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Learn how to sell--it's for your own good

From time to time, each of us is called upon to sell something: a product, a service, an idea, a story to a judge. Here are 10 rules for learning how to sell more effectively.

What's the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word salesman? A pushy insurance or car salesman with no self respect? Those nice people who accost you the second you walk into a clothing store? Or maybe the folks you can never find at Home Depot.

Wait, I bet you think salespeople were put on this planet to babble endlessly and waste your time until you're ready to hang yourself just to make it stop. But you can't do that, so instead you give in and buy whatever it is they're selling.

Did I get that right?

Well, guess what? I don't care if you're an IT professional, a musician, a consultant, a CEO, a recruiter, an engineer, a doctor, an accountant, or a professional athlete. You're also a salesperson. That's right, we're all in sales. You, me, your boss, your lawyer, your spouse, your kids; everyone's in sales.

You see, from time to time, each of us is called upon to sell something. It could be a product, a service, a plan, an idea, a creation, a story to a judge or jury, or even oneself (presumably for a job, not into slavery). And more often than not, it's actually very important that we succeed. I don't know why; that's just the way it is.

It's hard for me to imagine anyone being successful in life without having the ability to sell when necessary. And yet, we think of it as something unsavory or even unethical. Not only does the idea fill some people with disgust, fear or self-loathing, but to make matters worse, most people aren't even good at it.

Well, let me dispel a myth. Selling isn't a bad thing. It's got a bad rep, but that's because it's misunderstood. The purest capitalist relationship is between a seller and a buyer of goods or services. So, for every capitalist act, there's a seller involved. Selling is a noble thing. And not only can you do it, but you can learn how to do it well and with dignity.

Here are 10 rules that will help you sell more effectively when you need to. They'll help you get through life easier. No kidding.

Be knowledgeable. Also, be prepared. Know your material cold, and that includes knowing how you stack up against the competition and anticipating what may come up. Knowledge and preparation also facilitate effective selling by helping you feel more confident and less nervous.

Be yourself. If you try to be someone else, or something you're not, you'll fail. Just don't even go there. If you think you're lacking something critical to sell effectively, then learn it or get it. Or maybe you're just on the wrong track. But don't fake it.

Be honest. If you believe in yourself, your ideas, your product, whatever, you'll do just fine. Also be forthright, don't beat around the bush. Strategic positioning is one thing--a good thing--but bullshit or dishonesty is bad news.

Be persistent. Also, be patient. That doesn't mean don't take no for an answer. Sometimes it's best to give up the battle to win the war. Have faith in yourself, the rest of the universe, and karma. Things really do work out for the best. And if they don't, worrying about it won't make a difference.

Be concise. Be crisp, focused, pithy. Don't be verbose, annoying, time consuming, selfish, or a pain in the ass. Don't abuse the audience's or the customer's time and patience. Goes hand-in-hand with being respectful.

Be creative. Also be open, collaborative, flexible, a problem solver. The concept of value proposition is based primarily on solving a tough problem better than others can. If it was easy, they wouldn't need you or your product.

Be respectful. Respect the audience's or the customer's intelligence and right to make their own decision. Be respectful of your competition, as well. Crisply state your selling points, then stop and wait for questions. If you lose, be gracious and you'll win the next time. Don't be arrogant.

Be there. Answer the phone, show up, make yourself available, whatever it takes. Also, be present, in the moment, in real time. Interact. Take it one step at a time and trust the process. Don't fire off an e-mail or a phone call and then go into hiding.

Be brave. We all have fears. Be afraid. Not only is it normal, it's a critical survival skill. Courage is being scared, recognizing your fear, facing your fear, and doing the right thing anyway. Don't try to block fear; you can't, at least not without creating bigger problems.

Shut up and listen. Selling is not about talking, it's about listening. When you listen, you hear what your customer or whoever is looking for. Then you can tailor your responses appropriately and, if you're on the ball, make a connection.

Bottom line:
It's ironic that the most important aspects of effective selling--like listening, honesty and being yourself--are exactly the opposite of what many people perceive them to be. If you learn to embrace the salesperson in you, you'll find that it's a valuable skill to have--not just for your career, but for life.