“Everyone lives by selling something.”
Robert Louis Stevenson 


I know, it sounds like one of those huckster claims from a snake oil salesman but judge for yourself: A study at Wharton Business school shows that listening to certain kinds of stories for five minutes before you start selling can indeed double your sales.


Just before you click on, we’re all salesmen. Every time you need to persuade anyone—kids, spouse, boss or friends—to do anything, you have to sell them on your ideas. You will be far more effective if you practice the insight from this brilliant research.


Professor Adam Grant divided the salespeople at a scholarship fundraising center into three groups. The “purpose group” read stories about people who had received scholarships through the funds raised, explaining how those scholarships had improved their lives. The “personal benefit group” read stories about sales people who had personally benefited from the same job by increasing their skills. The control group listened to stories that had nothing to do with either personal benefit or purpose. Over the next few weeks the “personal benefit” and “control group” had raised the same amount of funds but the “purpose group” had doubled the amount of money raised. By being clear about the positive impact their fundraising was having, this group’s overall motivation and effectiveness was radically increased. Sales managers take note: sales people may be motivated by perks and incentives but they’re even more motivated by purpose.


There is an old wisdom story I like to tell in my keynote presentation: The Power of Connection—How to build long lasting profitable relationships with clients and team members. It goes like this: During the Middle Ages a traveler came upon a large building site. He asked a couple of workers: ‘What are you doing?’ The one grunted back: ‘I’m cutting stone. It’s hard, boring and my back is killing me.’ The other replied, with shining eyes, as he stared up at the sky: ‘I’m building a cathedral!’ Which of those two workers is going to be more motivated, creative and hard working? Here’s the thing, purpose isn’t in the job, purpose is what we bring to the job. Our role as leaders and sales managers is to continuously remind our people of the good our products and services are doing in the world so that they keep bringing their purpose to work.


Dan Pink, in his brilliant new book  To Sell is Human says we are moving into a new world of sales where information is free and ubiquitous and salesmen can no longer win by pulling the wool over their customer’s eyes. The most successful sales people in this new world are moving from hard selling where you try push something on someone that they may or may not want, to insight selling where you listen, help them discover the problem and find the solution that best fits them—even when it doesn’t involve your product. In this new world you’re more like a trusted consultant, helping your customers see new opportunities, rather than an old school salesman forcing them into a single transaction. No more upselling. Now it’s upserving. Pink calls it Servant Selling. Out with coin-operated sales people who only dance when you insert a coin. In with purpose-driven sales people who are there to serve. It used to be ABC—Always Be Closing. Welcome to what I call: ABS—Always Be Serving.

Now, if this happens to sound like the sales version of “We are the world” it is! Apparently, it also happens to be the best way to double your sales.


Here is what you can do now to inject purpose into your work, and who knows maybe even double your sales:

1)    Tell a colleague a story of how your product, service or intervention improved a client’s life or business. Ask that colleague to share one of their stories. (For more ideas on how to use stories to increase sales check out my book: The Astonishing Power of Story.)

2)    Before going into any sales pitch ask yourself: “How is this person’s life or business going to be better because of what I can do for them.”

Now go serve, and watch how the sales follow!

Justin Cohen is a keynote speaker and author. This blog is based on his keynote presentation: The Psychology of Sales Superstars. Watch video below.

“Justin delivered a powerful message that will have a long lasting effect on our people. We are experiencing early returns on our investment with a clear increase in sales numbers.”- Raymond O’Neil, MD, HSBC MIDDLE EAST

 The Psychology of Sales Superstars – Justin Cohen

Who is the Guinness Book of records’ greatest salesman of all time? What did he do that made him special? In this presentation you’ll discover the most important psychological element in top sales people.