In a working productive community, it is everyone’s responsibility to go out and “make the sale”. Selling is, to most people, the scariest form of communication there is. The culture in which most of us are raised radiates fear to go out to the market. It is yet another residue of the authoritarian society. In this case, our “conscience” and the “private logic” will join forces to tell us “we are not good at it”, and that this “it” – selling – is very close to deceiving. But this is false. Selling is a radical act of empathy: it requires us to put ourselves in the other’s shoes, understand her needs and honestly explain her why and how we think our work can help her in what she is trying to achieve.
But it has another side, which is even more difficult and intimate: face our own fear to be rejected, to not be given value to. Our products are a projection of ourselves, of our values and of our work. They have value, and in the end this value is instantiated as a price. Defending a reasonable price, that covers all costs and reflects the value to be received by the client, is not easy. We need to empathize with the person we are dealing with. At the same time – and quite reasonably – she attempts to make the most of her money, that is, in the end, the result of the effort of her work or that of her organization. For her, trying to reduce the price, is her way to show respect for herself and her colleagues. For us, showing firmness in the value of our offer, reducing the amount of work associated to a reduced price is the way we, as sellers, respect our own work and that of our partners. But it is not easy. Our sense of inferiority will surface in the tension associated to the negotiation, and our fear to be discarded will try to take control to achieve “a sale at any price” or, even worse, “a pilot”, “a free sample”… to convert a sale in an involuntary gift will only make things worse.
The trouble with selling is not in the act of selling itself, it is in us. Selling requires courage. Courage to be firm in our honesty, to not doubt the value of our community’s work, and our own. Selling requires us to be moral.
The salesman of the folk tales, the charlatan, the word-quick manipulative person that “sells a comb to a bald man” reflects the archetype of another counterproductive strategy: the survival instinct. Speaking without pause, constantly trying to take the buyer by surprise, offer her something different at the first sign of doubt… all these are expressions of fear. And no, they don’t work. As many combs as we might sell, can you think of any charlatan that ever managed to achieve a comfortable life?
We live in a society where the word “merchant” is derogatory. Like many derogatory words rooted in tradition and in religious culture, it is really trying to achieve a sort of exorcism. Demeaning the basis of one’s personal autonomy in an area so important as the market, allows the person pronouncing it to escape a challenge he or she is scared of. The more desirable she, deep down, sees this autonomy, the more she will be comforted by demeaning it.
A small or medium enterprise, a family business, a community that starts producing, needs to secure as soon possible a diverse client base, but selling is also a true test that challenges everyones’s moral fiber.
Selling honestly and respectfully, selling with meaning, attaching the appropriate value to human labor, is an act of self-improvement. It requires confidence in ourselves. It requires consistency with our own compromises. It requires we overcome our fears. And in a community, or a SME trying to bootstrap itself, it simply must be a shared responsibility, something that everybody needs to be able to do, with everyone else’s support. So, nothing reveals the solidity, the intimate strength of a community like its positive attitude towards its commercial, mercantile activities.