The Blog.

The Happy Helpful Human approach to selling

13 Jul 2015 | Being Human, Communication

We had our “International Ninjamboree” at Think Productive last week, where Productivity Ninjas from around the world congregated in Brighton. In one of the sessions, I was asked to share how I do ‘selling’ which was rather amusing, as in my mind, I don’t do much selling at all!

Despite being a business school graduate, I seem to have an allergic reaction to formulas, numbers and ratios, so here’s what I find works for me – the completely unscientific Happy Helpful Human approach to selling:

1. Build relationships, not empires

I don’t have sophisticated funnels, big budgets or a marketing machine churning out numbers. Heck even my mailing list is tiny by most marketers’ standards.*

My biggest asset is my relationships – people I’ve met along the way, shared experiences with, helped or connected with. Most of my clients, bookings and opportunities – including both book contracts – have come from these relationships.

* Before you add me to a mailing list to tell me how you can triple my figures, I do know people who specialise in these techniques and I know how powerful they can be…

2. Earn the right to have a conversation

In a world where we have more and more ways of communicating, we find ourselves having fewer and fewer genuine conversations. Human conversations that go beyond the transactional “What do you do?” and “Can I tell you about what I do?”.

You know you’ve had a genuine human conversation when you come away with random information – like his love for dark chocolate, her triathlon training or your mutual allergy to camping – as well as insight to the project they feel completely out of their depth in, the member of staff they’re really worried about or the event they’re currently trying to source a speaker for.

In conversation people get to experience you too. You become more than just another email in the inbox, or another phone call they don’t have time for. You become the person who made them laugh, shared their frustration or gave them that brilliant tip about how to keep the kids from getting bored over the summer. You become the person they can see themselves, or their team, working with.

Be the person who makes other people feel good, valued and listened to.

3. Think serving, not selling

Every conversation I have, my focus is on one question: “How can I help?”

Not “are you useful to me?” when I’m networking, or “can I sign you up to my newsletter?” when I’m marketing, or “do you want to buy a workshop?” when I’m in a sales meeting.

But rather “how can I help?”

What’s on their mind right now? What are they working on? What’s the best way I can help?

Be the person who helps people to find a solution.

Whether that’s with a word of encouragement, a listening ear, or a fresh perspective, an article, book, blog post or resource. Sometimes the helpful thing is to send the session overview, arrange a follow up call or book in a workshop. The difference is, when you find out what’s helpful to them, it no longer feels like selling. It becomes natural and enjoyable – something I look forward to, rather than procrastinate on.

Sometimes the best way you can help has nothing to do with what you sell, but when you help anyway, helpfulness has a way of coming back to help us. A local car body shop once got some work out of me after giving me advice on Twitter about where to find my hashtag!

4. Saying no can be helpful 

Being helpful isn’t about being a doormat, or about saying yes to everything. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is to say no, or to offer an alternative.

When I had to turn down speaking at a couple of networking events this month, I offered to send them books to use as a resource instead. When I was asked to talk about Intercultural Working at Coventry University, I referred them to a friend who specialised in that area.

I even turned down working with Hugh Grant once, when a friend asked me to help with an event, saying I was the most organised person he knew(!). He was looking for an events manger (which I am not) and so I put him in touch with someone who was a much better fit for the job. She was naturally delighted, and so was I. It’s not everyday you get to give a friend an opportunity to work with Hugh Grant!

5. When you have a reputation for being helpful, people come to you

This week I’ve had a LinkedIn message asking me for advice on project management training – which I know nothing about! I’ve also had a message from someone who’s moved to a new organisation asking me for a quote on Inbox Zero workshops.

When I get booked to speak at public events, I often share tweets and posts to help promote the event. I’ve also been known to help set up rooms, pour coffee and make last minute slide adjustments to get around technical issues. Why? Because it helps to make the whole experience better for my audience. And if it makes life easier for the organisers, it makes it easier for them to book me again.

When you seek to serve, everybody wins. That has certainly been my experience.

What about you? I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below…


  1. Liz Truckle

    What a lovely post Grace – being genuine and knowing your strengths and where you can add value. This is a good reminder – and it altogether sounds so much less stressful and more enjoyable! Thank you 🙂

    • Grace Marshall

      Thanks Liz! And you know when something’s more enjoyable we’re far more likely to actually do it 🙂

  2. Catherine Poole

    I completely agree with this, Grace. I’d much rather have a friendly chat to someone and I hate it when people are obviously selling to me and not trying to get to know me first. I love having conversations, and usually on a one to one basis, being a typical introvert!

    • Grace Marshall

      I’m an extrovert and love 1-1 conversations too – and you’re right, you can have far more interesting conversations when it’s not just about ‘can I sell you something?’!

Image if author Grace Marshall

About Grace

I coach, train, write and speak on productivity. I help people adopt new ways of working and thinking about their work to replace stress, overwhelm and frustration with success, sanity and satisfaction.

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