‘Does everyone live by selling something?’

My desire to seek answers to this question was ignited back in the late 1980’s when I came across the quote ‘Everyone lives by selling something’. The quote was coined by Robert Louis Stevenson, Scottish novelist, poet, travel writer and author of ‘Treasure Island’, in the late 1880’s some 100 years earlier.

It is interesting to note that Robert Louis Stevenson (1850-1894) was a leading representative of Neo-romanticism in English literature. He was also greatly admired by many authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Rudyard Kipling, Vladimir Nabokov and others. Most modernist writers dismissed him, however, because he was popular and did not write within their narrow definition of literature. It is only recently that critics have begun to look beyond Stevenson’s popularity and allow him a place in the canon.

Over the last 20 years I have sincerely come to believe that Robert Louis Stevenson is correct in his assumption that ‘Everyone lives by selling something’. His ability to not be constrained by the prevailing views and paradigms of his time allowed him to see what many of us are coming to realise now.

Whether we call ourselves a salesperson or not, if we have an idea, product, service, skill, capability, talent, or opportunity by which we can make a living and others can benefit from, we need to be able to sell.

This means that whatever role we are in, we all need to put ourselves in a position to secure the ongoing custom of customers, members, patients, supporters, peers, students, sponsors, or clients to make a living. Even internal service providers such as HR and Procurement professionals need to be able to sell and consult in order to fulfill their roles accordingly.

In this complex world, this means that we need to make sure our talents and capabilities are visible to those who need to know about us. We need to proactively put ourselves in a position to work with others to earn what we are worth on any level, otherwise we at risk of being invisible and losing opportunity. Good salespeople have always known this, consciously or not.

Yet many people are still confused by the words ‘sell’, ‘selling’, ‘salesperson’, or ‘sales’. In fact when these words are mentioned in polite company, you can see many people visibly recoil at the concept and some even go so far as to object to you even mentioning the concept of selling.


Because many so called ‘legitimate’ sales practices we experience as customers are nothing more than manipulation and deceit, aggression and intimidation, or hard sell, pressure tactics. No wonder so many people shy away from selling as a career or cringe at the thought. Whether we are conscious of it or not most of us don’t like how selling is being sold to us. I don’t blame you.

Despite the prevailing paradigms of 20th century ‘old school selling’ tactics and others’ self limiting beliefs, highly successful, effective, ethical sales people have always known the best way to sell is to proactively forging honest and open relationships (of any kind) based on trust, transparency, respect, and doing what they said they would do. This is their competitive edge. Their sales approach is more collaborative, integrated, holistic, and enlightened. The potential for these life skills and attitudes is present intrinsically in almost all of us whether we know it or not.

Now I are not trying to convince people to love selling, or even like it. However, we want people to recognise the vital role selling plays in our lives today. Without this capability our businesses wither and die.

Yet some people believe it is not their right to put themselves or their ideas forward instead relying on their good work to speak for themselves. Some think they may be seen as too boastful or self absorbed if they do so. Others are too frightened to sell and many have never been taught how to sell effectively with confidence, dignity, and grace.

That is why we still see too many good ideas and opportunities go to waste resulting in poor revenue results. Too many people do not purposefully and proactively put themselves in a position to explore opportunities with others, bring their ideas to the table, create new possibilities or earning what they are worth in the process.

Whether we earn a living from what we do or not, if we hide our talents and capabilities from others and no one knows about us or what we are capable of then how can we be of service and earn what we are worth on any level?

It’s also about being genuine.
In this increasingly networked world we all have the opportunity to connect with others all the time – in short we are selling ourselves. However, the way each of us portrays ourselves, our companies, our values and our lives are at risk of being seen as superficial if we do not genuinely communicate, connect and create with others.

If we want to cultivate and sustain genuine, healthy, profitable and viable business relationships with our clients, partners, suppliers or peers where a fair exchange of value is achieved then we, our business and our people need to go out to the market place and put ourselves in a position to work proactively with people and help them and ourselves achieve our collective business goals.

This is why I believe Everyone lives by selling something.

Whether you are working as a sales professional, business development manager, lawyer, accountant, engineer, consultant, internal human resources manager, procurement manager, business, manager, small business owner, team leader, psychologist, a jobseeker, or anyone in contact dependent career, we can all benefit from applying more enlightened, collaborative, worthy, natural sales practices in our daily lives.

I am interested in whether you believe Everyone lives by selling something. If you would like to have your say we have set up a poll at www.barrett.com.au to take your response to the question ‘do you live by selling something’.

Happy and honourable selling to you all.

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