February 23, 2018

Can a business leader sell with the same approach as a salesperson?

Four people, two shaking handsThe processes of selling are well-known, though, of course, what’s most effective and appropriate varies from context to context. And there’s always room to get better at it.

An important question is whether it’s entirely open to a leader with more rounded responsibility for the business or organisation to sell in the same manner. Can they adopt conventional sales techniques? Or do they need to modify their approach?

Of course, you might be thinking business leaders don’t need to sell. They have somebody to do that for them. That’s not my experience. For the most part, business leaders need to at least get involved in bringing new business into their organisation. Indeed that’s often the most important part of their role.

And in comparison with the specialist salesperson, the business leader needs to meet different customer expectations. In particular, the customer infers the organisation’s values from its leader. And these need to match what the customer expects.

And also, because the leader has responsibility for delivery as well as sales, and everything else besides, they need to be convincing about the whole of the business in an end-to-end way, not just that they will be the customer’s representative in the company’s processes.

And it’s very definitely a relational sale if the leader is involved.

What do you think?

How should a business leader approach the sales process? As if they were a salesperson? Or something else?

The importance of sifting

The importance of siftingIt’s surprising what a difference it makes, thinking over our experiences and learning.

You’d imagine that if we put all that stuff into our heads the process would be automatic after that—that we could rely on our brains to process everything comprehensively; to form all the connections that there are to form; and to generate all the ideas there are to generate. After all, we’ve put it all in one pot.

In my experience, it doesn’t work like that. The “stuff” mostly just lies there.

Instead, to make the most of what we have—all that accumulated wisdom—we do need to find ways of sifting through our experiences and new things we’ve learned. We do need to do that deliberately. And we do need to create the opportunity for new patterns to emerge.

In other words, both time to reflect and some particular approach to reflection are important.

Talking things over with other people is obviously one way, especially if they have some skill in listening and questioning. Another is writing a journal. Whatever the specifics, expressing what’s inside stimulates new realisations. Particular frameworks and models and new ways of looking at things help.

It’s like we need to cross and recross the ground in different directions, connecting up the pieces in new ways, and sorting out what is most important.

In other words, we need to sift.

So much, so obvious maybe.

The question is: Are we sifting enough?

Learning our lines

Four people speaking in front of a laptopWe often invest a considerable amount of time learning about a new skill or way of thinking. We might read a book, for instance.

But then we tend to fail to go that little bit further that would bring us a real return on our investment of time and effort: We don’t take the trouble to commit the practical details to memory so that we can actually deploy them. We don’t learn our lines.


We could summarise the essentials of the new source of expertise and then take the trouble to memorise them. Then we would know them as well as know about them.

It makes all the difference…

Firstly, because we can use the insights effectively in practice…

And, secondly, because other people are impressed by the trouble we’ve taken.

That’s odd, really, because the extra effort to learn something isn’t so much really—more a change of mode of study.

But, as they say, “it’s never crowded when you go the extra mile.”

For example, often when I give a talk, people remark on the quotes I know and refer to. They ask, “How do you know these quotes?” The answer is quite simple: I learn them.

What lines could you do with learning?

Do relationships beat hierarchy?

Meeting roomIn working life, we’re probably conditioned to believe that an individual’s behaviour towards us is mostly determined by the hierarchy of the organisation they work for. They follow the rules of that organisation with a high level of commitment.

Or do they?

Countless examples show that the loyalty of personal relationships is a stronger force—not that the individuals involved will break the law or do something unethical—but they will adjust what they do as best they can to maintain the relationship.

So getting to know people is, of course, the way to moderate the unthinking excesses of organisations.

Perhaps interpersonal relationships can, in fact, be a stronger force.

What do you think?

Is it true for the organisations you know and deal with? Do relationships beat hierarchy?

Just because you can tell people what to do doesn’t mean you should

Two businesspeople in slightly tense conversationIt’s so tempting for the “boss,” especially if they are also the owner of the business to assert their authority and tell people what to do, just because they can. It feels like a right, or even just “right.”

That might be why they set up in business in the first place: So that they can be “their own boss.”

When we’re questioned about something, chances are our ego doesn’t like it and we want to push the intrusion away: And we can, or at least, it’s possible.

And we may be right. We may have the greater experience.

But sometimes, it may be a mistake, because we may be wrong, and, especially then, it’s crushing for the employee.

In my experience, it’s a critical step in the development of the business or leader to accept that we may not always be right and to be open to question accordingly.

Noticing that we’re asserting ourselves, just because we can, is a sign that we might be “off.”

Are we?

