I sat down with a client last week who was preparing for an interview to win new business along with several colleagues. This gentleman didn’t have the air of someone who thought of himself as a salesperson, so I asked him how he felt about the pending pitch, and he shrugged — not quite indifferently, but more like he didn’t want to think about it.
I asked him if he had any discomfort around interviews, and he acknowledged some. His body language suggested more than that to me, and I let his answer segue into a bit of a monologue about selling, and how his company likes to manage these sales pitches, and the expectations he needs to live up to that just don’t seem to jibe with who he thinks of himself to be.
I had him present a little part of what he expected to say at the interview, and I could see his discomfort in action. He was definitely trying to play a role that didn’t seem to fit him.
So I asked him how he wanted the interview to go, and he told me he wanted to have leadership presence, which he described as “confident stage presence.” As you might imagine, I really liked the sound of that.
I chatted with him a little more, and learned that in his normal role at work, he led a team through meetings literally every day, and had zero anxiety around those presentations. So I asked him to lead me through one of those meetings.
Suddenly he was like a different person. He was more animated, he had more personality, his words flowed, he smiled and enjoyed himself more. And his presence just skyrocketed.
Clearly, my job was to get him to present at the interview like he presented himself to his team.
So we chatted about his role in this pending interview. Just like with an actor approaching a fictional character, the way that you think about your role in a real-life challenge dictates how you play your part.
He clearly saw his role as being that of a salesperson. To him, that meant talking a lot about himself and his offering, and it defined success as the prospect saying, “Yes, I’ll buy.” The look on his face as he described this vision spoke volumes.
I asked him to put that vision of his role aside for a moment, and suggested that he consider a different role.
“What if you’re not there to sell? Let’s imagine a totally different scenario: Maybe this company that you’re going to be speaking to has a major project coming up, and they’re looking for advice on how to proceed with it. They know your company has a good reputation for taking care of projects like this, so they’ve asked you guys to come and talk with them about it. How would that be?”
He looked at me, imagining. A smile danced on the corners of his mouth.
“So,” I continued, “Maybe you’re not there as a salesperson at all. Maybe you’re there just to consult with them, and share your expertise in projects like this.”
I asked him to present to me again, and all of a sudden everything changed. He talked about the challenges that this project was facing, and he offered his recommendations. He spoke with a gleam in his eye and a smile that communicated that yes, this would be a hard project to achieve within the parameters laid out. It would be a challenge, but it would be fun to tackle the challenge.
He instantly vaulted to leadership presence, and with that presence came an undeniable sense of value that no prospect in their right mind could resist.
So, the next time you feel like you have to sell yourself, I want to suggest that you rethink your role.
- Think of yourself not as selling, but as being there to help.
- Think of yourself not as a salesperson, but as a consultant.
- And recognize that when consultants are hired, they’re hired to consult. Your being there to consult means you’ve already won. You don’t have any further distance to go — You already got invited to offer your expertise.
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