For years I have been selling Outthinker: our workshops, certifications, speeches, membership, etc. And to be honest, it has felt exhausting. Waking up to long lists of tasks, burning red, overdue, people to follow up with and check in with. Long flights banging away email outreaches when I could be drafting the next chapter of a book.

Now, you may love sales. I know many people who do. But for those of us for whom sales is less than a natural calling, and even for those for whom it’s a passion, I have stumbled across a counterintuitive idea that is working surprisingly well. I am less stressed. We are finding more clients, doing more engaging work, and earning more revenue all with far less effort.

Stop selling

I’m not talking about creating viral content that makes the phone spontaneously ring nor building a salesforce nor mending relationships with customers. What I am talking about is shifting your entire perspective so you are sitting at the other end of the table. This idea is grounded in proven research in marketing and sales. And it works.

Here in Greenwich, Conn., known as the “hedge fund capital of the world,” when you first meet someone at a fundraiser or holiday party, they ask, “What do you do?” And nine times out of ten, they are looking for one of two answers: whether you are on the “buy side” or the “sell side”. In other words, whether you run a fund or research firm and spend your days deciding what securities to buy, or whether you sit at a desk calling those funds, trying sell them a bond or stock.

What I’m proposing here is that the buy-sell distinction, which side of the table you are sitting at, is a mental fabrication. It’s a paradigm that you walk in every day. That paradigm is mostly arbitrary and you can flip it at any moment … right now … if you choose to.

Flip the sale

You see, a sale is simply a trade of cash for something of value. So instead of thinking of yourself as trying find people to give you cash for the value of your service or product, think of yourself as being a buyer of cash. You are looking to purchase cash and the currency you have is your value.

If this sounds too esoteric a concept, let me break down the process. Recently our microwave broke so I went in search for someone who could fix it. What I did was:

  1. Clarify what I want: A microwave that works.
  2. Decide what kind of repair shop I was looking for: A top rating on Angie’s list, within a few miles of my house, not the cheapest or most expensive.
  3. Search: Asked friends, looked online.
  4. Consider: Lined up a few options, contacted the ones I liked the best to get a better assessment.
  5. Choose: Selected the one I liked the best.

If you’re selling something, your goal is to similarly weed through the masses of potential clients with money to find the right match. You clarify what you want (a client), decide what kind of client you want (whose needs fit, has the right budget, has urgency, is easy or fun to work with), search (through marketing or networking or whatever means appropriate), consider the short list, then choose.

Selectively shop

A sales expert I got a chance to speak to this week shared some research that has completely shifting my thinking. A massive study of the actions and behaviors of successful v. less successful salespeople shows that the key difference is that less successful salespeople think of sales as influence. They have a target in their sights and think about how to convince them to need what the salesperson is selling.

Successful sales people, by contrast, spend the bulk of their time sorting through prospective clients to separate good fits from bad ones and identify the ones who have the right characteristics (the right needs, budgets, urgency, etc.).

When they come across one that does not look promising, they drop that prospect and move on to more productive ones. Just as you would were you to come across a microwave repair shop that didn’t meet your criteria.

How to do it

Here is how to implement this insight in five steps:

  1. Decide what you want: What type of work or product do you want to be buying cash with?
  2. Decide who you want: What are the characteristics of the kind of client or customer you want (age, location, worldview, needs, etc.).
  3. Search: Where are those people and how do you get to them?
  4. Consider: Create a filter that allows you to quickly rule out prospects that will not be good fits, then implement it rigorously; cut off discussions early if they don’t pass your filter test.
  5. Choose: Pick just the prospects that are ideal fits and engage them in a conversation about what is possible by trading your product/service for their cash.