I've been writing about Sales for the past 20 years or so because Sales is the closest thing in business to a universal superpower. Once you know how to sell, you'll always have a job, because not only can sell for others, you can sell your own ideas and also sell yourself as a candidate for any job you want.

In fact, when you start your own business or go freelance, the first few months of the job is likely to be 100 percent Sales and Marketing. As your company or practice grows, that percentage goes down but here's the God-honest truth: the entrepreneurs who make it big are *always* good at selling. They have to be.

That being said, many people (including salespeople) think that the best way to sell, or learn to sell, is to talk like a salesperson. Indeed, shows like Shark Tank and "elevator pitch" competitions (common in entrepreneur training programs) encourage this way of thinking. You need to sell, so you learn to pitch, so the theory goes.

Specifically, would-be sellers 1) try to be extra friendly from the get-go, 2) talk a bit faster than usual, 3) unload a lot of information quickly, ask obviously leading questions and 4) focus on pushing the potential customer towards buying. I call this phenomenon "sales voice." Here's an exaggerated example to show what I'm talking about:

Yeah, that's over the top, but you hear the edge of that tonality in every elevator pitch. People don't do it consciously. There's just a part of their brain that says "I'm selling, therefore I should sound like a salesperson."

Sales isn't the only occupation with a characteristic "voice." There's "radio voice"--that sing-song, overly-hyped up way that local DJs talk. There's "doctor voice" which is full of stuff like "and how are we feeling today?" And then there's "preacher voice," where the tone of the sentence goes upward until the last word, which dips suddenly downward:

The problem with occupational voices, though: they're always a sign of mediocrity at best. Radio personalities who become nationally famous (think Howard Stern or Delilah) do not have it. Doctors with "doctor voice" are famously annoying. And preachers who have "preacher voice" put their congregations to sleep.

"Sales voice," however, is much worse that those other occupational voices because potential customers see salespeople as pushy and inauthentic, due to constant exposeure to stereotypes of salespeople in the media. Because of that, "sales voice" triggers an immediate negative reaction, alienating the potential customer. 

I can tell you from LONG experience that the very best salespeople (many of whom do not work in sales but are extraordinarily effective at selling their ideas) do not exhibit the tiniest shred of "sales voice."

  • They never pitch; they have conversations.
  • They don't try to be friendly; they're curious but a bit aloof.
  • They never push or try to convince; they listen and suggest ideas.

The key to being a great salesperson--or being great at selling your ideas, your company, or yourself--is to "sell without sounding like you're selling," which means being authentic and yourself rather than a weak imitation of a cartoon salesperson.