My next book is out on April 12th. The Art of the Sale – Learning from the Masters about the Business of Life is about salespeople, who they are and why they can do what they do. The idea for it first came to me while I was at Harvard Business School, where sales is not part of the curriculum. Why, I wondered? A professor told me that if I wanted to learn selling, I should take a two week night course.
And yet what is business but creating a product or service and then selling it? Why should sales be so belittled by the business academy? The harder I looked, the more contradictions I found. There is Arthur Miller’s grim portrayal of selling in Death of a Salesman, as well as Horatio Alger’s tales of Americans who pull themselves up through society’s ranks with a ready smile, hard work and a knack for selling. We reward great salespeople with high political office and great fortunes, and yet society also belittles selling as tawdry, the back-slapping car salesman trying to gouge out a few extra cents.
Whenever I have had to sell, I’ve found it hard. Selling requires persistence, the adoption of masks and attitudes, conviction, persuasion, empathy and a bullying streak. More than any other aspect of business, it forces you to ask that most fundamental question: what are you willing to do for a buck?
Researching this book took me all over the world, from Moroccan souks to Japanese insurance firms to Silicon Valley. I met many fascinating characters – salespeople are invariably good company, with great stories to tell. They were mostly very honest about the difficulties of their work and its rewards.
So this book is for people who sell, whether they like it or not. I tried to be as un-squeamish as I could as I sorted through the many challenges of selling, the need to find purpose, to stay optimistic in the face of endless rejection, to balance personal and professional friendships, empathy and ego, truth and lies. To keep one’s mental balance amidst the psychological turmoil that is sales.
We survive by selling, by converting out talents and efforts into financial and non-financial rewards. My hope is that you read The Art of the Sale and find that process easier.
The first review of the book just came out in Publishers’ Weekly. It says:
“Though we normally don’t think of Nelson Mandela as a salesman, persuading white South Africans to end apartheid was one of the great sales campaigns in recent history. Journalist Delves Broughton (Ahead of the Curve: Two Years at Harvard Business School) thinks salesmanship deserves more respect, though he freely admits that the few times he was called upon to sell, he hated it. Integral to any successful business, selling is seldom taught in business school, perhaps because M.B.A. programs prefer to paint a less brutal vision of business life. This exploration of the nature of salesmanship begins in Morocco, where Delves Broughton meets Majid, a world-renowned antiques dealer, who suggests that the art of the sale lies in patience and the ability to instantly read people. For infomercial-king Tony Sullivan, the art lies in the ability to tell an irresistible story, while Japan’s top life insurance salesperson, Mrs. Shibata, credits her conviction that she’s performing a valuable service. Like Malcolm Gladwell, Delves Broughton is drawn to success stories where natural talent takes second place to hard work, but he’s also willing to explore the manipulative, deceptive aspects of the task, as well as the endless rejection salespeople must face. His enthusiasm and admiration for skilled practitioners of the art is contagious.”