Selling Ourselves Short



Why is “selling” such a loaded word? Why is it that to some people, the word borders on an insult: a term denoting a base form of human activity, while for others it’s a job done by losers who can’t get a better one? People with those attitudes can often justify their prejudices, yet, mostly, they’re doing nobody, including themselves, any favors. For one thing, it obviously makes no sense to tar every salesperson with the same brush. But, more importantly, by doing so, people are denigrating themselves. First, let’s have an impartial look at the different kinds of salespeople.


Most salespeople are good communicators skilled at making enthusiastic pitches that often deliver sales. They’ll only be great sellers, however, if their sales strategy is based on integrity. Then they sell only what they believe in, and always make two sales simultaneously. They first sell themselves, and then they sell the product or service. People trust them because they sense their credibility and honesty, and it’s that trust that closes the sale.


In addition to integrity, exceptional salespeople need other qualities: self-confidence, excellent communication skills, a neat appearance and in-depth knowledge of the product or service. The first three are the most important. They’re about the salespeople themselves, and, if salespeople can’t sell themselves, they’ll struggle to sell anything else. Integrity creates the self-confidence which underpins good communication. A neat appearance also promotes self-confidence, but more importantly, it shows respect for the other person.


Bad salespeople frequently lack the most important quality: integrity; and they misunderstand the others. They think a sharp suit and slick patter make the sale. When it doesn’t, they wonder why they fail. They fail mainly because they don’t believe in their own message and most potential buyers see through them regardless of how clever their spiel may be. Of course, most unsuccessful salespeople are not dishonest and not all honest ones are successful. But it’s mainly the charlatans who give honest salespeople a bad name. They’re also one of the main reasons selling is regarded by many as a particularly pressurized occupation. It’s bound to be stressful if you spend your time telling half-truths and being evasive, and then trying to cover your tracks. Good salespeople act like advisers helping buyers make informed choices, not con men out to make commission by fair means or foul. Their approach is challenging, but not stressful, and it produces many more sales.


Selling can be narrowly defined as offering a product or service for sale in exchange for money. But that’s no longer the only meaning people assign to the word, nor is it the most important one. By far the most widely used meaning is that selling is any act of persuading or convincing, and that definition describes the way in which we all interact with each other much of the time. That’s what I meant in the first paragraph, when I said that we denigrate ourselves if we denigrate all salespeople.


We’re selling ourselves whenever we try to put across our point of view to others, whether at a job interview, on a date, with the bank manager, at a business meeting or a political rally. We often do it even in the relaxed company of our family and friends, when we’re involved in a lively discussion, usually switching roles from seller to buyer every few minutes. One way or the other, we’re all in sales, so we should be constantly selling ourselves. It’s not about boasting; it’s about ensuring that those we meet are aware of our strengths.


Some of the most convincing salespeople of all are politicians. They need to be because what they sell is the most intangible of commodities: promises. The world’s biggest “promise selling” campaign – the job application with the biggest interview panel, you might say – is the US presidential election. The money spent backing each candidate’s case may be substantial, but in the end, each candidate has to sell himself to 200 million people through the power and sincerity of his words.


No selling comes under such intense scrutiny as does political selling. Politicians’ first responsibility is to tell the truth, but they have a huge task convincing people that that’s what they’re doing. Politicians rarely get away with being dishonest, and the higher up the political ladder they climb, the more difficult their task becomes. The reason is the media and the Internet. Every word spoken and every deed done almost since childhood are scrutinized by opponents and the media; any inconsistency is magnified and spreads like wildfire online.


The Internet has similarly changed the world of selling goods and services. It enables many more con artists ply their trade, but their spiel is much less likely to fool potential buyers because buyers are better informed and can easily compare the offerings of many competing sellers. More importantly, buyers can publicly rate and post comments about their experiences of different sellers. Badly rated sellers don’t stay in business very long and the good ones – the ones most likely to have a high level of integrity – are rewarded with more business.


Before the Internet, buyers had little choice but to rely on the assurances of salespeople. Mixed in with the good ones and the bad ones, charlatans abounded, hence the warning “let the buyer beware.” The buying environment has changed significantly because of mass communication and the Internet. Now, the seller has to be just as wary as the buyer. The result is a level playing field, where all sellers have little choice but to tell the truth. For some of those sellers, it’s a sort of forced integrity. Nevertheless it’s good news for the buyers, who are more likely than ever before to get what they pay for.


Jeff Robinson

Contrarian’s Mind

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40 thoughts on “Selling Ourselves Short

  1. Sam says:

    Excellent article! WIthout a doubt, one of the most interesting pieces of work that I have ever read on the concepts of “sales” and “selling”. I love the way you looked at the personal side of sales, at how we are “selling” everytime we are trying to persuade another person to agree with us or to convice them that our view is the adequate one.

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  2. Mark says:

    I agree, the arrival of new technological developments has generated a significant shift on the way business enterprises “sell” and “market” their products and services. Thanks to the internet, customer reviews have now become more readily avaliable to potential customers. In this sense, the buying – selling process has now become more democractic. For this reason, as you wisely suggest throughout the article, having a good brand online reputation has increased in importance during recent years.

