What are you selling, really?

A friend of mine is a maitre d’ on a cruise-ship. Or rather, he used to be. He’s been ashore for a year now. Something to do with alcohol and jumping in the swimming pool in his tuxedo. I find it very petty that his employer would fire him over that, I mean can’t a man have a bit of innocent fun after work?

Anyway, this friend (whom I will call Sam) was looking for work ashore and he was approached by a company that hosts a directory of local businesses on the internet. Sam’s job was to go out on the road with his laptop and 3G dongle, show the site to business owners, and sell them an online 35-dollar ad for the duration of a year. Banks, hotels, shops, restaurants, you get the picture.

I was skeptical about the idea. Selling ads is a hard job, and cold-selling is not only enough to zombify your very soul, it’s also pretty much the toughest job there is during a recession. And he had zero experience.
After a few days we were having a beer and he was so excited! “Martin, I sell these ads like hot cakes! I walk in, ask to see the owner, and within five minutes: Bam! Done deal.”
I couldn’t believe it. How the hell could a guy who’d only been working on ships his entire working life, without any education other than the training he got on and for the ships, make a killing from day one? Was there some cosmic fluke that I hadn’t heard about? Was he some divinely inspired natural talent? Aliens? An LHC hiccup? Was time really space, and space time? I couldn’t understand.

He suggested I join him, since his employer needed as many ads sold as possible, so I figured I’d tag along for a day. And what I saw was the most impressive show I ever saw. The way he engaged people, the way he gave them 300% full attention, the way he was so compelling without even getting close to being pushy… I was utterly, deeply impressed.

Still, I couldn’t figure out how he did it. For a few days afterwards, I figured it must just be down to luck. He had ‘it’, whatever that was.

But then it hit me: He’d been a salesman for years and years!

But wait, he was an upgraded waiter, right? He used to manage a staff of 50 waiters while gazing at the sea over a sneaky martini, right? So what then, had he been selling?

All those years, from the moment he moved up the rungs, from cleaning tables to waiting tables, from being a manager to a full maitre d’, he’d been practicing, practicing, practicing, one single skill. No wonder he came out a seller that can sell sand to a Bedouin. In bulk.

He’d been honing his skills as a salesman to full perfection. And what had he been selling all those years?


He was the guy, especially once he moved up to maitre d’, who was there to make the guests happy, to make them feel good, to do everything he could to give them the satisfied feeling of getting all that they paid for, and more. “Good evening sir, madam, how are you this evening? May I take you to your table? How is the filet mignon sir, is everything to your satisfaction? We have a special just for you; the chef told me I could only offer it to ten guests this evening. Don’t worry madam; I will personally assure that your children will be supervised in the play area by a trusted member of the staff while you dine. It’s been lovely to have you dine with us tonight. Would you care for a rare and unique Cognac?”

He did everything he could, for years, to give people an immensely pleasurable experience, to make them feel satisfied, and he’d simply gotten really amazingly good at it.
When I saw him selling ads that day, he was doing exactly the same: He was selling satisfaction. He was giving people the feeling that the product they bought, was just what they needed for their business to improve. He made people feel good. Good about the decision they made, good about their business skills, good about themselves. And he did it with flair, ease, and charm.

What can you take from this? Simple. Whatever your product or service is, (provided it’s of real value); you want to talk to people’s feelings. Reach into their subconscience. Make them feel satisfied before they even buy from you.

I don’t care if you sell ebooks, fountain pens, or ballet pumps for rodents: it is universal and works for any product. Just tell them on a deeper level that they’re doing the right thing in doing business with you, that you add value to their life.

We’re all herd-creatures, and part of our natural behavior is acting in a way that satisfies our deeply seated need for receiving approval. Act on that, and you will get much better results from your sales strategy.

And Sam did just that. I thought he was brilliant. The company he sold the ads for, turned out to be not quite as good as they claimed to be, so he decided to stop selling for them. Nowadays he’s involved in a venture of his own. Instead of a tuxedo, he wears bermudas and flip-flops, but he still jumps into the occasional pool in them.

I help nice people sell more

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Martin helped our co-working space get to full occupancy and $25.000 monthly revenue in less than a year.

~ Antonio Herrezuelo,
Avenida Capital

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