March 18, 2021


7 minutes

The secret to selling 🤫

Kareem Abukhadra

Author, Founder Relentless

You are a product.

The sooner you realize this, the sooner you will see how sales and marketing principles used to sell household products can be used to sell you.

A company’s product is bought by a consumer to solve a specific need or problem.

A job seeker is hired by a company to solve a specific need or problem.

A company’s product is sold to consumers.

A job seeker is sold to employers.

In both cases, it’s important to sell something that the buyer needs. Selling a phone to someone who is trying to cut a steak will be difficult. Selling an engineer to a company that is trying to launch a marketing campaign will also be difficult.

It’s not enough that you have a relevant product though, because every product needs to go through a dating process before it reaches its end user.

The dating process is where both parties try to determine if the other party is a good fit for them.

In the consumer market, we call this a funnel. Consumers go through a series of touch points during which a company tries to close a consumer and convince them to purchase their product. If a company succeeds, they get paid.

In the job search market, we call this interviewing. It’s a reverse funnel where job seekers go through a series of touch points not to be convinced by the employer to get hired, but to convince the employer they should be hired. If a job seeker succeeds, they get paid.

The issue with these funnels is that they measure the seller's ability to sell, as opposed to whether the seller solves the buyer's problem.

This means that the product that is best sold to consumers gets bought (irrespective of whether it best solves the consumer’s need). Similarly, the job seeker that is best sold to employers gets employed (irrespective of whether they best solve the employer’s problem).

This is why being great at sales and marketing is necessary to get the best job possible.

But, what do good sales (and marketing) actually look like?

Not like this.

Or this.

Or this.

Instead, a good salesperson looks like this.


Or this.


Or this.

Notice a trend?

None of them sold anything.

The best sales and marketing people spend very little time explicitly selling.

Here’s what they do instead:

The best salespeople create scarcity.

They frame their skills and experiences, their product, or their service as scarce.

That girl (or guy) is 2x more attractive when they are hard to get, clubhouse is 2x more exciting cause there’s a waitlist, and my job search service is 2x more enticing because I only accept the top 15% of applicants. You will be 2x more attractive if you signal that you are a scarce resource who has other employment options.

The best salespeople use social proof.

They use testimonials, references, or other sources of proof to validate that they are a valuable person, product, or service.

This is why your dating profile gets more matches if you’re surrounded by friends, why a service is more enticing with testimonials, and why people are more likely to buy your product if you have testimonials. You will be 2x more likely to get hired if someone else vouches for you or you get a referral from someone the hiring manager personally knows.

The best salespeople give value to others.

The two ways to offer value are to trigger people’s emotions (e.g. motivational story) or to give them actionable advice (e.g. these 3 steps can help you do xyz).

This is part of why this email triggered a reply from Steve Wozniak’s cofounder, part of why all my marketing isn’t the marketing ads you see on YouTube (bad marketing) but is literally just free valuable advice, and why this person uses a personal, heartfelt story about getting dumped, in a marketing email for a product launch. You are 2x more likely to land a job if you can provide value to your interviewer. This can be by triggering their emotions or by helping them (e.g. doing a free project for them).

The best salespeople understand how to allocate and make trade-offs between resources.

They recognize that their resources (time, money, and cognitive energy) need to be allocated to the right projects to generate strong ROIs.

This is part of why the most successful sales and marketers (and people in general) constantly talk about prioritizing the right work and spending time on the highest ROI activities. You are 2x more likely to land a job if you constantly prioritize your resources for the highest ROI investments. A tactical way to do this is to set up automated systems to apply for you.

The best salespeople understand that friction is the enemy.

They understand that any increase in friction reduces the likelihood that a deal will close. Friction can take the form of any resource cost (money, time, and energy).

This is why the most compelling emails do the thinking for you, why it’s best to write concise messages which demand less reading time from the reader, and why giving people specific asks trumps general asks (e.g. is your favorite color red? > what’s your favorite color?). Specific asks allow the other person to think less to give you a response. This is also why using a Calendly (which reduces back-and-forth friction) and why asking to be interviewed for a job is a worse approach than doing a free project for someone. Even though both require the same amount of time and energy on your part, the latter approach asks less of the employer. You are 2x more likely to land a job if you constantly try to reduce friction for the person you’re trying to sell.

The best salespeople sell 1 solution to 1 problem

They understand that in order to communicate their message, they need to speak simply, and in order to speak simply, they need to sell 1 thing. They further understand that the larger the user base a solution is adapted for, the less effective the solution is to each individual user.

This is why the best products have only 1 message and part of the reason why my voicemail to Peter Thiel lead to a text back and eventually an interview: “Hey Peter, I’m a Columbia grad with a McKinsey offer. I want to drop that offer to come work for you. What do I need to do to make that happen?” (AKA I’m smart and will do anything to work for you). You are 2x more likely to land a job if you cut anything irrelevant to the problem you’re solving (i.e. need you’re hiring into). You must pitch 1 message.

The best salespeople understand the power of appearing authoritative.

They understand that in order to be trusted, they need to have credentials (global brands) and quantitative metrics that are relevant to the KPIs of their role to demonstrate success. This is because humans use heuristics to judge others. You are 2x more likely to land a job if you understand how to frame yourself as an authority figure in a space.

The best salespeople sell once: when they close

They understand that the best way to gain someone’s trust is not to sell them anything, but to simply offer free value at first. This is because people have a natural aversion to being directly sold something from someone they don’t trust. You are 2x more likely to land a job if you understand how to build rapport with a recruiter or person by offering value (help on a project or interesting interview stories) before selling yourself for a job.

The best salespeople persist

They understand that 99 failures appear before every success. They embrace rejection. They like the pain because it brings them 1 step closer to success. You are 2x more likely to land a job if you persist, follow up, and grind harder when things don’t go well.


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