“I am in sales. What? Me? Sales? Noooo! That’s my dad; that’s my husband, that’s not me! I’m not in sales. Well, Becky, yes you are, so you might as well own it.” I had this very conversation with myself earlier this week.

We’re all in sales, might as well own it!

Here’s what happened. I’ve been re-reading this great book, To Sell Is Human: The Surprising Truth About Moving Others, by Daniel Pink where the author describes how now, more than ever, everyone is in sales. Pink frames it as “moving others,” whether it’s a teacher moving students from ignorance to knowledge about a particular topic through inspired teaching or a doctor moving a patient from illness to wellness by motivating them to take charge of their health. The vast majority of us are constantly engaged in moving others. As a coach I help clients move from feeling disenfranchised and unemployable to relevant and aware of the possibilities.

For me, the realization that I’m in sales was less about how I help people move from one state to another and more about the traditional elements of sales: getting buy-in (identifying problems), selling services, and handling rejection. The funny thing is that, as a career coach, I’m working with clients on a similar process: selling their experience and skills to potential employers so they can help the employer solve a problem.

Identifying problems

The root of all sales is solving a problem for the customer. The best salespeople go one step further; they know how to help people identify problems they don’t even realize they have. So how do salespeople do that? They listen carefully and they take the other person’s perspective. Interesting, right? Exactly the same skills we need to be excellent parents, citizens, teachers, employees, managers, or job applicants.

When we’re able to take someone else’s perspective on a problem, it makes it possible for us to identify unique solutions to those problems. You know, this the concept of taking other people’s perspective is getting a lot of press right now. I believe that perspective taking is frequently overlooked in the problem solving framework. That’s unfortunate because when we do take the time to look at an issue from a different perspective, we have the opportunity to modify our own perspectives, develop empathy for the other perspective, identify the problem in a different way, and find a better path forward.

Perspective taking

For example, in my coaching practice, I work with women who are returning to work after staying at home to raise their families. Many come to me convinced that their decision to stay at home will keep them from finding meaningful, well-paid work. They feel irrelevant and out-of-touch.

Since I stayed home for 12 years, I have experienced these feelings. I can put myself in their shoes and imagine how they might be feeling. When I take the time to listen closely, I discover tidbits of information that help me reframe their existing skills and experience and propose potential paths forward. And, usually, paths forward that they would never have explored on their own, like technology or starting their own business.


Then there’s the hardest thing of all in sales – rejection. Although every person who’s ever sold anything has experienced rejection, it’s still brutal. Hearing “No,” over and over again is disconcerting. I have days where I think I’ll never hear “Yes” again. But I do. And, I’ve come to realize that those no’s are important, too. They remind me to assess how I present myself and what I do.

The No’s also force me to ask probing questions to make sure that the “no” is final, because often it isn’t. Sometimes it’s that I haven’t understood what the potential client needs. At other times it’s that I haven’t explained what I offer in a way they can comprehend (i.e., I didn’t work from their perspective). I once bought a notepad for my husband that said “Salesmanship begins when the customer says no.” So even though I understand it intellectually, actually pushing against the “no” is hard to do.

No’s make room for Yes’s

However, I have adopted the philosophy – shared by both successful salespeople and successful writers – that every “no” gets me closer to a “yes.” I have even customized the philosophy to say that every “no” makes room for a better “yes.”

If you think about it, there’s only so much time in the day and we can’t work with everyone. So those “no’s” open the possibility of new and better opportunities. Oh. Did you notice that I refer to them as “no’s” and not rejections? The difference between the two is huge. A rejection is personal; a “no” is just a “No, this doesn’t work for me.”

Shades of “No”

Trust me, it’s not easy. It is true that the more practice I have handling “no’s” the better I get at not taking them personally. I had to train myself to instantly hear the “no” as an opportunity, not as a rejection of me personally. It could be an opportunity for more conversation to clarify both points of view; it could be an opportunity to follow up at a later date, or it could be an opportunity to leave space for just the right “yes.”

You can just imagine how important it is to learn to handle the “no’s” and the silences during a job search! It’s hard to stay in the space where the “no” is just a “no” and not a rejection of you personally. Every time clients receive a “no” from an opportunity, I have to sell them on the idea that it’s not a rejection of them as a person; they’re not bad people; it’s not a bad company; it’s just a “no.” And the “no” leaves room for the “yes” to show up. It does. I promise!

Who are you moving?

So, as we move through the next few weeks, let’s take some time every day to figure out what we’re selling – who we’re trying to move. Let’s think about how to take the other person’s perspective so we can help identify the right problem. And then let’s think about how the “no’s” we heard can be used to keep us going forward. What type of “no” was it? “No” forever, or “No” for now, or “No” as an opportunity for a better “Yes?”

We’re all human. We’re all built for sales. Let’s harness our power to move people forward mindfully with support and kindness. What are you selling?

Women’s Tech Conservatory

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