I'm a thinker, an ideas person, an academic. One of those guys who studied anthropology and world religion in his 20s thinking that I could change the world. My uncle Barry tried to warn me. A wise street-smart New Yorker who has done extremely well in business, Barry always said: "Elan, if you want to make it in life, get into sales. Sales are everything. No matter what you do with your career, it's all about sales."
Today I understand that he was right.
Think about it: if you are a diplomat you are selling a country. If you are a politician you are selling a policy, or a political agenda, or a health care plan. If you are a non-profit director you are selling the work of your organization to potential donors and volunteers. An actor? You audition. A journalist? You pitch stories.
You, me, all of us -- we're constantly selling.
But here's the kicker and where my seeming naiveté may receive some vindication. Beyond selling products, services, and ideas, you and I are really selling one thing and one thing only: ourselves.
According to a 2013 Harvard Business Review article, "Before people decide what they think about your message, your brilliant marketing plan or amazing start up idea, they decide what they think about you."
As a non-profit executive I have found this to be true. I've learned that people don't give to organizations. People give to people. There needs to be a rapport, chemistry, and a basic human connection before someone is willing to entrust you with their hard earned dollars. The same applies to business. Closing a deal, finding new clients, building a partnership, securing a merger all happens between people, not well-oiled machines or numbers on a spreadsheet.
So the question we need to ask ourselves is not "how do I become a better salesperson?" but "how do I become a better, more authentic human being?" How do I develop qualities like passion, persuasion, candor and confidence that allow me to connect with my clientele and target audience?"
I believe there is a way, and it starts by answering one simple question:
Do you know who you are?
Most of us don't. We are, I hate to say it, conformists. We conform to the expectations of our parents, our communities, to the transient trends of pop-culture, to the dogmas and ideologies of this person or that institution. The way we dress, the food we eat, what we perceive as beautiful and our very definition of success is imprinted on us by other people living in distant places and other times.
And although the herd mentality keeps us safe and comfortable, it prevents us from connecting to our true selves and expressing our potential as human beings. What a paradox! There's a constant battle being waged between our spirit and our surroundings, our creative expression and collective forces that engender its repression.
How, then, can you genuinely connect with another person if you are not connected to your own self? How can you give something you don't have?
The solution? You've got to disconnect. To truly connect with other people you've got to disconnect from people, places, powers and ideas that make this impossible. You've got to disconnect from forces in your environment and in your mind that prevent you from seeing and being your authentic self. I call this process an initiation. And all the great ones have walked its path.
Here are five things you can do to "initiate" yourself this New Year and tap into the real, authentic you:
1) Alone time: Take time to get away and be with your "self" every day. Meditate, go for long walks, or create a man/woman cave at home, a sacred space where you have the freedom to think, detach, reflect and just be.
2) Go on a social media cleanse: Filmmaker Tiffany Shlain calls this a "technology Sabbath." Choose a day to shut off your iPhone, computer and all other communications devices in your vicinity. TV included. Information overload blinds you from what's important, distorts how you perceive yourself, and confuses your goals and wants. So you need to take time to separate from these external forces.
3) Question everything: During your "me" time, think about why you are in your current job or why you have chosen your career path. Are you trying to impress someone? Is it for the money? Are you trying to live up to cultural or social expectations? Even if you genuinely love your job, ask yourself why? The idea is to ensure that "what you do is in sync with why you do it" (thank you, Simon Sinek).
4) List the three things you value most in life. That's right, your values. Think about them. Consider how much time you spend doing these most valuable things. Is there an alignment between your values and your actual commitment to them? What might be stopping you? Expectation? Conformity? Maybe it's time to change your priorities and create a better alignment with your true self.
5) Identify your vulnerabilities and embrace them: Brene Brown, who studies human connection, showed us in her famous TED talk that there is tremendous power in vulnerability. It's what allows other people to relate (i.e., connect) with us. All great leaders have vulnerability: think MLK, Gandhi, Mandela, Mother Teresa, Moses (he was slow of speech and slow of tongue). Don't hide your vulnerabilities because that's what your culture tells you to do. Identify them, embrace them and don't be afraid to display them. It's your gateway to connection.
If you take time each week to act on these five points, you will not only become a more centred, connected person, but a far better salesperson. Guaranteed. And get this. When you are completely yourself, you are not selling anything. You are simply being. And that is the most powerful way to get your sales pitch across!