If you’re not in a sales position and you’re just getting started in your career, you may wonder when you’re going to have the chance to sell anyone anything. Let me assure you that you’re going to be selling regularly. You’ll find that you need to convince someone of something almost every week. It could be a minor matter of lobbying for a new software system or making a major presentation to senior staff. Whatever it is, you must articulate your point of view in a convincing manner so that someone in power buys it.

Some people make the mistake of overestimating the value of their ideas. They are the ones who in school were always raising their hands and at work are always forcing their opinions on others. Some of their ideas may be excellent, but these good ideas get lost amid all the bad or mediocre ones. They are in love with the sound of their voice, and this irritating quality makes them less effective at selling even their best concepts. People tune them out before they have a chance to explain their ideas fully.

career advice

When you’re just starting out and have no credibility based on past accomplishments, you need to be selective about when you venture an opinion or propose an idea. Wait until you have an epiphany or something close to it—you realize you’ve just discovered a way to get something done faster, better, or cheaper. You have great faith in your idea and its viability, and you are itching to tell someone about it. Maybe you go in and propose the idea to your boss or speak up during a meeting, but you allow your belief in the idea to drive your words.

Earlier I mentioned that at my first ad agency job I worked on the Mogen David account. The president of the company was Ben Wernick, an intimidating man who accentuated this trait by sitting on a raised chair at meetings so he could look down on his audience. During meetings no one was allowed to speak without first raising a hand and being called on. I was afraid to open my mouth, and so for the first five or six months I didn’t say one word in meetings.

Mr. Wernick had been obsessed with the success of a competitive product, Richard’s Wild Irish Rose, which had captured a significant percentage of the low-end market. Its success was due in large part to its 20 percent alcohol by volume, while Mogen David’s beverage was only 12 percent alcohol by volume. Our research showed that people preferred the taste of Mogen David to Richard’s Wild Irish Rose, but they bought the latter because of the higher alcohol percentage. Consequently, Mogen David decided to introduce a product that was also 20 percent alcohol by volume. I had a brainstorm during a meeting to determine the name for this new product. I thought of the perfect name, and I was so convinced that it was the right one that I raised my hand.

Ben Wernick had been speaking, and when he saw my hand go up he stopped talking in mid-sentence, pointed at me and said, “You! You, the one who never speaks.”

“Mr. Wernick,” I said, “I think we should call it MD 20/20. Because it’s 20 percent alcohol by volume.”

For a moment no one said anything. Then Mr. Wernick turned and said, “I can hear it now; people are going to go into liquor stores and say, ‘Give me some of that 20/20.’”

MD 20/20 was born, and from that moment on Mr. Wernick loved me. I have no doubt that I sold him in part because I was selective about when I spoke, and in part because I was absolutely convinced it was the best name for the product.

professional advice

To sell selectively and effectively, here are some dos and don’ts for you to follow:


• Wait until you’re firmly convinced you have an idea or solution that is absolutely right for a given situation.

• Think about what is the best time and place for voicing your idea.

• Rehearse what it is you want to propose so that you articulate it succinctly when you choose to speak.

• Give yourself permission to speak from your heart rather than just from your head; allow people to see that you really care about the issue.


• Feel you have to come up with a new idea or give your opinion at every meeting you attend.

• Believe that being professional means arguing for your position without betraying any emotion.

• Fake being excited about an idea or approach that you really have no enthusiasm for.