HUGH CULVER

The Salesperson in You

Updated to Business on May 3, 2023.

“Never mistake a quantity of calls for a quality of salesmanship.” – David Ogilvy

The speaker before me is brilliant. 

They are an encyclopedia of knowledge, spilling out facts, statistics, and convincing arguments. Slide after slide delivered brilliant graphs and bullet lists that would make a university professor proud.

I’m in the audience, waiting for my slot in the agenda, furiously taking notes. And I’m thinking this is great stuff! 

At some point, I notice a person next to me pick up their phone. Next, I see someone to my left doodling on their lunchtime napkin. I glance around the conference room, and spot more people distracted. I think “This is a tough crowd!”

I’m up next. Undeterred by what I’ve seen, I launch into my speech.

I see smiles, people are leaning in, and laughing on cue. As I move through my material I briefly wonder what happened to the tough crowd. The audience appears enthusiastic – I see them taking notes, and leaving their phones on the table. I close to a standing ovation, my client is thrilled, and people line up to buy my book.

Here’s the difference between the morning speaker and me. They were telling – showing us how much they knew, while I was selling – showing how much I cared. If you want to influence and persuade an audience, you need to sell your solution.

You are always selling

Every presentation is different. It could be a keynote speech to a live audience, an online webinar, or a one-on-one sales call. And every presenter has a different approach. Some employ lots of facts, building convincing arguments, others are gifted storytellers, while still others ask lots of questions and are great listeners.

When it comes to getting results, only one skill makes the most difference. Selling.

A bad rap

Selling gets a bad rap—we think of pitch artists flogging cheap earrings on HSN or Alec Baldwin’s ABC lecture in Glengarry Glen Ross. Meanwhile, widely-admired influencers like Oprah, Obama, and Branson are simply talented and charismatic.

They are all selling.

Selling isn’t about pushing products on unsuspecting victims. Selling, Dan Pink writes in To Sell is Human, is about “improving another’s life and, in turn, improving the world.” When you offer a solution to an ongoing, painful problem, you aren’t pushing anything – you are improving another’s life

Selling starts by pointing a spotlight at a problem and offering a path forward to a better, brighter future. Your audience hasn’t been there—they have resistance. Your role is to help them step over that resistance and start on their journey, often holding their hand, and reminding them that now is the time to travel.

Five rules for selling

In my next book Closing the Gap, I have 10 rules for delivering the perfect presentation and persuading an audience to buy. 

Here are the first five.

1. Start with the problem

Every audience has a gap between current reality (where they are at in life, work, money, love, health, habits, etc.) and future reality (where they want to be) – that is their ‘problem.’ They might not talk about it, or add it to a to-do list, but they live with the pain it gives them. If you want people to buy your solution, you need to start with the problem. “Always make the gap,” writes presentation expert Nancy Duarte, “as big as possible.” 

2. Close the gap

Your value is measured by how effectively you help your audience close their gap in leadership, health, relationships, money, or needlepoint. They might laugh at your jokes, participate in exercises – even take notes. But, unless they do at least one thing differently tomorrow, you are relegated to entertainment. Action always speaks more (and pays better) than words.

3. Be likable

It may seem obvious, but people are more likely to be influenced and persuaded by someone they like. “If people like you,” writes famed salesman Zig Ziglar ”they’ll listen to you.” Start by uncovering common areas, like education, family status, or past experiences (travel, work, hobbies.) Be generous with compliments, gifts of appreciation, and acts of kindness. Being likable goes a long way to shorten the distance to a sale.

4. Less is better

Actors like Paul Newman, Sean Connery, and Helen Mirren are brilliant at delivering every line of their script as if it is a complete story. They know less is best and how a simple statement, well delivered will always outmuscle lots of little attempts to make a point. Your audience will only remember a very small percentage of your message. Know what that is and make it count.

5. Teach with stories

Stories are irresistible—they are “built into the human plan,” writes Margaret Atwood. People remember stories six to seven times more than facts, statistics, bullet points, or clumsy acronyms that spell out “LEADERSHIP.” When you tell a story your audience leans in as a movie of characters, scenery, and drama develops in their mind. Best of all, stories can open an otherwise impenetrable door for your solution to walk through. Become a storyteller.

I never thought of myself as a salesperson. 

In tourism, my partners and I wanted to solve the problem of safe, reliable access to some of the most remote places on earth. In my keynotes, I shine a spotlight on a problem my audience needs to fix and then hand them the tools. With these posts, I ask for a few minutes of readers’ time in return for a moment to reflect on opportunities that might be overlooked.

So, I guess I’m a salesperson after all.

If you made it this far, you might as well read these:

3 daily rituals that will make you rich
A Better Way to Win More Sales
How I made $2.1 Million in sales by shutting up

Lemonade stand by John Angel on Unsplash