When I started work in the editorial department of a popular kids’ magazine, the company’s president decided to have a professional sales trainer teach all of us the basics of closing a deal. He wasn’t Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross, but close.
Those of us in editorial thought this was a waste of our time—sales is the business of our marketing and ad sales staff, not writers and editors, right?
But the president was right, and we were wrong.
We were all in the business of selling. Some of us were selling magazine space; others were selling something even more valuable: ideas.
Good ideas need to be sold, not shared, because selling is the only way to keep the impact of your point under your control. Otherwise, you’re just throwing the idea into the discussion and hoping for impact.
Here are ways to make sure you’re selling and not just sharing your ideas.
Avoid the book report
Too many speakers don’t deliver speeches; they deliver book reports. You remember these from school—presentations that simply describe a subject but rarely make an argument.
They don’t convey the speaker’s stake in the subject, the subject’s relevance to the audience, or the subject’s impact. With credit to Simon Sinek, book reports certainly don’t get into the crucial “why.”
Think of it as the difference between a book’s table of contents and the blurb on the back. One shares the content; the other sells the value. In pure marketing, this is often referred to as focusing on the benefits versus the features of a product.
Book reports can take many forms in a workplace, from status reports to internal presentations to sales pitches. In each one, information is shared and even explained, but nothing is truly proposed or sold.
Start with selling statements
One clear sign of a share is this common opening:
“Today, I want to talk a little about X.”
Is this person selling anything? Seems like they're not, based on that introduction. Apparently, all he wants to do is throw out a few words and ideas and mix them with others’ words and ideas in the blind hope that some of them will stick and magically produce an action step.
Compare that to this seller's opening statement:
“Today, I’m going to show you why doing X will lead to Y.”
Consider the following example:
A former client of mine was in the business of selling branded merchandise like hats, brochures, signs, and pins, all featuring a client’s logo. I asked her to give me her best sales pitch. She laid out all her products and began to describe each one:
“See this hat? This hat will never collapse, is fully adjustable, and can feature your logo permanently stitched to the front. See this pin? It can feature a three-color logo and has a magnetic backing so it won’t ruin a shirt or jacket. This banner is made from special material that will resist liquids and wrinkles, and your logo can go all over it…”
She went on like that until she had no more items to describe.
I looked at her and told her she did a great job describing these products (think: book report), but there was one thing I never heard her say:
“If you buy my services, more people will be exposed to your brand, which will bring more people to your product, which will bring you more money.”
Often, I find the easiest way to make sure you’re selling a point is to incorporate one of three “power phrases":
- I propose…
- I recommend…
- I suggest…
The brilliance of these simple phrases is that they force the creation of a true point and, typically, a value proposition. As a result, people who use these power phrases are often seen as leaders—and eventually become them.
Insert these phrases when you communicate with your employees as well as supervisors. You’ll find your meetings ending with not just action steps but true momentum.
Always be selling
I visited a community fair a few months ago and beelined to a table run by my local animal shelter. Behind the table were three women, all in deep discussion about how many litter boxes you need for three cats. As I approached, they continued their conversation. Finally, I introduced myself.
"Hi," one replied.
"So, how are things going at the shelter? Are you crowded?"
"Not too bad right now, thankfully."
"Could you tell me about the shelter?"
She then told me where the shelter is, how many animals they have, their hours of operation, and their policies and numbers. When she was finished, she said, "Would you like a pin?"
I took the pin and left as they continued swapping cat stories.
Think of everything they could have encouraged me to do—sold me—on behalf of their driving mission:
- Get me to foster or adopt an animal
- Become a volunteer
- Contribute money
- Share their work on social media
None of those outcomes happened because they were too busy sharing– and waiting for the opportunity to fall into their laps—and not doing any selling.
The truth is, we're all in sales
All of us have ideas we need to convey with impact. Once you know your point, the next crucial act is selling it.
This doesn't mean every part of a presentation needs to be in the form of a sell—you can certainly provide data, stories, examples, history, humor, information, definitions, visuals and other elements that support your point. But when you hit the moment of delivering your most important takeaway, know that it deserves to be sold, not shared.
Joel Schwartzberg is the Senior Director of Strategic and Executive Communications for the ASPCA . A former national champion public speaker, Joel has been training corporate and individual clients to communicate more effectively since 2006.