helps teams connect or individuals communicate. The one who grabs everything he does in his theatre work and brings a little sparkle into the business world. What’s any of that got to do with selling?
Turns out it, a whole bunch.
I’ve been a sales coach before. I spent a year working with a salesforce that sold advertising space in what was at the time the nation’s highest profile free classified ads paper. It never felt like sales though. We were firmly on the consultative side of the selling equation, even though the teams were in direct sales roles. Stories were part of that world, but not really a conscious strategy or tactic.
Since that time, including the nine years I’ve been running my own business, stories have become the centre of my work. It started as leadership development, then employee engagement, business writing, creative action, pitching, presenting… the list goes on. But sales was an area I avoided. Perhaps I’d built up a (completely conscious) bias about what a salesperson was like. They seemed ‘Alpha’ and driven – all very Glengarry Glen Ross. A world that I believed I couldn’t connect to.
What I’ve discovered, of course, is that that view is completely wrong. We’re all in sales now, accidental salespeople. We have been for quite some time. And most people with the word sales in their title have to face increasingly sophisticated and informed customers who know a hard-sell when they see it. Connecting an audience to what you’re selling is a nuanced business. It requires a chameleon-like ability to shift your language in order to help a potential customer see what you have to offer. Authenticity is key if we hope to build lasting relationships with clients. The stories you have to craft and share need to demonstrate that authenticity, whether one to one or at the brand level.
In the last three years it turns out the majority of my work has related to sales in some way. And in the last year I’d say that 90% of the work I’ve done has been coaching individuals to sell their ideas, products or services. I’ve used collaborative narrative techniques to help individuals find and generate solutions that speak clearly to their audience’s worldview. I’ve helped them develop story structures to pitch an idea or service to internal and external clients. And I’ve shared storytelling tools that they can add to any content to get their audience to see the advantages of what the individual or brand is selling.
I’ll admit that in the past I’ve not been the best at selling myself. Perhaps it was because I was applying story techniques to such diverse areas that I was often rendered silent when asked the question: so, what do you do for a living?
I’d trot out the same line about working with storytelling.
They’d look blankly at me.
They’d nod, smile, swiftly get the attention of one of the catering staff to supply them with a stronger drink, and then move on.
Now, at the next network event, I’ll proudly state, “who me? Oh, I’m an Accidental Sales Coach.” Let’s see where that takes the conversation.