Home » How to Sell Without Selling Your Soul: Steve Harrison (Transcript)

How to Sell Without Selling Your Soul: Steve Harrison (Transcript)

Full text of marketing expert Steve Harrison’s talk: How to Sell Without Selling Your Soul at TEDxWilmingtonSalon conference. In this talk, Steve reveals a simple four-step method for unleashing your desire to serve others so you can be more comfortable, confident and convincing.

Listen to the MP3 Audio here:


Steve Harrison – Marketing expert

When I was a college student many moons ago, in Davidson, North Carolina, my resident adviser, Rob, came to me, and he said, “Steve, did I ever tell you about the great summer job that I had?”

I said, “No.”

He said, “It was really wonderful. I got to work in marketing for this great publishing company. In fact, it paid really well, and the guy who hired me is coming to campus, and he’s going to be interviewing students. And I really want to invite you to hear about this. Maybe you can get a job.”

I was really flattered, and because of my respect for Rob, I went to the interview. It was marketing; it was publishing, all right: it was selling books door-to-door.

Now, I took a look at that, and I did what any reasonable college student would do. I signed up. Yeah, I signed up. I signed up to sell children’s books, 80 hours a week, straight commission.

My dad and my mom, they freaked out. You know, my dad’s a corporate attorney, and he just… he knew that — look, I had never sold anything. I didn’t have a charismatic bone in my body. I was just a nice kid who liked to eat Pop-Tarts.

But flash forward, the big day arrives, 7:42 a.m. I’m in Rob’s car; we’re driving out to the neighborhood to begin knocking doors.

My heart is racing; I’ve got a gigantic lump in my throat. I remember looking down at my khaki shorts, and my knees are literally shaking. And he’s like, “Steve, any last-minute stuff I can do for you?”

I’m like, “Yeah, don’t let me out of this car.”

Next thing I know, I’m standing on a sidewalk in a suburb of Lincoln, Nebraska. I just see house after house, door after door. I remember staring at the first door, waiting for the right psychological moment to knock.

Now, before I tell you what happened, I have a question for you: Whose door should you be knocking on? Who do you want to say yes to you?

Because, I tell you, you know, one thing I’ve seen is that we’re all in sales, so to speak. We all have something to sell. It may be that you have a business where you want to convince people to buy your product or service. Maybe you work with a nonprofit organization and you need to convince people to donate their time and money.

Or maybe you’re a parent trying to convince your kids to do their homework. Good luck with that.

But who is it? Whose door should you be knocking on? Who is it that you want to say yes to you? Is it a friend? Is it a business associate? Is it your boss? Is it a possible date for Friday night? Who is it?

Now, when I… because at the end of this talk, I’m going to invite you, I’m going to challenge you to reach out to somebody.

Now, the idea of reaching out to somebody, how many of you find that idea just a little bit scary?

Yeah, you know. And I was terrified. I mean, here I was, back on the doorstep here, Lincoln, Nebraska. I’m about to knock on this door, and I remember something that Rob, my friend who got me into this, said to me. He said, “Steve, don’t try to sell anybody. You just focus on loving and serving them, and you focus on leaving them a little happier than when you came.”

That got me going, and that got me knocking. People were friendly enough, but nobody let me in. I mean, I was really bad.

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And some people weren’t friendly at all. I mean, one lady comes to the door but won’t even open the door. She’s just frowning at me through the glass. She’s like, “Look, you know, I’m not interested. You know, just show me what you got.”

I grabbed these five children’s books out of my satchel, and I just completely… terrified. I totally blanked, and I didn’t know what to do, and then I thought, “Well, let me at least try to love and serve her and leave her with a smile.”

So all of a sudden, my creativity kicked in. I start actually, you know, reading little excerpts of the stories. I found voices for animal voices in me that I didn’t even know I had. She’s not smiling.

“Young man, may I ask you a question?”


“Will you take a MasterCard or do I have to write you a check?”

MasterCard, check? I take Discover! That’s how I made my first sale.

And I survived that summer; and in fact, because of things I learned along the way, I actually finished that summer as one of the top first-year salespeople.

