Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

You Were Born to Sell: Dismantling the Myths of Self-Promotion

Working hard at making something isn’t a guarantee of success. In fact, when you ship your project or work, your job has only just begun.

Many people take the brave steps of making and creating, only to hit a wall because they’ve fallen into the trap of thinking that marketing their work isn’t for them.

As best-selling author Dan Pink points out in his book To Sell is Human, we’re all in sales now. “We’re persuading, convincing, and influencing others to give up something they’ve got in exchange for what we’ve got,” he writes. Selling is becoming increasingly necessary and a real competitive advantage in a world of growing entrepreneurship and striking out on your own, because chances are you won’t have a sales team to do your pitching and promotion for you.

It’s easy for us to think that quality alone will be enough to promote our work. Yet we need to open the door to the outside world for our ideas and creations, because if we make something and nobody’s there to see, why did we create in the first place?

If we make something and nobody’s there to see, why did we create in the first place?

Maybe you feel like the act of selling is too alien or even dishonest when your disposition is so far from the enduring tropes of the sleazy car dealer, the mercenary huckster. But selling doesn’t require you to be someone who you’re not. In fact, it demands the opposite, that you be true to yourself and your passions — and then reach out to connect from that core.

Do you still have a mental block against selling? Here are two ways to help you rethink your approach.

Use the “Free Trait Theory” 

Sometimes we allow our inherent personality traits to box us into comfort zones. However, according to researcher Brian Little’s “free trait theory,” it’s possible to adjust these traits in order to advance “core personal projects,” or projects that give you meaning and direction. In other words, your character traits are more malleable than you think.

So if you’re hesitant to self-market because you’re naturally more reserved, embrace the free trait theory and take on the guest role of an extrovert for an hour in service of what matters to you.  Little offers his own example of how this works:

“[Even though I’m a classic introvert, when I give a lecture for my students I perform with great passion. Introverts, when they are ‘on,’ become pseudo-extroverts. Can you tell the difference between a born extrovert and a pseudo-extrovert? Usually you cannot.”

There’s an element of “fake it ‘til you make it” in turning on pseudo-qualities, but consider the saying in reverse. Let what you’re making provide fuel for faking it, as Little does when he performs his lectures.

Your character traits are more malleable than you think.

Open up your mindset from “I hate having to do this song and dance for strangers” to a willingness to meet people to discover — to talk over common ground, to share your passion, or to learn something new that could inform your work. Remember: not doing everything you can to get your work seen betrays your creativity. 

Turning on pseudo-extraversion might feel out of character but connecting with others does not mean you are out of step with who you are and your values. Advancing your ideas in a meaningful way by stretching to connect with other human beings is an offering to share what you find valuable. Remember that selling is actually a conversation, a fact that the loud, annoying salesperson stereotype drowns out. 

Use Attunement to Jumpstart Your Extroverted Side

Most of us have the “ideal” sales personality all wrong in the first place. Extroverts, who gain their energy from other people tend to have more outgoing personalities and are often considered “natural born” salespeople. Yet social psychologist Adam Grant discovered that the best salespeople are not extroverts but ambiverts — people who fall between the poles of extroversion and introversion.

Ambiverts strike a crucial balance between talking and listening, neither dominating nor dampening a conversation. Grant explains, they “draw from a wider repertoire of behavioral options to find the appropriate balance between selling and serving.” This responsive engagement style of balancing assertiveness with attention is what Pink calls attunement, or “the ability to bring one’s actions and outlook into harmony with other people and with the context you’re in.” The best salespeople aren’t the most outgoing, they are the ones who can best “attune” to those around them. 

The good news is that statistically, you’re likely an ambivert, as the level of extroversion in a population forms a bell curve. (Try this assessment.) So you already have many attunement skills.

There is one method of purposefully tapping into your inner ambivert called strategic mimicry. People naturally mirror each other in close social interactions, so strategic mimicry attempts to deliberately kick-start what happens subconsciously. Pink offers a “Watch-Wait-Wane” tactic in which you:

  1. Watch the other person’s actions, body language, and speech patterns
  2. Wait to mirror back certain aspects in your pose, movement, or certain expressions
  3. Wane, letting go of your conscious efforts to mimic so your natural instincts kick in.

If this tactic seems too contrived for your taste, exercise the first step of focusing your full attention on your audience. Instead of trying to jump in forcefully to a conversation, allow yourself to listen, acknowledging what’s being said through your demeanor and your words, and asking questions to move the chat forward. Attunement is for building rapport and relationships, not how many people you can check off your social conversation card. 

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The challenge is to find the right balance in your approach, propelling yourself to stretch in service of the ideas and projects you care about based on your strengths of listening and thinking before speaking. As a creative and self-starter, this flexibility is in your nature. Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi found that creative personalities are complex and versatile, “remarkable for their ability to adapt to almost any situation and to make do with whatever is at hand to reach their goals.”

You can’t expect your work to speak for itself when you haven’t made an effort to reach out to people who will listen. That can be just as tone-deaf an attitude as the pushy promoter’s. Turn selling into an act of being yourself. Your work will thank you.

How about you?

What makes you nervous or reluctant toward selling?

More insights on: Self-Marketing

Janet Choi

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Janet Choi is the Chief Creative Officer at iDoneThis, an incredibly simple way to share your progress with your colleagues at work. She writes about productivity, motivation, and the way people work on the iDoneThis blog. Say hi on Twitter @lethargarian or on Google+.
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