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Who Is A Salesman?

The Job Hunter

By Rabbi Mordechai Kruger

Our intrepid job hunter, Beryl Klein, is using a tool called “informational interviews” to learn about the different kinds of jobs that are found in the field of sales. When he is able to describe the job that best fits his skills, background, and goals, he will focus his search on finding that job. When he finds it, he’ll have the best chance of being hired, and the best chance to succeed.

Beryl wants to find people who work in sales and ask them a few specific questions, beginning with, “What do you sell?” Which leads us to ask (especially after reading Daniel Pink’s To Sell Is Human, as I recommended last week), “Who is a salesman?” The answer is, “a lot more people than you think.” Because every time you agree to give up something you value in order to access something of greater value, a sale has taken place. And the person who led you to conclude that you should make that exchange is a salesman.

When your doctor tells you that those extra pounds need to come off, you will probably nod with appropriate respect, and stop for pizza on the way home. Even if your doctor has done a really good job of explaining the health risks of being overweight, your resolve will probably wane in a few days. In order to get you to start a diet, and stay on it, you need to be “sold.” Does the doctor need to “sell” you the idea of being thin? Probably not. You know all about it. What will really make the difference is feeling that with each food choice you make, you can do something that makes a real difference in your overall health and well-being. A difference that is worth more than the momentary enjoyment of the brownie. You probably didn’t think of your doctor as a salesman. But if he’s a good doctor, that’s exactly what he is.

Let’s think of a more conventional salesman and the comparison will become clear. You go to a car showroom and come home owning a Mustang convertible. Clearly a sale has taken place—but what was sold? If just a car was sold, then you could have paid much less. You paid many extra dollars for the feeling of freedom, power, and youthful vigor that a Mustang represents. Exchanging dollars for feeling youthful is no different than exchanging brownies for feeling healthy. But if car guys and doctors are both salesmen, and feelings are what they want us to buy, then we really need to ask, what is it that salesmen sell?

When you are out during the day and you decide on pizza for lunch, you aren’t really buying food. What you really want is convenience and variety. Your insurance agent? He’s selling the peace of mind that comes from knowing that you’ve done the best you can to protect what’s important to you. Clothing stores, and certainly men’s hat stores? They sell membership cards.

Much has been written about the contrast between the two greatest salesmen of modern times, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs. Neither of them really sold computers, software, or anything else you could hold in your hands. They sold their visions, their dreams, their sense of how things could be different. Gates sold the concept that individuals could be empowered to accomplish things that had never before been done without special equipment and training. Jobs sold the dream of changing the world (remember the 1984 commercial?).

So when Beryl asks, “What do you sell?” he needs to ask, “Besides what it says on your sign or your business card, what do you really sell?” He needs to know what it is that convinces people to make the exchange, to trade what they have for something even better. When he understands what people are really buying, he’ll know what it is that he should sell. v

Rabbi Mordechai Kruger is the founder and director of Pathways to Parnassa, an organization providing job-search and career coaching to our community. He can be reached at

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Posted by on January 2, 2014. Filed under In This Week's Edition. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.