It's clear to me that emotional intelligence is the most important skill for success in adult life. And the consummate career application of emotional intelligence is the sales department. So I'm fascinated by sales.

I used to think I'm not that good at sales. For example, I'm an open book—I have very little ability to bluff or play my hand close to my—actually, what is that expression? I don't even know the expression.

But then, when I told one of my mentors that I'm not good at sales, he said, “Of course you're good at sales. You've gotten three companies funded.” He's right. I wanted to take back all the times I said I'm not good at sales. The thing is, I have a specific talent in this department: selling ideas.

I have gotten companies funded when they were still just philosophies about how a market will move, what the trends are, and what ideas will work. I have yet to raise a later round of funding, where the company is selling actual products or services with me raising money to sell them faster.

I'm also great at the consultative sale. I'm great at meeting someone who wants to think in new ways, and tossing some ideas back and forth and then going to lunch, or yoga, or commenting on each others' blogs. I connect easily on ideas, and can close a sale there because the idea exchange is so rewarding.

There's another kind of salesperson, though. The kind that can hit numbers, close tough deals with demanding customers, and compete effectively against the most cutthroat of their peers.

I am fascinated by this type of person. I don't meet them a lot, which makes me nervous. Because I want to be more like them, and there's a great piece by Clive Thompson in the New York Times about the Framingham Heart Study that shows that you become more like the people you hang out with. And it started to worry me that I don't like hanging out with competitive types.

I know, you're thinking, WHAT? But I'm never about getting the most money or getting up the ladder the fastest. I'm always about getting what I want to do when I want to do it—having the work that makes me happiest feeding the life that makes me happiest. Frankly, that is so much work for me that I don't have any energy left to notice who is winning.

But it worries me. It worries me that in general, when I'm in hand-to-hand combat—on the volleyball court, in divorce court, in Ryan Healy's office—I tend to give in so that the whole process ends sooner and I can get back to whatever is going on in my head. I always want to get back to thinking about ideas. And that desire makes me not the strongest competitor.

When I was flying two or three times a week, I sat beside a lot of sales guys. And it is mostly guys. First Class is always full of men when you travel between smaller cities, and the odds of sitting next to someone in sales on any late-in-the-day, weeknight flight, is very high from any city.

I talked with sales guys a lot and mostly I learned that I don't think like they do.

So it should come as no surprise that my company just had to hire one of these sales guys: Justin Rheinhardt. That's his name. I loved hiring him because I knew my days of having to be a cutthroat closer were over. Justin is that. But also I loved hiring him because I learned so much from him in just two weeks.

For example, Justin was in recruiting, which makes sense because we are selling services that help recruiters. So I asked him why he wants to do sales instead of recruiting.

And he told me that if you're a sales guy, you can't be a recruiter, because good recruiters really care about placing the candidate where they fit. Good recruiters build relationships to help people over a long period of time—helping that person build their career on a path that works for them.

Justin just wants to sell, so he was closing instead of counseling. For Justin, the rush of the close is what drives him. Which I totally believe, because I don't really have that. I have the rush of a good idea.

I talked to Richard Goldman, COO of Birkman International, a company that helps businesses make intelligent hires by using the Birkman Method for personality assessments. Goldman says, “If you're a great team player, you probably don't belong in sales. Salespeople are in it for themselves. They eat what they kill.”

I asked Goldman if he thought I could develop these skills, and he says that our underlying needs are set by age five or six, and our usual behaviors are set by age 22.

So it's pretty clear to me that I'm not a salesperson, and I'm not an eat-what-I-kill sales person, plus I'm not going to become one either. I'm more of a convince-someone-else-to-go-out-and-do-the-killing person.

Also, Justin has a rule that you make your calls list at the end of the day, so that you can start calling right away in the morning. That calling part seems really hard to me. You have to be really driven to kill to be able to sit down and make calls every day.

But I know that if you want to be an idea person, you should sit down and write an idea first thing in the morning. And now, come to think of it, maybe you can tell who you are by what you require yourself to do first, every day.

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  1. Joe
    Joe says:

    I like this post. However, everyone who commented seems to assert they are an ideas-type person. Funny how that works, eh?

    I wonder. Of those who deem themselves idea/marketing types, not sales types, how many of them actually have the good ideas that will lead to high-return improvements? Of course, we’ll never know. But it seems there are many “sales people who think they are ideas people”, just because the mere idea of “ideas” seems more ideal… lol

    Blunt but true, just because you have ideas, doesn’t mean they are good ones.

  2. Deepak Choudhary
    Deepak Choudhary says:

    I think the title of this blog should be “Listen listen how I am good at Sales”
    I was here to find out how to know if I am good at sales, for clear cut pointers.
    Read whole post and found just the story, story…huh!

  3. Loren
    Loren says:

    Thanks Penelope, I am very much an idea person also, though I wish I could have gotten funding for so many start-ups. I would definitely love your funding advice, as lack of it has caused my past businesses to flop before they got off the ground.

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