Finding a Passion for Selling

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I gave a speech yesterday in Aspen about the four major lessons I have accidentally learned about selling during my career: thinking outside-in, delivering value through knowledge, the critical importance of preparation, and being real.

As I worked on my remarks, however, I discovered a fifth lesson: it occurred to me that somewhere along my journey, I have found a passion for selling—for the practice, study, and teaching of the craft—that I never would have anticipated when I was younger.

In fact, I did everything I could early in my career to avoid selling. I thought it was beneath me, and I was also a little afraid of it because I thought I had no talent for it.

But life makes unexpected demands on us, and selling became a part of my job description despite my wishes. I flailed around in it for a bit (because the bank that said I had to do it didn’t provide any training), but gradually worked my way up to at least mediocrity just through trial and error and trying to use common sense.

As I’ve written before, I stumbled on the idea of outside-in thinking during a sales call on a prospect when I had to admit that I didn’t know why he should do business with me; to recover, I was forced to quickly think up some good questions and he opened right up. I soon learned that asking questions, while a good start, is not enough. At some point you need to take what you’ve learned about your customer and combine it with your own specialized knowledge to teach them something new that improves their situation.

I think it’s the first two lessons that seeded my passion for selling. By taking a genuine interest in my client’s success and studying hard to learn new ways to add value, I’ve gained the satisfaction of knowing I’m helping others; I’ve grown from the constant challenge; I’ve met thousands of interesting people.

Psychologists tell us that intrinsic motivation comes from autonomy, purpose and mastery. Selling has given me the first two and the chance daily to pursue the third. Incidentally, I’ve also made a decent living doing it.

At this point, it’s hard to imagine doing anything else, which would be quite a surprise to my younger self.

That’s one reason that I think the well-intentioned advice we give to young people today—to follow their passions—may be misguided. At their age, most don’t know what their passions are. Maybe it’s better to do the best job you can where you can, and find your passion in that.

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