Sell people on your credibility before you sell them on your ideas

Selling gets a bad rap. Most people view selling as manipulating or pressuring people with words. The phrase “I’m not sold on it” says it right there. You feel you’re being imposed or put upon.

Selling is about communicating well. Selling is about having credibility with your audience so that your communication goes over well. Credibility is defined as “the quality of being trusted and believed in.”

We all have to communicate with people, whether we like it or not. Communication is critical, whether you’re a student or a career professional, and whether your’re in industry or academia. Think of selling as communicating your thought process and the benefits of an action or a decision to others, and then relying on your credibility to convince your audience of your message.

Every time you put pen to paper, every time you utter a spoken word, you’re selling. You might as well learn to do it well.

If you’re a student, you’re selling when you give a presentation in class, you propose an idea to your project team, you recruit a new member to your project team, you do a demo at the end of the semester, you write a term paper on a topic, you ask questions in class, you talk to a professor, you talk to your fellow students.

If you’re in industry, you’re selling when you ask your colleagues to help you do something, you pitch an idea to your colleagues, you raise a problem, you raise a solution to a problem, you ask your manager to be assigned to a project, you ask your manager for a promotion, you lead a product team, you do a demo for that product you’ve been working on, you give feedback on someone’s performance.

If you’re a faculty member or a Ph.D. student, you’re selling when you write a research publication, you give a research talk, you write a research proposal, you recruit a student to a project, you teach a lecture, you interact with students.

Photo by Ran Berkovich on Unsplash

In any personal relationship, you’re selling when you tell the truth, you show concern, you help someone, you give feedback, you show kindness, you ask someone how their day is going.

As with all human communication, selling is more about the audience than about yourself. Both matter: the credibility of what you’re trying to sell, and your own credibility with the audience you’re trying to sell to. Your idea alone does not cut it. You may have a great idea, but if your standing with the audience is poor, your audience will not buy what you are selling.

Your credibility is important to how people perceive you and your ideas, and your credibility is the passport and the lens through which your ideas are heard. Selling is about understanding your audience, having empathy for your audience, having the respect of your audience, having the trust of your audience, and then conveying your ideas to your audience in the best possible way. While the actual words you use are important, the belief that your audience has in you are what gives the words their potency.

Selling, at the end of the day, is a deeply personal human interaction founded on personal credibility.

When someone has credibility with me, I instinctively respect their ideas, and I approach the conversation receptive to their ideas and even willing to be sold on the ideas without hearing them. When someone has zero credibility with me, my mind is already wary of their ideas, and it’s that much harder for them to sell me on anything, even if their ideas are phenomenal.

We’re always all selling, whether we know it or not. And every time we’re selling, our credibility is on the line. Your credibility can come from many things— your track record, your ideas, your knowledge, your intellectual curiosity, your honesty, your ability to get things done, your kindness, your decency, your integrity, your fearlessness, your exploits, and more. At its core, your credibility in a subject is a measure of your trustworthiness in that subject. Your audience has to trust you before they trust your words.

So, gain credibility first. You can convince people later.

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