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Why I Stopped Selling and Started Serving

Why I Stopped Selling and Started Serving

Liston Witherill
Liston Witherill
3 min read

I want to tell you a bit about why I started selling services 10 years ago, and why I’m on a mission to help experts like you sell your services as well as you deliver them.

I didn’t start because I always wanted to be a consultant as a little kid (I didn’t), and it wasn’t because it allowed me total geographic and scheduling freedom (it did).

The reason I’m doing this is that I know experts like you can really help people, but learning to sell your expertise wasn’t part of developing it. And by “sell,” I mean helping qualified buyers make informed decisions about working with you. That’s it.

Coming out of grad school I was put in charge of marketing and business development for an environmental consulting firm. I had some marketing and some sales experience, but not a lot. I was a trained environmental scientist, and I’d landed my dream job.

Going into grad school, my goal was to learn the science and go into the business development side of consulting. Only problem is I didn’t quite know what to do yet. I had to learn on the job.

No one else at the firm could give me a shortcut. Our company was built on the hustle of a founder with bottomless energy reserves and an innate interest in people. Much of what came natural for him wasn’t transferrable.

So I set out to learn as much as I could about winning new clients in the only way I knew how: with a scientific approach. I bought books, enrolled in courses, listened to hundreds of hours of podcasts, sifted through research and academic papers, and even watched all the movies (please don’t “always be closing”). I applied what I learned and monitored the results, testing different approaches.

All along I pursued this work because I knew 1) it was important, and 2) being able to sell anything was a superpower. But there’s a reality about sales and marketing that made me feel uncomfortable.

Expertise is about depth and nuance. It’s about applying knowledge in order to get better and more predictable outcomes. Expertise isn’t about you or me, it’s about facts and what’s proven to work.

Selling seemed to emphasize large-surface level promises. As a scientist and expert, I understood the importance of nuance, whereas selling seemed to rely on high pressure and sweeping promises – the opposite of depth and nuance.

I approached selling with too much nuance because promises made me uncomfortable. My training in science got in the way. I was taught not to make promises or sweeping claims, but rather think in terms of probabilities. Yet buyers want confidence, even certainty, or something close to it.

Still, the piles of sales and marketing content all pointed me to a truth about selling services that I experienced at my firm on a daily basis: our services would not sell themselves.

After running my own digital marketing agency for several years, and now my business programs, I can confirm for you that it’s still true. If you want to systematically improve your results, you have to have the right sales skills.

My big why is that I needed to prove to myself that I could win better clients without losing my integrity. It matters a lot to me to maintain my reputation, and feel good about actually helping people. It wasn’t enough for me to be good at sales and marketing – I also have to be ethical about it.

Why do YOU want to pick up vital sales skills?

Think about it for a second.

Most likely there are real and important reasons. Maybe you have goals you want to achieve, things you want to do, people you want to spend more time with, vacations you want to take, business growth you want to drive – and picking up better clients is a means to that end.

So I’m curious: what are your reasons for acquiring the sales skills you need?

What is your ultimate goal?

There has to be a bigger reason behind your plans, dreams, and your most important ideas. I’m sure you don’t want sales skills for the sake of being the best at sales. I certainly don’t.

Maybe for you it’s reducing your role in your business, or outsourcing your sales process, or improving the value of your business so you can sell it one day.

Why do you want to make sales faster, easier, and more predictable in your business?

For me it’s all about freedom. Financial freedom, professional freedom, freedom for my family, and eventually the freedom to give back more than I’ve taken.

Whatever your why, make sure you’re doing the right things to reach your goals. If there’s something I can do to help, I’d be grateful to.