Sales, Sales, Everything is Sales — Including Leadership

If you see sales as manipulation, the title of this article may make you bristle.However, if you see sales as service, it will make perfect sense. Rather than the art of convincing people to do things they don’t want to do, real sales is the art of matching product with need. In order to do that, an effective sales person must first understand the need — perhaps better than the prospect — and if that need can’t be met, great sales people build a relationship and help the prospect figure out their options. Oversimplified? Perhaps, but accurate nonetheless.

Last week, we talked about how one woman wanted to change her superior’s mind. One thing I noticed from our conversation was that, when I suggested this was a ‘sales’ problem,’ it really put her on her heels. She did public service work and most definitely did not see herself as a salesperson, and therefore did not see this as a sales problem. But as you will recall, that’s exactly what it was. Her superior had a problem: how to put the right leader in the organization in a manner that would succeed. She had the perfect solution, but the prospect couldn’t make the connection — until she “sold” it.

Here’s the thing we want to remember about leadership, at all levels: leading means taking on different roles. Leading means filling different shoes. Leading means being what you need to be when people need you to be it. And sometimes that can feel jarring or uncomfortable, especially if it goes against the identity we hold for ourselves. If you don’t come from a sales background, it can be challenging to see yourself as such, but notice the gift sales brings to the table: Sales elevates the role of leader from “telling people what to do,” and expecting them to listen because you’re the “leader,” to seeking first to fully understand people’s needs and figuring out how to map your “product,” solutions, or ideas to their needs. You don’t need a title to do this, you need to be willing to fully understand the other person’s needs.

As a leader, be willing to fill different roles: sales, problem solver, coach, the one willing to say no, the one willing to say yes, the one who knows when to step aside, and knows when to step up. Be willing to be what you need to be for your team, and yourself. We are all complex humans who have the capacity to adapt to just about anything — so be willing to be the salesperson, even if it doesn’t quite feel right. Our job as leaders isn’t to be comfortable, it’s to be in service to our team. They say the pack is only as fast as the lead dog; if you are willing to go where it’s uncomfortable, the more likely your team will be willing to do the same.