Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"The Sell" by Fredrik Eklund: But should I really be able to sell anything to anyone?

Author: Fredrik Eklund, with Bruce Littlefield, and foreword by Barbara Corcoran
Title: “The Sell: The Secrets of Selling Anything to Anyone
Publication: 2015: New York, Avery. ISBN 978-1-592-40931-0, 290 pages, hardcover, 3 Parts, 14 Chapters, Foreword, Introduction and Epilogue
Amazon link;  Author's own site
The subtitle of this book would suggest that it promotes hucksterism.  But, really, this is a book that tells you how to sell when you’re already in the right field, and doing what you want to do, and believe in what you want to sell.  That raises a question that I will return to. The book was written with a publisher’s advance, justified by the author’s well known reputation in NYC real estate and possibly LGBT circles.  

The author is a 38-year-old real estate broker in New York City, but raised in Sweden.  His interests and background are varied (see Wiki).  For example, he briefly starred in gay porn films under the stage name Tag Eriksson.  He also invests in IT companies (more or less following the example of Ashton Kutcher), appears on reality TV, and writes novels, although it’s not clear yet what his fiction content will be. He also married a partner in Florida and will have a child by surrogacy. All that said, sexual orientation really has nothing to do with his sales philosophy, other than that he believes everyone needs an adult relationship.  

Most of what he recommends makes perfect sense.  He gives some tips in negotiation (like creating “urgency”) which Donald Trump has mentioned before in “The Apprentice” and in Trump’s own book “How to Get Rich”. (Oh, remember, Trump noted in his book that Troy McClain took one for the team in allowing his legs to be waxes in an “Apprentice” segment dealing with “negotiation”.) He talks about good health habits. I think that concern over diet colas is stretching things, but in the distant past, anybody who said to stop smoking would have been called a “health nut”.  I start to disagree when he recommends spending a lot of money on clothes and jewelry and hair styling, even if you don’t make a lot.  I think you should save that 10% for your retirement (after paying student loan debt) and buy expensive clothes when you can afford them (especially to sell somebody else’s wares).  Really, there isn’t that much difference.  I don't think he recommended that bald men get wigs.  (Prince Charles looks good in blue jeans just as he is, as far as I am concerned.) 
He hints at the "Always Be Closing" idea (in the 2002 film "100 Mile Rule"). 
I do recall my own work life in the 1972-1973 period when I worked for Sperry Univac as a “site rep”, mostly at the Public Service site in downtown Newark.  I had inexpensive and lightweight but mostly conservative suits, in blue, gray, brown, and black, and one in light green.  Remember the EDS dress code.  (He doesn’t mention IBM’s insistence on stocking garters in the 1950s, which sound prudish, until you get on “The Apprentice.”)  Yet, a number of months into the job, management decided I didn’t have a “marketing profile”.  I transferred to another division, supporting benchmarks in Minnesota.  Eventually I wound up working for NBC as a programmer and “content creator”, which led to my long track career.  
Eklund’s career is probably not all about just making deals.  In most places, real estate brokers generally get into developing new properties, which is about “content”.  Watch the PBS special on the new Billionaire’s Tower.   Real estate business needs to be concerned about sustainability (he talks about recovering from the 2008 financial crisis) and resilience, especially to physical disaster (floods, earthquakes, hostility).  But there is a real lingering question about the ethics or desirability of manipulating people to prove you can sell anything to anyone.  I really don’t believe that.  My own father was a manufacturer’s representative for Imperial Glass (now Lenox) and made these claims.  But he sold only (wholesale) to department stores along the East Coast in pre-Internet days and made his reputation on great customer service.  Mother helped him run it and do his books.  So I learned honest capitalism from my parents.  
Of course, anyone has to “sell” himself.  A job interview is a “sales” experience. On the job, a programmer will need to sell his ideas internally to others (as when working in a company like Facebook or Google).   A blogger or book author will, in some way, however indirect (for example, by volunteering) need to consider how to “sell” to potential readers and become known in a favorable way.   
What concerns me is more the idea that selling “anything” can become a career.  Consider how Comcast advertises its sales positions, “Come show us what you’ve got.”  To sell somebody else’s work.  Eklund doesn’t really talk about cold calling or door-to-door, and it seems that these modes are becoming less acceptable to the public, given both the Internet and greater concerns about security.  But it is true that our culture is becoming more resistant to the idea of people approaching others cold to sell things.  Consider how telemarketing (let alone robocalling) is resisted. Indeed, “It’s hard out here for a pimp”, but also for a geek.  
He talks about how to use social media.  His favorite platform is Instagram, and least liked is Twitter.  Facebook seems too complicated.  But modern social media didn’t really become important until around 2007 (although MySpace had been around since 2003).  But social media has also made a  “double life” impossible (a major reason the military had to drop “don’t ask don’t tell”).  But it also makes it difficult or impossible to express political opinions in public spaces on a range of topics and sell for someone else, without creating a conflict of interest.  But that issue really goes back to Web 1.0 and the rise of search engines, very relevant in my own “second career”.  
Various times, after my own books came out (starting in 1997), particularly after “The Layoff” in the post-9/11 world at the end of 2001, I got lots of calls from companies wanting me to give up my writing and pimp for them.  My own public reputation, by the nature of arguments I had made to supporting lifting the ban on gays in the military, more or less made that impossible.  Some of the “opportunities” were more legitimate than others, but the people pushing them really had to believe in some ideas that seemed way overstated and not very objective.   
Can you sell and tell the truth?   

No comments: