The Hard Sell

2012 September 3
by Grace Boyle

I was 15.

I sat at a mahogany desk, holding the phone in my quivering hand. On the other line was an International customer, interested in buying gemstones.As in rubies and diamonds, gemstones.

I remember the words flowed out of me, asking questions, negotiating a rate and discussing our buying process, directly from the source with non-heat treated gemstones (a rarity in the industry).

When I hung up the phone my eyebrows raised. The corners of my lips raised in a slight smile and I let out an exhale, leaning back in my chair.

It started in my dad’s business, as a longtime gemologist with an international business of selling to consumers and other gemstones buyers/partners I learned how he sold, how he interacted with customers and all through high school and in the Summers in college, I worked there filtering from different responsibility to the next.

Today, I’m leading the charge as Director of Marketing and Sales at another startup I’m part of, where each action and step I take, make an impact guiding the team and vision.


I find myself talking all day long.


I’m on the phone with customers, I’m providing answers, I’m servicing during our product trials, I’m recommending new features to our product team, I’m problem-solving with support and I’m socially sharing.

I never thought I would be involved in the hustling end of sales. I’m not a ball buster.I’m not sleazy. Those are all the things we may associate with sales, right?

Steve Martin shared in Harvard Business Review a case study revealing traits of top salespeople and I was intrigued to see at the top of the list was modesty.


Contrary to conventional stereotypes that successful salespeople are pushy and egotistical, 91 percent of top salespeople had medium to high scores of modesty and humility. Furthermore, the results suggest that ostentatious salespeople who are full of bravado alienate far more customers than they win over.

Other traits included curiosity and contentious among others.

With both my parents as entrepreneurs, I find that even if you’re not in a role that involves sales, you must know how to sell. It is applicable in everyday life, when you’re finding a new job, when you’re interacting with friends or in a professional circle.

I’m pleased to see modesty stand through. After all, humility is one of my favorite traits in people.

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  • Suzan B

    Completely. We’re selling all the time. Even when you think you’re not. Having some sort of ability in this domain is a must at a startup. Nice post.

  • Alex

    Ah, this is a great topic, Grace! 

    I miss working in the sales and service industry sometimes – specifically, in health and beauty – because I miss helping people directly. I was never one to BS and sell people what they didn’t need, but instead listened, paid attention, and did my best to help them take better care of themselves. Being a good salesperson means being a trustworthy salesperson (genuine might be another term). I think most of us do sell what we do and who we are on a regular basis, like you mentioned. For me, it’s proving that I’m capable and worthy in my field among my peers (I hate that part) and getting people motivated to volunteer and work with me in my student org (I love that part). Some are better than others at selling themselves and their work. But I do believe you can get a lot accomplished with other people with a smile and a little psych 101. :)

  • Rebecca Thorman

    Totally agree with Suzan. Sales is the basis of almost all business and if you dig deeper, it’s all just relationships. Relationships is sales is marketing. 

  • Jay Boyle

    Sales like anything can be done well or done poorly. Some of us have had a bad experience with a pushy, unaware sales person. That’s how its done poorly. The best sales people are service oriented. They sell from the heart,  they believe in what they are selling and never try to push a sale on an unwilling buyer. Take a moment to look around you right now. Nearly everything you see was sold by a sales person. If done right, with love and heart, selling is a wonderful experience both for the sales person and the lucky person who meets a really good, compassionate, aware salesperson.


  • Grace Boyle

    Thanks Dad. You’re so right :) I just have this mindset that sales can be negative…but it never has to be. And sales is pervasive, it’s everywhere to us.

  • Grace Boyle

     Relationship is sales is marketing.

    You’re so right. I think a lot of people balk at the word sales (honestly, myself included) but then forget that it helps us in most arenas of life.

  • Grace Boyle

    Great point – a sales call or interaction shouldn’t interact with that hard sell. Like you said, there are a lot of upfront questions and interactions where you can talk to them and learn of their need. It helps tailor what you say and how you help. Such good stories :) Thanks for sharing Alex!

  • Grace Boyle

     Truth truth. It’s a good skill to have.

  • T.S. Christian

    I’ve always found sales really interesting. Penelope Trunk wrote a post about salesmen, and how they’re the type of people who are aggressive and go after the kill. So your post is in direct contract with what TP wrote! Heh. So now I’ll always think of both. I’ve worked in sales in an indirect way – I was a canvasser where I knocked on people’s doors to ask for donations. It was hard and I only lasted 2 months. I did tele-fundraising where I only lasted 4 days before I quit.

    I’m not very good at selling – particularly in the case of “selling myself”. I’m so bad at it. So I tend to drift away from sales jobs, anything that involves cold calling or having to forge new relationships with people for business purposes. I’d much rather not. Additionally, I’m not a people person and prefer background work or something more independent and solitary. So that might have a factor as well. :3

  • Grace Boyle

     Ha, great comparison. Penelope often has opposing views of many people 😉 That said, she is right, the goal of sales is to SELL. So there has to be a bit of aggressive nature in that you’re there to close the deal. However, no person likes to be forced into anything so the nature in which they do close it, doesn’t have to be aggressive. It has to be about understanding human nature and filling their needs/helping that person.

    Sales is hard. It is also not for everyone. I often lament myself and wonder, how is part of my job sales then I remember I love people and I am good with people and it ALL boils down to the relationship and building that relationship.

    Like you said, it’s good to know what you’re like and what jobs may be good for you. On the flip side, you went right out and said what you’re not good at. Sometimes, to be challenged, is a good way to self-reflect and see that you may change and surprise yourself.

  • Sam Davidson

    Great post, Grace. We all sell, whether we realize or not, whether we want to or not. In my first job (at a hotel), the Director of Sales was known for saying: “Nothing happenings until someone sells something.”

    And I agree – you don’t have to be pushy or slimy (that never works). People want honestly, a meaningful relationship, and a solution to their problem(s). If you can show that your product or service can do that, you’ll make the sale. 

  • Grace Boyle

     Great points. Still, so many people slink away from even the word sales and I think it’s an important skill to at least understand. Thanks for sharing and your kind words, Sam.

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