Great Selling: Two Keys to Success…Humility & Self-Awareness?

Great selling requires humility and self-awareness…?  Not all that long ago, saying that humility is a good quality in professional sales people would have been viewed as heresy.  Back then, we were all supposed to be supremely self-assured, assertive, and certain in our belief that we knew better than our customers.  In short, we were supposed to act like jerks.

It didn’t matter if we knew deep-down that treating buyers like children was probably the wrong way to go.  We had to fight back whatever awareness we had about our selfish, seller-centered approach, and press on until those buyers saw things our way.  Great selling back then was all bravado, all I’m smarter than you are, and a lot of BS.

Since then, of course, many of us have wised up, realizing that a good dose of humility and awareness of our own shortcomings as sellers can drive us to become great sellers.  If we are willing to be humble as we go about our work, then we can reflect an attitude of other-interest (as opposed to self-interest) and true buyer focus.  Buyers have wanted that from us for a number of years.

I am not the supreme authority on this subject (or any subject, for that matter), but I can speak to the need for humility and self-awareness in selling based on my own research and my own experiences.  About ten years ago, I was working in the technology services business.  I had the privilege of working with a great mentor who demonstrated real customer focus.  He was an inspiration, and I looked up to him.  Unfortunately, the two of us were surrounded by others who viewed selling as something to be done to someone else.  They may have known that their approach was wrong, but they didn’t care.  They were arrogant, and they wanted me to act arrogantly, as well.  I’d had enough of that approach to selling.  It wasn’t working for me, and I knew it.  My results were starting to show it, as well.  It was time for a change.

I left that firm and went to work for Huthwaite, the company founded by Neil Rackham (author of SPIN Selling, Rethinking the Sales Force, and other volumes on seller and buyer behavior), and my re-education began.  Since making that leap into the sales performance business, I’ve had a lot of time to learn about and reflect upon the behaviors and observable traits of great sales performers.  In fact, I spent a great deal of time in 2011 and 2012 researching what separates great account strategists from average ones(For more on my research, visit the articles to which I’ve provided links here.)  It turns out that great sellers are not so self-centered after all.  In fact, they are often precisely the opposite in the way they conduct their business.

To help illustrate what it means to be humble and self-aware in the context of selling, I’ve put together a self-help list for those of us professional sales people who struggle with humility and self-awareness.  Following is a short list of things that great sellers frequently remind themselves to do in order to ensure great sales performance:

1.  I don’t know everything about my customer.  There is probably more that I don’t know than I do know about them.  I should do something about that.

2.  I have to identify where my customer is in the buying process, so I can be in alignment with my customer.  Once we are aligned, then and only then should I attempt to influence their thinking.

3.  No one likes arrogant sales people.  I won’t act like one.

4.  I will stop pretending that I know a great deal about my customer’s business issues and opportunities.  I will strive to be authentic in my understanding of what they are trying to achieve.  I won’t fake it.

5.  I know how I can help my customers.  I understand the problems my company can solve, and I recognize the opportunities that we can help customers to capture for themselves.  I am first a student of my customer’s problems and opportunities, and second, I am a problem-solver and an opportunity creator.

What do you do to keep your SELF in check?  What suggestions can you offer others (by way of a response to this post) to help them stay humble, self-aware, and focused on the buyer as they pursue great sales results?


  1. Diane Wian says

    Humility helps to keep us open and receptive and curious – and those with whom we are engaging can feel that receptivity – which encourages a mutually engaged and rich exchange.

    I have read that you can’t hold judgement and curiosity at the same time – and in my experience of trying to hold both positions simultaneously- it is indeed not possible. Curiosity is a receptive state and judgement is closed. Coming from a state of curiosity helps to open to the others’ perspective and promotes understanding of their view. Receiving the other person’s view with active curiosity can open up so many possibilities before sharing your own perspective, solution or idea.

    Being self aware of one’s own open and closed states in interactions is just one example of how the awareness can contributes to our own growth and deeper and richer exchanges with others.

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