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  3. April says:

    I look forward to reading your book! I love your site. Full of so many interesting articles. I agree, good sellers must have excellent communication skills and a good knowledge of the product or service they are selling, but they need to have integrity. They need to be truthful and honest. They need to believe that they are selling a high quality product to potential consumers.

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  4. Surya says:

    Yes, I have worked in marketing and sales for a number of hotel chains and I agree %100 with this article. In order to become a successful salesman, you need to sell yourself, not only your product. We are selling ourselves, our identity, our values, our integriy, not just the product we offer. Good sales people display personal integrity and a good knowledge about the product they sell.

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  5. Louise says:

    Yes, having exceptional selling skills can be very valuable. We all use them at some time in our lives: when working in sales, when we are selling one of our possessions or when we are trying to convince other people that we are right and they are wrong. By communicating a vision effectively and generating a theoretical shift in the minds of those around us, we are “selling”.

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  6. Harry Garfinkle. says:

    Selling ourselves short is very well put. The lack of faith in sellere has now been revised because of the internet.There is no longer a choice. The truth has to be told. The field is now level and in for some positive progress.

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  7. Clayton says:

    Great article! Yes, as the psychologist Robert McMurry pointed out in the 1960′s, selling can be a complex process that can only be completed effectively by having good communication skills during its 3 stages: making potential customers aware that an item will satisfy their needs, suggest a justification for purchasing the product, and then closing the sale. Having confidence throughout the 3 separate stages is essential.

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  8. Alfie says:

    Yes, I agree. To become a successful seller, someone needs to be enthusiastic, committed and optimist. We also need to look at obstacle like challenges, not barriers. Any problem can be used to our advantage. Both in our personal and professional lives, we need to keep on working towards achieving our goals, no matter how many challenges we encounter. Effective communication and interpersonal skills, as you mentioned, can help us to grow.

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  9. Everly says:

    When we interact with others, we do sell ourselves, to some extent. I know that many people would automatically classify anybody that holds this view as a narcissist, but I do not believe that this is correct. Probably not ourselves as such, but we are selling an idea, a vision, or simply an image of ourselves. Selling our ideas is an unavoidable aspect of today’s society, specially in organizational settings, where we need demonstrate our skills effectively.

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  10. Earl says:

    Yes, I believe that the concept of selling yourself is directly related to the conclusions of sociologists like Goffman. During social interaction, we all take part in some kind of theatrical performance, which intends to generate a desired impression on other people, in order to obtain something from them, whether it is affection, information, respect, admiration, or a sale.

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  11. Clark says:

    Yes, there is no business without selling. Employees can regard selling as simply a task part of their job, but they can also look at it as a creative process. Even people with no formal qualification can become good sellers in a short period of time, if they can develop good selling abilities. I agree %100 with your article! It is awesome!

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  12. Harvey says:

    Thanks to technological developments, the concept of selling has changed considerably during recent decades. Selling has become an endless confrontation with truth. Truth about yourself and about others. The wider access to the feedbacks of past customers now help consumer to make more informed decisions before buying a product.

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  13. Pema says:

    I love your blog. I agree with you. A higher emphasis on selling skills and those abilities that can help us to sell more effectively (communication, teamork, and interpersonal skills) should be the focus of business schools. Learning theory can be very beneficial, but learning tools that can be applied in practice can also help the business people of the future.

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  14. Lyndsey says:

    I look forward to read more of your articles on selling and what motivates people to sell. It is fascinating to analyze the factors behind a sale, and what motivates individuals to improve their sellings skillls (money, recognition, etc.).

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  15. Martha says:

    Sales should be the starting point of all your business courses and training, because it is from sales that everything follows. At the workple, how you make money, how you interact with other, how you want to grow, your duties, the success or lack of success of your company, what you want to do, which path do you want to follow… All these aspects depend from sales.

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  16. Winnie says:

    Wow! I love your article. Very instructive. In fact, I love your site! I am so glad I found it. I really enjoy reading all your posts. I look forward to reading your upcoming book. Where can we purchase / download a copy? I hope you can give us further details as soon as it is ready!

    Like this

  17. MelanieLM says:

    People without the self-confidence formerly required to sell both themselves and a products in person should be very thankful for the internet, where immediacy can be countered by carefully planned content. I know I am. But like you say, people who sell themselves short – who don’t believe in what they are doing or selling – aren’t going to succeed no matter what fancy words they string together.

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  18. Taranu Cosmin Andrei says:

    nowadays selling is…a little bit harder because people are either afraid of taking risks (not their fault, in this world there are many liars) or, even though the thing you are trying to sell is kinda important for them, their way of thinking is still something like “it may be helpfull for me but I can still live without it, harder, but I can still live”.

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  19. Cmarten says:

    I’m not entirely sure I agree with your comment about forced integrity. It seems that honest sellers are forced in such a way, but, since it is so easy to disappear from the internet and reappear under a different name and continue a business that is unscrupulous, integrity only has to be faked for a time. Of course, that’s now how it’s supposed to work, and shouldn’t work for people who want to actually make a living on the net.

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