And then, I actually went into business with my brother, where we teach — irony of ironies — people, we teach them how to market their books, their products and their services, and my dad couldn’t be prouder.

Here’s what I’ve learned: Everyone has doors. That if you knock on those doors, they open. They can bring incredible blessings.

But most of us never knock, because we’re scared. Those doors could bring you sales. They could bring you funding. They could bring you advice; they could bring you connections, they could bring you publicity. But you don’t knock on them, and you know why? I’m convinced it’s because we have a giant misconception of what it means to sell.

To “sell” is a dirty word. People think it’s manipulative or something like that. I have redefined what it is to sell.

I want to give you my definition. I created a little acronym. Now, I don’t really like acronyms, but I created this because I think it’s really helpful: To sell – S-E-L-L: Sincerely Encourage by Listening and Loving.

Sincerely Encourage by Listening and Loving – makes all the difference.

You know, S is for “Sincerely.” When I think of sincere, I think of Elaine. She’s one of the sweetest, most sincere people I know. She came to me, and she said, “Steve, I’m a psychologist. I have this program that, really, I know, will help children.” I mean, her love for children just radiates from her.

“And the thing is, though, Steve, the schools aren’t interested. Nobody’s paying me. I guess I’m just not much of a salesperson.”

I said, “Elaine, you have what it really takes to sell. You have one of the most important assets: your sincerity. You just need a little bit of training.”

So I taught her how to have the conversation with people, how to reach out. She calls on the principal of a local school. When she calls on that principal, principal says, “Look, I’ve got so much going on right now. My calendar is just jammed.”

The old Elaine would have just turned around and walked away rejected. The new Elaine, Elaine version 2.0, took a breath and just really experienced that principal’s stress. And she just said, “Wow, I could see, I could understand. You really do have a lot going on. Since your calendar’s jammed now, why don’t we just take a look and see when you might have time to talk for a few minutes because I know your kids would really love this.”

She got the appointment. She met with Elaine; the two hit it off. And as a result of that, Elaine is now doing a pilot program at that school. In fact, she’s learned how to communicate her values so sincerely that she is speaking at conferences for teachers, she’s training teachers internationally, and she’s getting paid for it.

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But it wouldn’t have happened if she hadn’t owned the sincerely part of her.

E is for “Encouragement.” Encourage people to take action. Sometimes we’re hesitant to knock on a door because we’re worried about getting turned down. Do you know there are people that might just be waiting for you to knock on their door?

CareerBuilder did a survey: 76% of people who are in a full-time job, they’re looking for another job, or at least they’re open to another opportunity. You could encourage them to take that action. Somebody who opened up an opportunity for me was my high school science teacher. This guy was really shy, a real introvert, and you know, I have to tell you, he really was very boring as a teacher. Okay?

Sorry, Mr. Bush, if you’re watching, you know. But Mr. Bush saw me in the hallway, and he said, “Steve, can I talk to you for a minute?”

I go, “Yeah, okay.”

We go into his classroom. He says, “Steve, have you ever thought about wrestling?”

“Uh, no. I’m 91 pounds. That’s why I run winter track.”

“Well, Steve, I’m the wrestling coach, and I saw you goofing around in the gym, and you’re really talented. I really think that you could do well with wrestling. You can wrestle in your weight class. I mean, you’re a stud.”

Let me tell you something: When you’re in ninth grade and you weigh 91 pounds and somebody calls you a stud, you are encouraged to take action. I didn’t run winter track; I wrestled that winter.

And I had great memories. I thought that he was a mild-mannered health teacher. Turns out, Mr. Bush was a salesperson in disguise.

Sincerely encourage by listening. A lot of people think that great salespeople are great talkers. The best salespeople are the best listeners.

Forrester Research did a study, and they found that among customers, only 13% believe that a salesperson can understand their challenges and truly help them. The key is listening. The key is asking questions. What kinds of questions? Questions like, What are your biggest goals? Where are you trying to go? What’s getting in the way? What have you tried? What’s your story?

Robert Collier said, “The key to persuasion is to enter the conversation already going on in the person’s mind.”

