Shimer College

March 31, 2014

Selling the Idea Incubator

I never, ever dreamed that I would have a thirty-plus year career in sales. I don’t think there is a single Shimer course whose backbone is about sales. But every single time I went to class to talk about ideas, someone was selling something, and I got to literally be inside that incubator.

Today, I am the Midwest representative for The Workbook, a marketing services company which connects buyers and sellers of commercial art. I am an independent contractor, and I have operated my business for over thirty years.

My clients are individuals running small businesses. I sell them marketing tools: methods of reaching the people who can hire them, methods of promoting effectively and memorably to their clients.

My clients happen to be graphic artists: commercial photographers, illustrators, and their agents. They have to be translators. They translate the concepts they are given into visuals. The artist who can articulate, with words, why they are best equipped to translate the idea on the table, into a visual, will usually win the assignment. So my clients have to be sales people too.

The sales profession has gotten a scary rap: it has been positioned at best as inelegant, at worst as downright sleazy. Yet every business in the world depends on sales. I never dreamed that sales could be so fun and rewarding and meaningful, both to me and to my clients.

I never, ever dreamed that I would have a thirty-plus year career in sales. I don’t think there is a single Shimer course whose backbone is about sales. But every single time I went to class to talk about ideas, someone was selling something, and I got to literally be inside that incubator.

  • I learned how to listen. This intricate skill is essential for success in all business.
  • I learned how to articulate my point of view. I learned how to trade points of view across a table with other individuals. Another skill essential to business life.
  • I learned how to ask, and not to be afraid to ask, difficult questions. This is essential to all successful evolution, and evolution is critical to all businesses.

My clients often ask me to talk about “the right message” to send to such and such company or buyer, in order to be hired by them. I think that is the wrong question, because it is unknowable what exactly an art buyer wants to see–today, or tomorrow, or next week, or ever. The only thing you can know for sure is what you want to say, what interests you, and what you are passionate about.

One of my favorite quotes, from Antoine St. Exupery, is this: “If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea.”

Shimer taught me that kind of longing.

 

Linda Levy ‘78

Sales Representative, The Workbook