Most of us, at one time or another in our careers, have heard some trainer or manager exclaim,
“You have to sell yourself.”
“If you want to get that job, son, you have to sell yourself.”
“The real key to sales is your ability to sell yourself.”
“If you want others to like you, you’ll have to sell yourself.”
The Sell Yourself Cliche
This philosophy is prevalent in business culture.
A while back, I was at an Ivy League University for a speech by a successful businessman to a group of MBA students from the top business schools in the world. The speaker was so well respected that when he walked into the room there was a hush.
The audience members were on the edge of their seats in anticipation.
And what was the message?
What was the secret of success that this revered businessman offered?
“Never forget how important it is in business to first sell yourself.”
The entire audience nodded in unison.
For this wise man and many others, the phrase sell yourself has become an easy-to-use cliche´. It just rolls off the tongue. Like the audience at the speech I attended, most people will nod their heads in agreement to the statement as if some prophet on a hill had just read it from stone tablets.
People Buy You for Their Reasons, Not Yours
Sales expert and bestselling author Jeffrey Gitomer teaches a simple philosophy, “People love to buy but they hate to be sold.”
In other words, most people prefer to buy on their terms. They do not want or appreciate a hard pitch or a features dump. They buy for their reasons not yours.
Yet daily salespeople across the globe, on the phone, video calls, email, social media, and in person, sell to their customers by dumping data, pushing their position, or simply trying to talk their way into a sale.
They sell themselves to anyone else they can get to stand still for more than five minutes.
But it does not work, because people like to buy, they don’t like to be sold.
When You Try to Sell Yourself You Push People Away
The harder you try to sell yourself to others, the more you push them away. A conversation where the other person tells you all about themselves, their accomplishments, and how great they are is a turnoff. It is a features dump.
Think about it, the most unlikeable human in the world is the person standing in front of you talking about themself.
You don’t walk away from that conversation thinking how much you would like to spend more time with them. Instead you think, “What a jerk,” or “How boring,” or “Wow, that guy is full of himself.”
We Love to Talk About Our Favorite Person
Still, we do love the opportunity to sell ourselves. Most of us, if given the opportunity, will talk for hours about our favorite person, oblivious to the negative impact it has on how we are viewed by others.
When pressed, experts who are quick to tell you to sell yourself, are unable to explain exactly how to do it. Sure, they will offer tips, but it’s mostly hyperbole.
Here is the brutal truth: You cannot sell yourself to others; you have to get others to buy you on their terms.
You’re Talking, They Aren’t Buying
Even if you are preceded by a great reputation and others are anticipating meeting you, your attempts to sell yourself can backfire. I learned this lesson at a speech I gave to a large dinner group. One of the audience members was such a big fan of one of my books, that he lobbied the meeting organizer to be seated right next to me.
During dinner he asked me questions, and I talked and talked and talked—about me. A few days after the speech, I called the meeting organizer to follow up and offer my thanks. I thanked him for seating Daniel next to me and asked him if Daniel had had a good time.
He hesitated for a moment and finally said, “I’m telling you this because I like you; but Daniel did not come away with a very good opinion of you.” It was like being punched in the gut! I responded that I thought that we had a great conversation and asked what went wrong.
The meeting planner explained that Daniel felt that all I did was talk about myself.
The truth hurts. I sold, but Daniel did not buy.
Stop Trying to Sell Yourself, and Step Into The Other Person’s Shoes
People buy you for their reasons, not for your reasons. So, when we sell people on why they should like us or buy from us, it backfires.