How are you going to do that if you don’t ask questions? Sincerely encourage by listening.

And the last L in that S-E-L- is the most important one of all: Loving. Loving.

You know, it’s amazing. Love is the most powerful force in the world. We can overcome our greatest fears, our greatest anxieties. We can scale to new heights. And yet when I talk to salespeople and business leaders and sales trainers, I’m amazed that very, very few companies ever use the word “love” in their training.

It’s amazing. Maybe that’s why, according to Harvard Business Review, people that are excited and that sign up for a position in sales, they’re twice as likely to quit than people in other jobs.

I contend that’s because they were never really told what sales really is. Sales, selling, is love; marketing is love. It’s about loving people.

Now, I’ve had friends, I’ve had business people tell me, “Look, you know, this all sounds good, Steve, but don’t talk so much about love. It feels uncomfortable.”

You know what I say to that? They’ll say, “Don’t talk so much about love; talk about how selling is serving.”

I say, “Okay, but focus on loving people, and you will end up serving them so much better.”

It’s amazing what it can do. You know, it’s one of these things where what I find about the power of love is that it completely gives you the courage and everything that you need. Everything that we’ve talked about can be summarized really, really in that.

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And one of the things that I found is that one of the biggest things you can do is focus on who you’re becoming in this process. Because it’s easy to get up here and talk about love, but it’s also easy to forget to do everything I’ve just said.

I find myself — I get so locked in, sometimes, to my goal and what I want to achieve and what I want to accomplish, and I’m a million miles from this message. I’m not loving people; I’m not listening to people. I’m getting irritated. I’m getting annoyed. I’m getting frustrated. I’ve crossed to the dark side.

But I learned something from Og Mandino. I was reading Og Mandino, an inspirational writer for salespeople, and I actually was inspired to create a technique.

And in that moment, when I’m feeling stressed or fearful or angry or impatient, I actually, when I catch it, I focus on the person I’m there to serve, and I mentally – without saying anything – I say to them without saying any words, just in my own mind, I say, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

And something happens: the crustiness around my heart starts to melt away. I become more present to this person’s humanity and more focused on them and more compassionate.

And when you do that, you become a much more successful salesperson, but you become a better human being.

Reminds me of a story that one of my early mentors, the late Spencer Hays, told. He said, “There was a pastor one Saturday who was working on his Sunday sermon, and his son kept bothering him, you know, kept interrupting him. He said, ‘I’ve got to figure out a way to keep this kid busy.’

So he grabbed a National Geographic magazine, and he found a picture of the planet Earth, and he tore it out, cut it up into little pieces, and gave it to his son, and he said, “Put the planet Earth back together – here’s some Scotch Tape – and let me know when you’re done.”

He’s figuring this will keep the kid busy for hours. Kid comes back ten minutes later – ‘Done!’ – proudly holding the world all taped back together. His father can’t believe it; he goes, ‘What? How did you do that?’

‘It was easy, Dad. See, on the other side of the page, there was a picture of a person. And I figured if I got the person right, the world would be right.’

Say that again: ‘I figured if I got the person right, the world would be right.'”

Focus on being the right person, and the world will be so much easier to reach. Focus on sincerely encouraging by listening and by loving, and you will be amazed at the courage you have to go to doors, the courage you have to knock on doors. You will be amazed at how many of those people thank you for changing their life.

So whose door should you be knocking on? Who do you wish would say yes to you?

I want you to go. I want you – you’ll never be more motivated than now. I want you to go send them a text, send them an email, make a call, take some action, and begin a conversation with them.

That’s what love would do. And let me know how it goes because I am rooting for you. Knock on that door today, and if you do, you will begin one of the greatest journeys of your life.

Thank you.

Resources for Further Reading:

The Four-Letter Code to Selling Anything: Derek Thompson (Transcript)

How to Open Up The Next Level of Human Performance: Steven Kotler (Full Transcript)

How to Unlock the Full Potential of Your Mind: Dr. Joe Dispenza (Transcript)

The Power of Powerless Communication: Adam Grant (Transcript)