By John Tabita

Act Like a Salesperson and Sell Something Already

By John Tabita

But I’m not a salesperson, you say … I’m a freelancer, consultant, programmer, web designer, etc.

Guess what? Once you decided to freelance or start a web business, you gained a new job description: Business Owner. So what’s the purpose of this enterprise you’ve undertaken? Most people think it’s “to make money”—but that’s not a purpose, it’s a result. According to the renowned Peter Drucker, the purpose of business is “to create a customer.”

Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation. Marketing and innovation produce results; all the rest are costs.

Let’s look at that one more time: “…the purpose of business is to create a customer.” Is that what you wake up thinking each morning, that I must create a customer? Or is it to design, program, search-engine optimize, or whatever other technical skill you perform for your client?

Make no mistake—in order to create a customer, you must provide something of value, something that improves your customer or client’s circumstance. But you don’t get to do that unless you first create a customer. In other words, nothing happens until a sale is made. Marketing is everything you do to find and be found by potential clients. Reaching an agreement to do business with those clients is selling, even if you don’t call it that.

Sales … selling. Do those words leave a bad taste in your mouth? After all, you’ve probably heard that old-school direct selling and outbound marketing are obsolete, now that we’ve entered the enlightened era of social media and inbound marketing. But regardless of how a lead is generated, that lead is still just a lead unless turned into a sale. And that requires … well, selling. Admittedly, the type of selling we do—consultative selling—is a far cry from other types of selling. I’m not suggesting you behave like a used car salesman; but I am suggesting you act like some type of salesperson and (dare I say it?) … sell your services.

That begs the question, are salespeople born or made? I believe that anyone can learn and master the skills needed to successfully sell their services. But even if you do, it isn’t a given you’ll be successful. There are innate characteristics you must possess to be a success. The following comes from a landing page I stumbled upon, entitled Great Salespeople Are Born … Then Made. It claims that:

“…the vast majority of high performance salespeople start out with three personality characteristics that cannot be taught … you either have them or you don’t.”

That got my attention, needless to say. Here they are:

  1. Need for Achievement
  2. Competitiveness
  3. Optimism

I’ll take it one step further and say that these characteristics are a prerequisite for the entrepreneur, business owner, or successful freelancer as well.

But, here’s my question. The company claims that you must “start out with three personality characteristics that cannot be taught”—implying that you must be born with these traits, or develop them at an early age. As a sales trainer and sales manager, I know firsthand that I cannot “teach” others to have drive, competitiveness, and optimism. But can we teach ourselves? Can we learn to be more achievement-oriented, competitive, and optimistic? Post your comments below.

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  • Very nice post. There are a lot of people out there that would benefit from reading this. I certainly don’t believe that you have to be born a salesman to be a salesman.

  • You had me in suspense about the three traits needed to be a sales person. Like you said, I think anyone crazy enough to start their own business has to have a bit of each. Thanks for the post.

  • Good article. To answer your question, I think a lot can be learned to become a salesperson. Some people in sales believe that knowledge of the product is most important. Now as a freelancer, who else that you know your offering better than you!

    I do believe that every freelancer should also learn a bit about marketing – just the basics, to understand more to be better able to create needs for customer and to target them. I made a simple presentation once to a group of friends for this: http://www.slideshare.net/ashvindx1/marketing-essentials-in-15-minutes

  • Robert Miller

    I don’t believe you can train a person to be an exceptional salesperson or for that matter anything unless they are already above average in what they do. You can see that concept in action with sports. No matter how hard every athlete trains everyday they all don’t become great, why because they don’t have it in them to be great.

    Just like leadership. You can study all the great leaders style and speeches etc.. but that won’t give you the ability to emulate there success. It is about the individual, regardless of the traits involved, everyone won’t have them. That is why there is leaders, when you look at the amount of humans on the planet earth and if you could count all the leaders (exceptional people in all disciplines) you would find a small percentage of the whole are actually leaders.

    I remember in the move chariots of fire when he told the runner he could make him faster, he was already an exceptional runner now he was going to be a great runner. You can’t take ordinary and make exceptional.

    You can make someone functional and successful but not exceptional or great. Every NBA Pro athlete is successful but not everyone is an ALL STAR.

    Robert Miller

  • If, (big if) we are capable of asking ourselves the question: “Can we learn to be more achievement-oriented, competitive, and optimistic?”, then yes, we can develop these innate traits. Otherwise, no.

  • What an amazing read! I totally love it. I agree with your points on most business owners/entrepreneurs already possessing those qualities, but I’d also like to argue that every person is born with those qualities. We’re born to compete, born to succeed, born to believe we can (optimism). Show me a person without some form of those qualities and I’ll show you someone on their death bed! (We may not show those qualities every second of the day, but they are there)

    The place where we start losing those qualities (or rather to practice those qualities every second of the day) is when parents/teachers/mentors/friends anyone that influences your life sets bad examples. Breaks you down, “brainwashes” you into thinking that you’re not worth it, you can’t succeed and that life is just hard and unfair.

    If you can be influenced to lose that type of thinking, I believe you can be taught to operate with those qualities on a consistent basis once again.

    Just my thoughts on it anyway…

  • J.

    Hm… your article is spot on. I’m a web designer and I’m doing allright financially. Well, to be honest, I just get by. And your article shows exactly the reasons for this. I’m well skilled, well educated and have 15 years of expercience in what I do. So what’s the problem? I’m not a sales person. I find it hard to “sell” myself, I don’t do marketing, etc. And if I score myself on the 3 criteria, the outcome in percentages would be something like:
    Need for Achievement: 60%
    Competitiveness: 40%
    Optimism: 80%

    So I clearly lack in “agressiveness” to make my business really succesful, and make good money. That’s not really a very new insight, at the age of 47 I know myself pretty well. But it’s good to be confronted again with the reasons for my mediocre financial situation. Thanks for that. Now I need to think hard about ways to improve myself and my income.

  • You need determination too. If you are not determined to succeed, you won´t.

  • A lot of years ago,while in my early 20’s – the Fuller Brush era, I tried my hand at door knocking
    on a designated and pre-arranged route. I did very well for a couple weeks , but I made the mistake of over selling my territory. There was no way to expand, so my sales career collapsed.
    As a web site owner, I attempted various ways to become successful, but I didn’t market myself.
    After reading your post, I have a new perspective and will give it another go. I can never over-sell myself on the net.
    Thank you.

  • Good article! I came to some of these very conclusions some time ago in my career. You can’t be afraid to ask for money. The art of bidding is a precarious one, bid too high you’ll turn off your client. Bid too low and you undercut yourself and eat top romen for a week. I agree that the first two items in the list, need for achievement & Competitiveness cannot be taught. Though I think that optimism is something that can come and go in most individuals. I’d also add that self-discipline is likely more important than all three of these items and that with it you can be a successful business person with or without the other mentioned traits. Self-discipline is a habit, and habits can be learned.

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