How to Succeed in Sales as a Creative
(and overcome self-imposed limitations)
Sales has gotten a bad rap in our culture, especially in the creative community.
For many it brings up feelings of fear, doubt, anxiety, and discomfort. I used to spend more time mentally preparing for a sales conversation than I spent actually having one.
It’s as if we believe succeeding in sales goes against our nature as creative people.
We feel sleazy and manipulative, and we want our art to speak for itself. Yet we also need to get clients to make money to make more art… and this means being intentional about sales.
There are a number of reasons that contribute to our feelings about sales. Some of them include:
- perpetuating the archetype of a used car salesman
- remembering past bad experiences with salespeople
- embracing our impressions (or assumptions) about what drives salespeople, e.g. money, self-interest, greed
- negative portrayals of salespeople in almost any movie or TV show
I used to adamantly defend this mentality and would tell people that I could do anything in life except sales.
This was reinforced by other creative people (and society in general) who felt the same way.
Then in a twist of irony, I found myself employed in a sales/marketing job right out of college. Admittedly, this was an uncomfortable battle ground for me. Not only did it require a brand new skill set, but I fought daily for my sanity, peace of mind, and identity. It felt completely foreign to spend each moment of the work day selling my organization.
But this experience ultimately led to a humbling paradigm shift.
Everything I believed about sales was wrong.
It took years of trial, error, success, failure, and professional development to change my belief system. I had to let go of my identity as a “creative” person and reconstruct it from scratch. (More on this later.)
Myths About Sales
Through this process of self-discovery and growth, I realized we often believe several myths about sales.
Myth #1: Sales is manipulative.
This is probably the most common myth and why we cringe at the “used car salesman” narrative. It’s perpetuated in almost every depiction of salespeople.
But sales is not manipulative — manipulative selling is manipulative.
In other words, can sales be manipulative? Of course. But is sales manipulative in itself? No.
This means there’s a non-manipulative, non-sleazy way to sell that you can feel great about.
Myth #2: Everyone hates salespeople.
I used to feel incredibly self-conscious because I assumed that everyone hated me. I was “selling” my organization’s product, so they must automatically be on the defensive, right?
I found I was wrong again…
We don’t hate salespeople. We just hate bad salespeople.
The truth is we love great salespeople.
When a salesperson actually understands our problem, assesses our needs, and helps us find the best solution, we thank them for it. It’s exactly what we want them to do.
But since their approach doesn’t fit the used car salesman narrative, we don’t really see it as “selling,” even though that’s exactly what it is.
Myth #3: It’s all about the salesperson’s agenda, not the customer.
Have you ever interacted with a salesperson where you felt like they followed a script? Like they were clearly pushing you towards a certain outcome they wanted?
Me too. And because of it, I projected that experience onto all salespeople.
But the fastest way to fail at selling is to make it about yourself.
In the same way sales can be manipulative and salespeople can be terrible at selling, some will also make it about themselves.
But that’s not what really great salespeople do.
Great salespeople serve the customer by listening and gaining a deep understanding of their needs and problems.
The First Step to Success
Busting these myths is the first step to succeeding in sales. It may seem obvious to those already immersed in business, but it was a huge breakthrough for my introverted, artistic self.
Becoming great at sales without abandoning your creative nature starts with your mindset.
My own journey challenged everything I believed about myself. Previously, I had defined myself as a “creative” using certain standards. I thought my skills were limited to artistic endeavors, and they would never fully integrate with business.
Instead I found the opposite to be true.
My creativity is exactly what made me great at sales.
I could relate to people, build relationships with them, solve their problems, and see the world differently.
I could be a successful salesperson and boldly creative.
Integrating Sales and Creativity
Even though you can succeed in sales and remain your authentic, creative self, the relationship between the two isn’t always harmonious. I have found it requires considerable effort, humility, and mindset work.
But the integration of my creative strengths into my business is possible and has helped me grow. I have become a better artist, professional, and human being. I have expanded my understanding of self and others. I have learned how to serve other people on a level which I hadn’t previously been trained to do.
Not only has my creativity enhanced my sales, but becoming an effective salesperson has made me a better creative.
How does your mindset around sales affect your creative business?