Today I want to talk about the debate between selling and helping.

There are some important distinctions that I will look at, mostly to help my own understanding of the subject as I wrestle with some of these questions in my mind.

For years one of my favourite speakers was Zig Ziglar, one of the most popular motivational speakers of his time. Ziglar passed away a few months ago, and a few of his fans started sharing some of their most memorable Zig quotes on Twitter.

The quote that struck me and stayed with me was this one: “Stop selling. Start helping.”

What I take out of this, is that if you forget about what you are trying to sell, and instead just focus on the client and how you can help them, then the selling will take care of itself.

My father used to make a similar point, in making the distinction between marketing and selling. “Marketing is solving the customer’s problem. Selling is reducing your inventory”. Thanks Dad.

But that was from the perspective of someone who spent his life solving customers’ problems by providing them (selling) a product. Can it still apply when you are providing a service?

And what if the service that you are providing is actually your help, i.e. your knowledge, experience, ability, time? Help!

As I was going through my recently completed Family Enterprise Advisor Program, we had a very interesting discussion on this subject.

You see, the program is aimed at professionals from a variety of fields, all of which deal with family business (or, as I preer to say, business families). But the variety, in addition to providing the spice of life, is also a source of confusion, especially as it applies to helping and selling, and getting paid to help.

I will just use my project group as an example. I was working with “Robert”, a CPA with an international firm, “Cathy”, a private banker from one of the big five Canadian banks, and “Gary”, a licensed insurance specialist with his own firm.

We worked together on a pro bono basis, on a project for a real business family. Although framed as an “academic exercise”, we treated it as real because it was real. The fact that we were all educated, experienced professionals, averaging around 50 years of age, also added to the seriousness.

But let’s bring this back to the selling vs helping question. If we had provided the exact same help to the family in a real life situation, how would we have been paid, or how would we be compensated for our help?

Robert, as a CPA with an accounting firm, would get paid for the hours he put in on behalf of the client, and most businesses have professional fees to pay for outside accounting services as a matter of course.

Cathy, working as a private banker, would not charge for her services per se, so the hours she put in are paid by her employer, the bank, who make a cut off the client’s wealth in other ways.

Gary, for his part, would get paid if and when the client purchased an insurance product from him.

So to summarize, every one of us would have been paid in a different fashion. But wait, I forgot someone. Me. Uh-oh. How is this gonna work?

The only this that I am actually selling is my help. And I am also going to need some help selling.

Next week, in part 2, we will get into a couple of other issues, like client resistance to people who are just trying to help.

See you then.

Steve Legler “gets” business families.
He understands the issues that families face, as well as how each family member sees things from their own viewpoint.
He specializes in helping business families navigate the difficult areas where the family and the business overlap, by listening to each person’s concerns and ideas.  He then helps the family work together to bridge gaps by building common goals, based on their shared values and vision.
His background in family business, his experience running his own family office, along with his education and training in coaching, facilitation, and mediation, make him uniquely suited to the role of advising business families and families of wealth.
He is the author of Shift your Family Business (2014), he received his MBA from the Richard  Ivey School of Business (UWO, 1991), is a CFA Charterholder (CFA Institute, 2002), a Family Enterprise Advisor (IFEA 2014), and has received the ACFBA and CFWA accreditations (Family Firm Institute 2014-2015).
He prides himself on his ability to help families create the harmony they need to support the legacy they want. To learn how, start by signing up for his monthly newsletter and weekly blogs here.