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In Her Words: Every Job is a Sales Job

If you’re like me, your head explodes a little bit every time you read another article that confirms that women still earn 20% less than their male colleagues who do the same work. Like me, you might feel slightly outraged when you realize that less than 7% of CEOs at large corporations are women, according to Fortune. And you might brace yourself when you’re hoping for a promotion but privately expecting that it will go to a man who has less experience than you do—and it does.

Stop right there. Don’t get mad. Don’t sit and stew. Maybe this is a gender thing. Maybe this is an experience thing. Most definitely, though, it’s a sales thing. Hear me out. You’ve got to sell this like a pro. Even if you’re not a sales pro, you still sell. Everyone does. Every time you want something from someone else, you’re trying to make a sale.

Did you just say, “Ick?”

That’s what I said when a former boss told me he thought I’d make a good saleswoman, and he offered me a promotion into the sales department. I said salespeople are cheesy and manipulative. I said I had no interest in sales. I said I didn’t know how to sell. He disagreed. He said he had seen me sell again and again. And he said I did it with integrity and with concern for my “customers.” I was a management consultant at the time. Before that, I was a college professor. Those aren’t sales jobs. Or are they?

That manager knew a secret that I didn’t know yet: Every job is a sales job. Management consultants sell their clients on putting their business advice into practice. They sell their clients on coming back—and paying for—more advice in the future. College professors sell their deans on letting them create new courses. They sell their students on handing in their assignments on time.

My manager was right: I have been selling my whole life. So have you.

Think about anything you did today that helped you get your way. Did you persuade a reluctant little one to brush her teeth? Have you ever encouraged your assistant to stay late with you to finish an urgent project that resulted in you both getting positive visibility among your co-workers? Have you pitched an idea to your boss and got the thumbs-up? That’s selling. Whenever you ask someone to do something and the answer is “yes,” you’ve made a sale. So if you want a raise or a promotion, do the same thing you always do: Sell your boss on it.

“Ick.” I know.

You may feel similar to how I once felt: You think you don’t know how to sell. You know don’t want to sell. You don’t even like to be sold. But you’ve been selling since you were a kid. We all have. Back then, we knew how to talk our parents into buying us that special toy or letting us stay up past our bedtimes.

Recall how you got your way. Was it by demanding and yelling? Your parents probably didn’t give in to that. Rather, it was likely by knowing what you wanted, using what your adult self might call “charm,” and making a compelling case. The same rules apply now. I never pressure or mislead someone I’m hoping to sell. Instead, I figure out how the other person may benefit from agreeing to my request or buying my company’s services. And that’s what I offer her.

In fact, I use the strategies of the sales professional whenever I need, want or deserve something—at work or otherwise—that depends upon my ability to influence another person and help them see why it’s good for both of us. You can use these strategies, too:

  1. First, you have to make a plan. Unless you know what you want, after all, you probably won’t get it. Figure out who can help you.
  2. Then, look for opportunities to “sell” yourself, your ideas and your requests. They’re everywhere. Once you recognize those opportunities as potential “sales,” you can become more deliberate in your approach.
  3. Next, try to establish trust with the person who can help you. Listen to what she needs. Pay attention. Show that you genuinely care.
  4. The next part is the hardest: You have to come right out and ask for what you want. If you don’t ask, you won’t get it.
  5. And finally, follow up, whether the answer is “yes” or “no.” Send a thank-you note. Return the favor if you can. A good policy: Never end a relationship just because you got what you wanted. Life is full of gives and takes.

You might be doing these things already; you just didn’t call them “sales” or even realize that you were selling. Now that you know you have been selling all along, why not do it on purpose?


Dr. Cindy McGovern headshot

Known as “the First Lady of Sales,” Dr. Cindy McGovern is the founder and CEO of Orange Leaf Consulting, a sales management and consulting firm in San Francisco. She’s a sought-after speaker on topics related to sales, management, and negotiation. She is the author of Every Job Is a Sales Job: How to Use the Art of Selling to Win at Work, to be published by McGraw-Hill in September and available now for pre-order on Amazon.com.

For more on knowing your worth, check out:

Part 1: Negotiation Is Problem Solving—Here Is How To Do It

Part 2: The Negotiation Career Advice No One Tells You

Part 3: Get More of What You Want: How to Tell a Good Deal