Dear Annie: I just came from my year-end evaluation and, as usual, it was excellent, except for one thing, also as usual. My boss told me I often have great ideas for how to do things faster and cheaper, but I don't sell them enough. For example, I don't speak up too often in meetings and, when we were asked to do a self-evaluation as part of the review process, I listed my achievements for the year without saying what's so great about them.
I've heard this from managers before, in past jobs, and as in the past, I really don't know what to do about it. I'm not a rah-rah type by nature, and certainly not a salesperson. Also, I was brought up to think that people who are always plugging their own wonderfulness are jerks, and that modesty is a sign of a strong character. So how am I supposed to learn to sell myself at work? Do you or your readers have any suggestions? -- Baffled in Boston
Dear B.B.: It may interest you to know that you're not the only one wondering. Almost 80% of 1,082 employed Americans in a recent survey by sales development firm Sandler Training believe that "in today's world, people need to be better at selling themselves." Still, two-thirds (63%) say they spend less than an hour a day doing so.
"Our biggest audience now is not professional salespeople, but other kinds of businesspeople who want to get attention for their ideas without seeming pushy," says Dave Mattson, Sandler's CEO. It doesn't help, he adds, that most of us were brought up to believe that hard work alone would lead to the corner office. "We all know that the smartest people aren't always the most successful," he notes. "It boils down to being able to sell yourself effectively.
About 45% of the people Sandler surveyed say their workplace is the hardest place to pitch a good idea. (The next largest group, 21%, said home is.) For you, and for those folks, Mattson offers 10 ways of putting an idea across so that the right people will listen.
1. Don't take rejection personally. "One of the major stumbling blocks for people trying to sell a concept is that, if the idea is rejected, they take it as a rejection of them personally -- and they stop trying," Mattson says. Instead, he suggests, take professional athletes as your role model, at least in this respect: "Most major-league players strike out far more than they hit. Even so, they keep trying."
2. Use your voice, rather than email. Many of us (especially the shy) use email to put our best ideas forward, but that's not nearly as effective as doing it in person or, if necessary, on the phone. "The phone is much more effective," Mattson says. "You have your tone of voice working for you, and you can be far more responsive to any questions the other person may have."
3. Listen 70% of the time, and talk 30%. "In the sales world there's a saying: Everybody hates to be sold but loves to buy," Mattson says. "Top salespeople don't steamroll others. Instead, they listen, which forces you to focus on the other person -- what their position is, and why they're responding the way they are."
4. Practice. Find a friend or trusted colleague who will hear you out while you practice your pitch. Mattson recommends repeating your idea six times before presenting it to decision-makers. "The first one or two times, you'll still be figuring out how you want to put it," he says. "By the sixth time, you're usually speaking with real conviction."
5. Get others to weigh in. "Successful selling isn't 'I,' it's 'we,'" Mattson says. "Our subconscious can tell one from the other even if our conscious mind doesn't. People want to be part of a solution. So include their suggestions in your idea." Not only will that probably make the idea even better, but you'll still get the credit for having gotten the ball rolling.