by Ben Perreira
I had the pleasure of enjoying some aperitifs with two talented friends and three lovely ladies last night. One of the ladies and I got to talking about selling things versus selling oneself. She has a successful marketing company and should know a thing or two about selling things and herself. We agreed that there is a big difference.
People will argue otherwise, that selling is a simple practice. This is very true. Selling requires knowledge the needs of the prospective buyer’s needs. Why not just figure out the other person’s needs and adjust one’s sales pitch to suit their needs? There are two related differences: weaknesses and identity.
Sure, I know the weaknesses of Product X that I’m trying to sell, but it isn’t decidedly me. I am selling Product X to a customer who understands (or will soon understand, because I am good at selling it) its place in the marketplace because of examples, parallels and precedent. Product Ben’s comparables are fuzzier to define.
When I sell myself I am 100% accountable for the failure of the Product Ben. I am aware of my product’s weaknesses and will err on the side of safety by underselling in an effort to manage expectations. Product X’s weakness can be easily vetted by the market. My weaknesses (often strengths in different contexts, for example “ambition” can be a weakness when you’re an assistant, but it’s a strength for a rising star) are subject to human vetting. These are much easier to see from the outside. The woman above relied on friends for a concise elevator pitch that she was certainly capable of crafting were the product not herself.
Of course, we all try to sell ourselves and some are quite good. The central challenge is getting to the bottom of what Product Ben actually represents. As my friends and I once wrote into a script for a 12th grade English class movie, “People are like Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups. We show other people the shiny foil wrapper, but they really just want to get to the chocolately-peanut-buttery treat inside.” Poignant, ’twas.