The truth which sets us free, if we hear it

Worried manJournalist and historian, Herbert Agar (1897-1980) said: “The truth that makes people free is for the most part the truth which they prefer not to hear.” (Actually, he talked about “men”, as was the way of the time, but I’ve taken it upon myself to translate his words to the modern era.)

What a great line that is, and, in my experience, very often true.

Why is that?

Why do we prefer not to hear a truth that releases us from a burdened way of life and sets on a path to greater success and happiness?

Is it because it’s too painful to hear that particular truth?

Or is that we fear being set free? Then we would need to own the consequences of our choices rather than have the convenience of being a victim. We would no longer have something or someone to blame.

What do you think?

Not so easy perhaps to have the responsibility of being free.

Threatening with help

Three senior managersIt’s a curious thing…

People can be remarkably resistant to help: I suppose we all are, depending on the subject. “Help” can take us into painful contemplation, addressing issues that we might prefer to avoid—or at least put off to another time.

Perhaps that’s why “threatening” someone or a group with help can be so effective. Suddenly, when there is a real possibility of someone else getting involved and perhaps setting the pace and the agenda—taking the initiative away—we find it within ourselves to make a start; to tackle the issues we need to tackle.

Sometimes, I’ve been the “help” that is threatened. I don’t think I’m that scary but, even so, some people would rather take the suggestion as a prompt to galvanise themselves into action—independently.

Where are you on this…

Are you the help that is threatened?

Or are you being threatened by help?

Or do you put your pride aside and accept additional expertise into what you’re doing?

Or maybe you’re a leader using the threat of help to get others to take action, even if that isn’t what you originally intended.

Whichever of these apply, it’s a powerful effect.

Review rarely seems like the most important thing to do

Man thinking, looking upwardReview rarely—if ever—seems the most pressing thing to do: Taking a step back to reflect on our direction and to review our aims.

We almost always have something clamouring for our attention right now: Something that needs to be done, if not straightaway, then pretty soon. If you’re like me, you’ve got a near-endless list of these actions—probably many months’ worth of to-do list.

And it’s comfortable working on all that. It might be demanding and stressful and hard-work but we know where we stand. We can do it unconsciously, on automatic pilot, as the elephant follows the path.


Reflecting on our direction is uncomfortable and confusing and unclear, at least at first.

However, as it says in the Tao Te Ching, “Mystery is the doorway to understanding.”

Putting ourselves through the confusion will lead to a new clarity, and in that clarity we may find that some of those actions we were ploughing through weren’t the right actions. They weren’t taking us in the right direction.

The elephant needed to switch to a different path. And it must have been important to do a review because something has changed.

Two practical things help…

Writing in a journal about what we’ve done and how we feel about it: It is strange how new ideas come that way. (Actually it’s because we’re making the unconscious conscious.)


Reviewing our aims once a month, probably at the weekend to get the necessary peace and quiet—like it’s New Year every month; thinking afresh about our situation and how we may best build on it.

I find those two things help me see the path it’s now right to take.

How about you?

Is your self-image pulling you forward or holding you back?

Woman reflectingWe have a choice…

We can ether see ourselves as a little bit less than we really are.

Or we can see ourselves as just a little bit more than we really are.

The first of these is the more usual choice. We probably believe it to be more socially acceptable.

The trouble is…

That way of looking at ourselves holds us back. As we act in accordance with our pessimistic self-image, we underachieve compared with what other people believe us capable of. We play small. And then other people have no reason to revise their opinion, except perhaps downwards.

Alternatively, when we find the courage to take an optimistic view of ourselves (within reason—I don’t mean be ridiculously over-confident or arrogant), we gradually lift other people’s perception of us as we play a better game. We go up in their estimation. And so we can achieve more because we have more influence.

In the second case, our self-image pulls us forward.

The separation between these two paths may not be much at all. One makes us grow, and perhaps quickly; the other not so much.

Which are you choosing?

Be yourself: Chances are good that’ll work

Two business peopleWe’re inclined to avoid putting ourselves in situations where we might be judged. Holding back seems safer. A significant part of our being urges caution.

And yet…

The largest impediment to relationships of one kind or another developing is trust. In truth, we need to invest in the timeless principle of “know, like, and trust.”

And that starts with “know.”

Provided our values are wholesome, we genuinely care about people, and we diligently reflect on how we come across, we will most likely be accepted by others.

So it makes sense to be seen. Then people will get to know us more quickly. And trust will develop.

The beginning is convincing ourselves that we are likeable.

Sometimes that’s the part we make hardest. But it needn’t be so.