How to be Authentic

Salespeople come off as all alike, strive to be different

“You are authentic when everything you say and everything you do you ACTUALLY believe.”

- Simon Sinek

You ever notice restaurants that have the word “authentic” on their awnings? There are variations like “real”, “genuine”, etc., but whatever the word used, I immediately think that it is not so authentic. Like an Asian bistro that serves Chinese, Japanese, Thai cuisines or a pizzeria in Europe that does “New York City” style pizza.

We probably eat at these places anyway. Sometimes it is convenient, sometimes it might actually be decent, and sometimes we are just in a rush and need food now. Whatever the reason though, make no mistake, we know we are not really eating the real deal.

That is often the sense I get when people tell me they have a work persona and a home persona. They have one personality when they go to work and another at when not at work. A business face versus a normal face.

I have never really understood this. I do understand being in your work zone when you get hyperfocused. Having a split personality though seems not only awkward, but really inauthentic, much like the restaurants that don’t quite deliver the goods.

This is why most B2B marketing misses connecting with their presumed audiences. They try so hard to copy the recipe, use the lingo, make the right moves, but it just feels like content generated by a B2B marketing Mad Libs engine. You just get big technical words tied together with pretty pictures. Looks good but says nothing.

Like the other day when I was trying to find the name of this big print company in a conversation with a colleague. I eventually remembered it and he went to check out the website. His first reaction was, “Does this company actually have anything to do with printing?” All the copy was about digital this and that, without any real definition or clarity about what the company actually does.

Our selling comes off just as clueless and disconnected. We push out the templated mass emails, cold call using the same unimaginative scripts, trudge through the same convoluted demos, and go on rinse and repeat. None of this seems personal or inviting or aligned with what customers want.

How then can you change the approach so that you can be more personal, inviting, and aligned to customers?

At Amazon, we have a concept that is central to everything we do, which is working backwards from the customer. It is borne from our leadership principle of customer obsession. We know that the only reason we exist and succeed is because we first and foremost serve the needs of our customers.

When you start with the customer, you start with their problems and needs. You empathize with the challenges and can understand what the impact and priorities are from a customer perspective. This leads you to build solutions that align more closely to what customers actually care about, which builds trust and stronger relationships.

When we overlay this idea of starting with the customer onto the sales process, we can start to see where the disconnects happen. Your sales emails and call scripts are all “me” centric versus customer centric. All the steps in the sales process are oriented around how we want customer to buy rather than how they actually buy. Our content, our demos, our approach is all about telling our story.

The way towards authentic sales turns this all around and brings the voice of the customer into every stage of the customer journey. You start with personas and their motivations, focus on markets where you have the most impact, build greater levels of personalization into outreach, and use opportunities in meetings and demos to engage in two-way dialogues more oriented towards problem solving than features and implementation plans.


What does this look like however from a practical standpoint? Here are some ideas to get you started on selling with authenticity:

  • Believe in what you are doing and selling – As Simon Sinek says, authenticity starts with our beliefs. Ask yourself if sales really is your calling and if you are passionate about your work? If that is the case, then ask whether what you are selling is something you truly believe in? When we are not excited about the company or products, customers quickly pick up on that vibe. This is time to be brutally honest with yourself, so don’t skip this time of introspection!

  • Recraft your messaging to be “other” oriented – You cannot get people interested in what you sell until you show interest in what they do. You can review this post moving from “me” oriented to “other” oriented to get some ideas to create more authentic messaging.

  • Tell more relevant & compelling customer stories – When salespeople share customer case studies, they miss the mark by being boring and useless. For example, telling a startup that big Fortune 500 bank is a customer. Amplify your delivery and engagement by digging into the case studies deeper and crafting a story that is more relevant. Use the hero’s journey as a guide and work with marketing and your sales peers to have customers share their experiences internally. This is a great thing to do for Sales Kickoffs, having customers present their experiences and how the product solved key business challenges.

  • Embrace selling in public through social channels – There is a growing movement called “building in public” in the startup world where founders are being very public about their plans, product developments, etc. In a similar way, we can also be more public by sharing more of our work across our social platforms, whether LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, etc, just like I do often in this newsletter. Be more willing to share approved customer stories, things you are learning in the sales process, the challenges you are facing, the cool tools that you are using. Buyers will see this when looking at your online profile and see someone that is a problem solver rather than a cookie-cutter salesperson.

  • Bring your whole self, interests & personality – The things that make us unique also make us more interesting to others in our work. This is the power of small talk before and after meetings, it gives you opportunities to bond with customers and build rapport. The things you learn about your customers can better inform your approach, but also by sharing more of yourself, you stand out. Of all the product features and functions you present, customers will ultimately most remember you and the personal things you share about yourself.

  • Be someone that brings new perspectives & ideas – As salespeople, our motivation is often to please rather than challenge our customers. When I say challenge, this means to present ideas and insights that run counter to how someone sees their world. If you offer this in a way that is empathic and customer oriented, you also begin to positively stand out in the eyes of the customer, building trust and credibility that gives you a leg up on your competition.

Over the next few newsletters, I will go into more aspects of building authenticity. Given that everything we do will continue to be virtual for the next several months, being conversant and comfortable in how we show ourselves to be authentic in this virtual world will be a very important factor in our continued sales success.

Let me know how you get on in being more authentic in your selling and good luck!

Mark Birch, Founder of Enterprise Sales Forum

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