Sales Musings, Anecdotes & Insights

The wise teacher leads you to the threshold of your own mind (Kahlil Gibran, The Prophet)

The Selling Profession as Teacher

In the musical Les Miserables, one of the characters is reflecting back on her life, describing a youth filled with optimism—and every child certainly starts out that way—but then life sometimes gets in the way. The verse was:

"I dreamed a dream in time gone by, when hope was high and life worth living, I dreamed that love would never die, I dreamed that God would be forgiving; then I was young and unafraid, and dreams were made and used and wasted; there was no ransom to be paid, no song unsung no wine untasted …" Nevertheless, despite such a promising beginning the song ends with resignation and defeat: "Now life has killed the dream I dreamed."

Some of us, regardless of whether or not we earn our living in the Selling Profession, end up singing that very tune one day; but others of us end up in special circumstances within which we learn how to fulfill our dreams despite life's attempts to derail us. Sometimes those circumstances involve role models who teach us that the glass is always half–full, so that the other viewpoint never enters our mind and we have a solid chance at building a base upon which our dream can come true. A very poignant example of this is the inspirational story of Jen Bricker.

For some people, instead, the circumstances force the individual to either sink (metaphorically–speaking, of course) or else learn how to swim. I believe that our profession falls into this category. In other words, although technically not a role model, the Selling Profession plays an eerily similar role. Perhaps a better denotation for it is 'task master'. In his book Living, Loving and Learning, Leo Buscaglia notes that children will learn. All the teacher has to do, he suggests, is "guide them—that is the teacher's major function … to the extent to which teachers recognize this, so will they be successful in the classroom because a child can recognize a guide". Furthermore, since a person can only give away that which he/she already possesses, the true teacher will empower the student by leading him/her back to himself/herself—not to whom the teacher wants him/her to be, but to whom he/she really is. And that, my friends, is exactly what I believe the Selling Profession does; hence, in my opinion, therein lies the secret behind who is or is not successful in the challenging field of sales. To quote Brian Tracy, "as within, so without". Our profession simply projects who we are on the inside so the outside world can see it.

To paraphrase an interesting perception by Nikos Kazantzakis, ideal teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own. Our profession simply separates those who are capable of building those bridges from those who are not. Hence, I believe that it is at precisely this stage of development that the great salespeople actualize.

Leo Buscaglia also wrote that schools should be the most joyful places in the world because learning is the greatest joy. To learn something is fantastic, he says, because every time you learn something you become someone new. That being the case, the Selling Profession is more than a school. It gives rise to 'new people' on a daily basis, in offices, stores and buildings all over the world. And some of those people go on to achieve greatness in their selling role.

Kahlil Gibran's Prophet insists that "no man can reveal to you aught but that which already lies half asleep in the downing of your knowledge … if he is indeed wise he does not bid you enter the house of his wisdom, but rather leads you to the threshold of your own mind". Once again, I submit to you that the Selling Profession does precisely that. After all, selling is less about moving a product than it is about the process of getting there (especially if you are selling a high–priced product). In other words, customers can and often do struggle, at several stages along the sales continuum, prior to arriving at their decision. Hence our role in acknowledging, isolating and overcoming the objections that arise as a result of the emotions that accompany buying and selling decisions (and also set up the action–reaction responses) is crucial. Add to this the fact that both customers and salespeople have emotions that can compromise the sale and … well, let's just say that this finally brings me full circle to my primary point, on whose theme Antoine de Saint Exupery's The Little Prince has a poignant take. This beloved little book has been translated into many languages and it revolves around a notion that the author refers to as 'taming'. Here is a brief summary:

This is the story of a Little Prince who came to earth from a tiny planet on which his best friend was a rose; he had never seen a rose before and she was the only one on the entire planet—so he believed her to be truly unique in the entire universe. On earth he lands, coincidentally, near a rose garden where he sees thousands of roses, all of which looked exactly like his rose, thereby shattering his perception of the special bond he enjoyed exclusively with his unique friend. Shortly thereafter he befriends a fox who warns him about getting too close to anyone (and this is what he refers to as taming. The conversation went like this:

The Little Prince says, "If I tame you, remember that I can't stay with you very long. I've got to go away."

And the fox replies, "Indeed, when you do, I'm going to be very sad, I'm going to cry."

The prince asks, "Why on earth would you want me to tame you if it is going to cause you pain?"

And the fox says, "It's because of the color of the wheat fields."

And the prince says, "I don't understand."

The fox tells him, "I do not eat bread. Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the color of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat.

So the Little prince ends up taming the fox. And eventually the hour of his departure arrived.

"Ah" said the fox, "I shall cry"

"It is your own fault," said the little prince. "I never wished you any sort of harm; but you wanted me to tame you …"

"Yes, that is so," said the fox.

"But now you are going to cry!" said the little prince.

"Yes that is so," said the fox.

"Then it has done you no good at all!"

"Oh it has done me good," said the fox, "because of the color of the wheat fields." And then he added: "Go and look again at the roses. You will understand now that yours is unique in all the world. Then come back to say goodbye to me, and I will make you a present of a secret."

The little prince went away to look again at the roses and this time they looked very different.

"You are not at all like my rose," he said. "As yet you are nothing. No one has tamed you, and you have tamed no one. You are like my fox when I first knew him. He was only a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But I have made him my friend, and now he is unique in all the world." And the roses were very much embarrassed. "You are beautiful but you are empty," he went on. "One could not die for you. To be sure, an ordinary passerby would think that my rose looked just like you—the rose that belongs to me. But in herself alone she is more important than all the hundreds of you other roses: because it is she that I have watered; because it is she that I have put under the glass globe; because it is she that I have sheltered behind the screen; because it is for her that I have killed the caterpillars … because it is she that I had listened to when she grumbled or boasted, or even sometimes when she said nothing. Because she is my rose."

And he went back to the fox. "Goodbye," he said.

"Goodbye,"said the fox. "And now here is my secret, a very simple secret. It is only with the heart that one can see clearly; what is essential is invisible to the eye."

I submit to you that those of us who make a living in the selling profession have been 'tamed' by her. Once in it, we don't want to do anything else. And those that leave it do so because she has shown them their true selves. I'm reminded of an axiom that was told to me in various forms when I first got into selling: "You don't get into sales; selling gets into you." Hence, who can argue with a profession that leads people to discover themselves and, in so doing, makes them invaluable to those they subsequently come in contact with? To paraphrase a Willie Nelson song, 'we take her with us everywhere we go', along with each of her lessons. As such, the Selling Profession is capable of transcending the Little Prince's premise of what is essential.

Until next time ... Happy Selling!

Dominic Spano is the author of:

  • Pathways to SOLD! The Science Behind the Sale, which is available through amazon kindle.
  • Beyond the Periphery, also available through amazon kindle.

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