“Who would rather not be called a salesman?”


Five people in our class of 20 raised their hand in response to that question on our first day of sales training at IBM. Mine was one of them. Not coincidentally, those hands belonged to the 5 youngest IBMers in the room.

Selling, as I would learn over the next 2 weeks, had nothing to do with back-slapping hand-shakers in hound’s-tooth jackets with loud ties, porkpie hats, toothy grins and big expense accounts. This was the era of the IBM 3-piece, dark blue suit, white shirt, conservative tie and wing-tip shoes. (I may be dating myself here.) It was about asking customers and prospects the kinds of questions they wanted to be asked so that they could talk about becoming more effective, more efficient, more profitable—and more successful.

IBM had taught us what our capabilities were. Now we were being taught how to listen, how to present and how to target our solutions. The better we listened, the more relevant and more welcome our solutions, and the greater the likelihood that someone would buy them.

That was and still is consultative selling and relationship building. It worked because everybody won. IBM changed our perspective on selling permanently. It also taught us that business is a 1-to-1, face-to-face transaction and that people do business with people they like. The greater the interest we showed in what our customer needed, the more the customer liked us. And the record shows that nobody did it better than Big Blue.

For all practical purposes, job search and prospecting for business are one and the same. It takes time to build a relationship because it takes time to build credibility. Understanding what your customer needs isn’t about flattery; it’s about genuinely wanting to help make somebody’s life easier and bottom line fatter.

If you believe that you’ve accumulated enough education, knowledge and experience to do that—or will—you’re halfway there. The other half is putting that information where it will do you and your client/future employer/prospect the most good: on his or her desk or his or her screen. Researching and preparing a winning presentation and business case for hiring you will be hard work. But it’ll lay the foundation for future business whether you’re on your own payroll, someone else’s, or on his or her list of approved vendors.

A résumé is neither a proposal nor a business case. It’s a brochure. Unless you do your homework, it’s not likely that anyone is going to see themself or the solution to their problem reflected in it. That will take a carefully thought-out, customized cover letter and addendum that speaks directly to the person to whom you’re trying to peddle your wares. The same applies to your persona on LinkedIn and to any other social media you may be using.

Now for Side “B”.

You could usually count on an IBM business card to generate one audience. From that point on, the sales rep was on his or her own. IBM had competitors, those competitors had solutions, and not every IBM proposal was rewarded with an order. IBM customers had the inalienable right to not package their needs and wants to dovetail neatly with IBM’s offerings and they exercised it. IBM still has competitors.

Job seekers may not be able to find work in their “chosen field”. Customers are under no obligation to help university and other graduates pay off their student loans. The secret to finding work whether as a self-employed consultant or salaried employee is to position yourself to address the employer’s “chosen field” or some consumer or industrial need: the sooner the better. If you’re going to be starting Grade 11 in the fall, now would be an excellent time to start.

There’s been considerable discussion and anxiety about the role and place of the Arts graduate in today’s technological society. My colleague Bruce Stewart has written some excellent posts on the subject. Please read them. He’s also written excellent posts on entrepreneurialism. Please read those, too.

Technology may be at the heart of developed societies, but we can’t get the job done with technology alone. Brilliant, game-changing perspectives and the business and academic opportunities that flow from them aren’t the exclusive purview of technological disciplines. How many times have we heard about intuitive computing that isn’t as intuitive as we thought? Who are the ultimate consumers of technology if not human beings? What else do human beings consume?

Companies may be prepared to concede that seeing their internal operations and markets through the lens of the humanities as well as through the STEM lens might be in their best interest. Young people in North America have been staying away from information technology in droves. Some would like to blame the IT industry for not promoting itself well enough. But is it possible that a society that puts tablet computers, smartphones and the Internet into the hands of children who aren’t old enough to be able to reach the accelerator and brake pedals has grown blasé?

As of this writing, Googling “wearable computing” generated 9.2 million hits. There are already vacancies. Here’s what Apple’s up to right now.

There will always be a market for ideas and a need for someone to sell them. Whether the world beats a path to your door because you’re onto what the Next Big Thing will be, or you know someone who does and you’re excited at the prospect of helping them develop it, you’re going to have to let the world know.

The Next Big Thing could come from the likes of Apple or Google or a garage around the corner. Someone’s going to have to sell it, but they’ll have to sell themself first. Or would you rather not be called a sales rep?

If you have questions or comments, brickbats or bouqets, PDD would love to hear from you.

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