How Great Are You? Sales Advice for Shy and Service-Oriented Entrepreneurs

My first two articles in the entrepreneurial series gave an overview of the Entrepreneur Challenge: Selling Yourself and covered the concept of Embracing Your Inner Salesperson. The idea in this series is that even though marketing is vital to entrepreneurs’ success, many times we hesitate when it comes to promoting ourselves – a tendency that can be attributed to two things: (1) We don’t want to annoy people or push something on them that they don’t want; and (2) we don’t actually believe we’re that great. I covered the first of these topics in Embracing Your Inner Salesperson and will dive into the second topic now.

At some point in the sales and marketing life cycle, it will be necessary to talk about yourself and your business and just how useful and terrific you are. For many “non-sales” people, this is easier said than done – especially for those of us who are service-oriented (“what’s important is other people, not me”) or shy (“please don’t notice me”).

For people who tend to prefer to move through the world less conspicuously or who place a premium on serving others, the spotlight can feel disconcerting to the point of discomfort. Let’s take each of these categories in turn.

Service-Oriented Types

People who are service-oriented tend to find it far more comfortable to focus on other people. Having to talk about themselves is not their favorite thing, especially when it feels like “bragging.” For these folks, a reluctance to take the spotlight is often less about self-confidence and more about humility – “I know I’m pretty good at what I do; I just prefer to focus on other people.”

I find that sometimes the “being of service” approach can mask an underlying layer of insecurity (great fodder for coaching!), but as long as you’re someone who already knows you’re actually pretty great, a simple mindset change can make all the difference for service-oriented types.

Two ideas that tend to work for people who are service-oriented, but must occasionally hold the spotlight are (1) make sure you’re clear what’s in it for the person you’re talking to, and (2) practice, practice, practice.

What’s In It for Them?

First and foremost, making sure you’re clear what’s in it for the person you’re talking to requires listening – which is something you’re likely very good at anyway. It also requires doing the work of hashing through the various attributes and features of your offering and answering the questions “Why should your client care?” and “What does it do for them to make their life better/easier?”

So for example a product or service that helps people do their grocery shopping more quickly and efficiently (feature – what it does)…and therefore allows them to spend more time with their kids or to make it to that yoga class they’ve been dying to try out (benefit – what they get out of it). Once you know that, you’re not pushing features on them, you’re providing them a service via the benefits your product or service brings. You are caring for them through your offering.

Practice, Practice, Practice

The second item – practice, practice, practice – is important for both personality types we’re touching on here. Switching into “performance” mode when the spotlight swings your way takes some practice in order for it to feel genuine, especially if this is a role you don’t normally play.

Coming up with an “elevator speech” – a 30-second rendition of what your company does – is an oft-recommended marketing exercise. I actually recommend coming up with three versions:

  1. The single sentence that answers the question “what do you/does your company do?”
  2. The 30-second spoken paragraph (“elevator speech”) that expands on that slightly; and
  3. What you will cover – from a customer benefits perspective – when someone is interested enough to keep asking.

If you do nothing else before a networking event, work through this exercise for yourself and practice the first item – the single sentence – and the 30-second expansion until you are comfortable enough that they roll off your tongue without having to think about it. This might mean having a non-judgmental friend or family member prompt you at least once a day; hanging up your single sentence and 30-second paragraph on the bathroom mirror so you can practice them when you brush your teeth; or talking to yourself on the way to and from work.

Practicing like this may seem odd for a while, but the benefit of being completely comfortable with how to answer the question “What do you/does your company do?” will be more than worth the effort and oddity.

Shy Types

If you’re one of the many people who freeze up when the spotlight gets focused on them, you’re far from alone – studies by Bernardo Carducci and Philip G Zimbardo show that the number of people who self-report as shy in the United States is 48% and growing. That’s one in two people (half the people at any gathering) who are feeling just as nervous and ill at ease as you might be, even if they’re not showing it (according to Carducci and Zimbardo, only one in approximately five to seven shy people actually show visible signs of their nervousness; the rest may appear fine, but suffer in secret).

In addition to our bodies’ natural expressions of anxiety – racing heart, butterflies in our stomach, sweating – and the discomfort this causes, what shy people tend to do that makes social situations and talking about themselves feel even more impossible and painful is beat themselves up. The inner critic is alive and well and making life miserable for the shy person who already feels like they’re tongue-tied out of nervousness and then perceives themselves as making a mistake or sounding foolish.

It’s not easy to remember how great you are when all you’re hearing is the voice in your head telling you that you suck. My upcoming article Kicking Your Inner Critic to the Curb will focus on some techniques for confronting this bully head-on. Meanwhile, however, you’ve got a marketing event to attend, so here are three recommendations to increase your comfort level:

  1. Remember that statistically, half the people there feel just as uncomfortable as you do, even if they’re not showing it. Also remember that everyone is afraid; the trick is doing it anyway.
  2. Be gentle with yourself. The more you beat yourself up, the worse the knots in your tongue and brain will get. You don’t have to be “perfect.” Instead, focus on giving yourself credit for the fact that you’re even there in the first place. That takes great courage when you’re this uncomfortable. If all you did was show up today, that’s progress.
  3. Set yourself a reasonable goal and go for it! For example, talk to three people (HINT: it doesn’t even have to be about anything business-related; you can ask them about their kids or pets or hobbies) and exchange cards with them before you leave (“Hey, it’s been great talking to you. I’d like to stay in touch/follow up with you. Could I get your card? Thanks, here’s mine.”). If that seems like too much, make it two people – or one if that’s a stretch for you in itself. And when you reach that goal, pat yourself on the back. It wasn’t easy, but you did it! Next time, one up yourself.

What challenges do you face when selling yourself and your business? I’d love to hear from you about what you’d like to learn or improve. Drop me a line!