Do You Know Your Sales Archetype?

Know. Thyself! When asked what was the most difficult thing, Thales replied, “To know thyself.”

“Know Thyself” was written on the forecourt of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi. Legend tells that the seven sages of ancient Greece, philosophers, statesmen and law-givers, who laid the foundation for western culture, gathered in Delphi to inscribe “know thyself” at the entry to its sacred oracle. The adage subsequently became a touch-stone for western philosophers, and extended its reach as the influence of Greek philosophy expanded.

What do you think of when you hear the phrase “Who Are You?”

For me it’s easy. Early childhood, the discovery of rock and roll music, and the mighty English band The Who. The 1978 song “Who Are You” remains an anthem and one that we can return to many times and for many purposes. It is a great introduction to our children of what 70s and 80s rock music was all about.

This tune permeated the space of many pool halls, smoky bars, basements, and weight rooms for decades and generated many copycat bands and rock and roll dreamers. The coolest part of the song for many of us was the modest profanity (modest in frequency, not in impact) that was slipped in and somehow even snuck onto the radio. Remember how awesome it was to hear the real live f-bomb in a song, on the radio, and the tremendous build-up… I really wanna know… oh I really wanna know… tell me who are you, you, you, you, you. A classic. I am going to add it to my gym playlist (it’s already on there actually).

Who Are You? What other thoughts does this simple question conjure? Or even better, what emotions does it elicit? Pride. Clarity. Knowledge. Confusion. Or maybe…. Fear.

Do we really know ourselves? The evidence suggests that we do not. Numerous studies through the years – with broad data sets, different cultures, different times – confirm that our own perception of self is different than how others perceive us. Very different actually. This really is not surprising.

We only have one brain and we only know ourselves from one perspective. It would be fantastic to have someone else’s brain for a day, wouldn’t it? Or somehow get to view “me” from the perspective of others and really understand who I am.

We can’t do that – not yet. So all we can do to really understand ourselves is listen. This is where the fear enters and it comes on strong. Really strong. We aren’t good at being real. We aren’t good at being weak. We aren’t good at being vulnerable. This is especially true if you are a male homo sapiens and arguably even more relevant for those of us who end up in our line of work. We are macho, tough, resilient, fearless. Weak, vulnerable, exposed? Not here.

As much as we may tell ourselves a different story, we aren’t good at being coachable and we do not openly and willingly accept feedback. Some are better than others, certainly, but as a general statement we have a lot of room for improvement here.

Athletes will dispute this and they always do. “I love feedback” and “I love coaching”… right, we’ve heard this. You will listen to your coach giving you insight about how to tell if a curve ball is coming and how to move up in the batter’s box. You will shoot 100 free throws after each practice and take that slow breath before launch with your elbow in and two finger release. You will run intervals to improve your speed. So, yes, you have shown an ability to take direction and modify your behavior. This is encouraging and a good start.

We are talking about a different arena – the business world. Many of us are responsible for generating revenue for our companies. We call ourselves many different things – Account Executive, Account Manager, Business Development Reps, Chief Revenue Officers, and Chief Growth Officers. If we’re really smart we may even put “Senior” or “Strategic” in front of our title. This is all really tricky and cute and it really makes no sense. It’s actually really insulting to mask our roles as something other than what they are and it is a legacy from a time gone by when the buyer and the seller had access to different data – so one party had all the leverage. He or she could do whatever he or she wanted to get a deal done. This is really the genesis of the negative association with salespeople. The Internet and access to data changed all of that – thankfully.

We are salespeople. Our job is to sell stuff, plain and simple. Let’s not avoid “the s word”. It’s honest, it’s clear and it’s direct. It’s also noble. Yes, you read that correctly. Selling is noble. It’s extremely difficult to do this well and anything that is difficult to master should be respected. So let’s do whatever we can to change that narrative. We can help our case here by changing what WE think about what we do. If I am an old school salesperson and I practice some of the old tactics that don’t work – like sling product, pitch too early, “show up and throw up”, or unfortunately, propose something that we don’t know we can deliver, then changing the narrative will be hard. You are the salesperson that makes people not like salespeople and you contribute to the negative association.

If, however, you strive to help, to teach, to fix, to solve, to educate, to mend, to heal, to grow, to advise, and to serve – which are all things the best of us do – then you can and should carry yourself as noble. Because you are, and your efforts are having a massive positive impact on other people and other organizations. This is where the game gets fun and the real good things happen. Unfortunately we don’t start there and it takes a long time to get there – and getting there is frequently painful.

Let’s circle back here and get to the point. We need feedback and we need lots of it to get better and the type of feedback that we need is the kind that hurts. The kind that is rigorously honest. This is rare in the business world for a few reasons. One is that pointing out weaknesses in others is hard to do in an effective way. We want to be polite and kind. The second is that there are few people suited to accurately assess. There is a tremendous shortage of knowledgeable and experienced people who can accurately gauge personal deficiencies in our arena. Third, few know how to package the findings in a way that can create permanent inspiration and excitement.

We have a plan to do this effectively and it works. It’s also fun and we do it with levity. We discover our true sales archetype – I may be William Wallace, I may be the All American and I may be The Flamethrower. I am likely a combination of different archetypes. The real important takeaway is that I learn who I am and I establish the baseline. Today I am here. Then I can figure out where I want to go, or who I want to be. What archetype do I want? What is my dream sales archetype?

Then, and only then, we can go to work. Gratitude lists are awesome and everyone should have one. Honestly, if you don’t practice gratitude – with a pen and a journal – start tomorrow and do it everyday. You will be amazed at how many wonderful, beautiful things you have in your life and the ratio of good to bad is sky high, it always has been, and it always will be if you choose to see it.

We can only get better, however, if we know the weaknesses. A business balance sheet has assets and liabilities. Let’s identify the liabilities – the personal ones – and get to work on them. Do I prospect well? Am I creative? Do I talk too much? Are my writing skills good? Do I ask unbelievable questions? Do I qualify prospects well? Am I really giving my best effort all the time?

“We are salespeople. Our job is to sell stuff, plain and simple. Let’s not avoid “the s word”. It’s honest, it’s clear and it’s direct. It’s also noble.”