How To Sell (If You Hate Sales)

The Ikigai of teaching as a way to sell.

Cover photo by Jerry Silfwer (Instagram)

How to sell something—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.” For me, that would be, “I hate to sell, but I love having sold.” 1As often is the case with famous quotes, many of them cannot be attributed to the ones who allegedly said or wrote them. According to this article by Jason Kottke, Dorothy Parker probably never said … Continue reading

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

Here goes:

Table of Contents

    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 isn’t just done by PR professionals. 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 selling article ideas to journalists over the phone. Over and over again.

    I remember locking myself into the bathroom to breathe for a couple of 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 I was 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”. For me, 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 even have to feel like sales.

    1 As often is the case with famous quotes, many of them 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.


    1. Great post Jerry. 
      The formula works for me as well. I found out that helping people is a great way of selling (more) ski lessons to people when I worked as a ski teacher. I used to hate asking people if they wanted to buy ski lessons but just by giving a way a few tips in the slope led to that many people bought a ski lesson or two without me asking the question – just helping them led to me selling ski lessons. 
      So I totally agree with you – helping people is a great way of selling stuf!

    2. This information works especially well for introverted people.  Using the “help” line really works.  I can prove that.  Thanks for the great post.  Keep them coming!

    3. nudgeme Indeed helping is the way to go for sure! In fact it’s pretty much the only way I know, how about you?

    4. This is a key part of our Spark training… where we train someone on the agency side to be the key relationship builder with prospective clients. Not selling, not pushy, but being there, helpful, interested and most importantly… listening!
      A great reminder! Thank you!


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