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How To Sell in B2B (If You Hate Sales)

The Ikigai of teaching as a way to sell.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer

How to sell in B2B — even if you hate selling.

Some people like to sell, but I’m not one of those people. I hate to sell.

Or, to para­phrase Dorothy Parker’s fam­ous say­ing, “I hate to write, but I love hav­ing writ­ten.” That would be, “I hate to sell, but I love hav­ing sold.” 1As often is the case with fam­ous quotes, many can­not be attrib­uted to the ones who allegedly said or wrote them. According to this art­icle by Jason Kottke, Dorothy Parker prob­ably nev­er said or … Continue read­ing

In this blog art­icle, I’ll show you the path of selling that I found to be the most helpful.

Here goes:

I Respect Salespeople 

Don’t get me wrong: I respect the art of selling immensely. To me, salespeople are her­oes who keep the wheels of our eco­nomy turn­ing. Public rela­tions is just a lubricant. 

But selling isn’t just done by salespeople, much like PR pro­fes­sion­als don’t just do PR. We must all com­mu­nic­ate — and we must all sell, wheth­er it’s our products, ser­vices, or ourselves. Fresh out of uni­ver­sity, I quickly real­ised that my lack of sales chops would be a ser­i­ous problem.

During this peri­od, I listened to many self-help tapes on becom­ing a bet­ter sales­man, and I watched Glengarry Glen Ross on repeat. 

ABC, you know.
Always. Be Closing.

Selling is a Rough Business

My first years in the industry were spent selling art­icle ideas to journ­al­ists over the phone. Over and over again. 

I remem­ber lock­ing myself in the bath­room to breathe for a few minutes before going at it again. Life as a twenty-some­thing PR juni­or look­ing to make a name for him­self was rough.

I often fan­tas­ised about pur­su­ing anoth­er career when sit­ting in the sub­way on my way home after a day’s work. I was sleep-deprived with nose bleeds and bolt­ing headaches. 

Instead, I dreamt of becom­ing a teach­er. “What could be more mean­ing­ful than teach­ing,” I thought. 

Teaching, it seemed, was my Ikigai.

Teaching as Ikigai

Ikigai is a Japanese term that trans­lates to “the reas­on for being” or “why to get up in the morn­ing”. Teaching seemed to be at the centre of the Ikigai Venn diagram. 

I acquired pas­sion­ate opin­ions about teach­ing at an early age. 

Perhaps iron­ic­ally, I was­n’t pop­u­lar amongst my teach­ers in school. I jumped at any chance to pro­voke and chal­lenge. I had ideas about know­ledge and how to present it, and I always felt that I would do a bet­ter job than my teachers.

During my uni­ver­sity years, my girl­friend stud­ied to be a teach­er in his­tory, polit­ics, and reli­gion. True to form, I read her course lit­er­at­ure, ran­ging from Michel Foucault to Jean Piaget. 

From all of these books, this quote by Danish exist­en­tial­ist Søren Kierkegaard struck a chord with me:

If one is truly to suc­ceed in lead­ing a per­son to a spe­cif­ic place, one must first and fore­most take care to find him where he is and begin there.

This is the secret in the entire art of help­ing.

Anyone who can­not do this is him­self under a delu­sion if he thinks he is able to help someone else. In order truly to help someone else, I must under­stand more than he — but cer­tainly first and fore­most under­stand what he under­stands.

If I do not do that, then my great­er under­stand­ing does not help him at all. If I nev­er­the­less want to assert my great­er under­stand­ing, then it is because I am vain or proud, then basic­ally instead of bene­fit­ing him I really want to be admired by him.

But all true help­ing begins with a hum­bling.

The help­er must first humble him­self under the per­son he wants to help and thereby under­stand that to help is not to dom­in­ate but to serve, that to help is a not to be the most dom­in­at­ing but the most patient, that to help is a will­ing­ness for the time being to put up with being in the wrong and not under­stand­ing what the oth­er understands.”

How To Sell Without Selling

Late one night on the sub­way, through yet anoth­er bolt­ing head­ache, I remembered the Søren Kierkegaard quote. 

If I want to teach as a humble ser­vant, maybe I could try to approach selling in the same way. 

Sure, who­ever I’m selling to must agree on some form of com­pens­a­tion first, but to me, that’s only a minor con­sid­er­a­tion along the much more crit­ic­al road to truly help­ing someone achieve their goals and ful­fil their potential.

And so my Ikigai ended up chan­ging my whole approach to sales. To me, selling is nev­er about the deal. It’s about helping.

Now, I think this mind­set works because I genu­inely think that I have some­thing more valu­able to offer than just the mere exchange of money and time. I offer some­thing that will help.

Put anoth­er way: If you’re hon­est and con­fid­ent about help­ing people and organ­isa­tions, selling does­n’t have to feel like sales.

Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing it with oth­er PR- and com­mu­nic­a­tion pro­fes­sion­als. For ques­tions or PR sup­port, con­tact me via jerry@​spinfactory.​com.

1 As often is the case with fam­ous quotes, many can­not be attrib­uted to the ones who allegedly said or wrote them. According to this art­icle by Jason Kottke, Dorothy Parker prob­ably nev­er said or wrote, “I hate to write, but I love to have written.”
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at KIX Index and Spin Factory. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo has nothing to do with public relations, of course. I share for no other reason that I happen to enjoy photography. Call it an “ornamental distraction”—and a subtle reminder to appreciate nature.

The cover photo has


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