What Do Kevin Hart, Aristotle, and Jim Keenan Have in Common with your sales strategy?

I’m a little nervous about being a guest on A Sales Guy’s blog. I’m not a sales guy. I’m not usually an in-your-face kind of a person.  And to make it even worse, I used to be an English prof, director of the writing program, and dean of the college devoted to remediation. If Jim had been at one of my schools, I would have been setting him up with tutors so that he didn’t write “your” for “you’re” or any other of the so-called grammatical errors that he’s been called out for and which he acknowledges. I’m pretty much coming out of a different realm. So, what am I doing here? I’ll try to explain.

Right before Christmas Jim wrote a blog post “A Message to the Grammar Nazis”—about the “correctness” of language issue—incorporating a fantastic Stephen Fry video on what’s really important. And that got me to thinking, that’s where I can be edgy and in-your-face on the Keenan blog!

Did you ever notice that all these supposed errors in language usage are only an issue in print? If Keenan stops blogging in written words and just creates videos, he is not only a genius but also a grammatical wizard! There is not a single “error” in his writing that can possibly show up in speech. That’s a clue, isn’t it? (Writing things down on paper is only one part of grammar!)

Here’s an example. Kevin Hart was a guest on “Mike and Mike in the Morning” (ESPN) this week. He told a very funny story about delivering a line that included the word “façade.” Kevin knew the word but had never seen it in print. So he delivered is as “Fa-Kade.” Three times on the set before anyone had the guts to point it out to him! Kevin acknowledges that he doesn’t read well, which is one of the reasons he is so great at improv! He had created a rational explanation in his own mind for why the word “fa-kade” made sense! So are the grammar police going to descend on him, or are the real people going to take him to heart?

My personal sales journey started, uncharacteristically, with an education in the humanities focused on rhetoric. Not the typical career path for the founder of a sales company. I learned about how Aristotle introduced rhetoric 2500 years ago to establish the basis for the art of persuasion. His question was: How can you find the best available means of persuasion in a given situation? That’s what sales is all about. It’s not really a big leap, but typically the sales team is not studying Aristotle.

Far too often, the sales team is being “trained” at a low level of interaction with potential customers. Build your funnel. Find their pain. Fill in the CRM. Yada yada yada.

In contrast, Aristotle had a very high purpose. He was teaching Athenians how to argue persuasively to recapture their stolen land in a court of law. They were ordinary people whose rights had been trampled. So his advice was not merely what we would say today in a condescending manner, “rhetorical.” It was all about whether they could have a good life versus a life of poverty.

And according to Aristotle, you have three means at your disposal to be persuasive:

  • Ethos.  Your personal credibility and authority. Do they like you; do they find you believable; are they willing to learn from you?

  • Pathos.  Your empathy with their situation. Can you connect with them emotionally? Does your message meet their needs on an inner level?

  • Logos.  Your ability to present knowledge—what you know. Do they perceive you to know what you’re talking about? Will they accept you as an expert?

You need to demonstrate all three of these traits effectively to your buyers. And that’s what Keenan demonstrates to the sales community–authority, emotion, knowledge. And that’s what Kevin Hart brings to movie-making—confidence, believability, expertise! So in my view, none of the “rhetorical” power comes from expertise in how the surface details of written language operate.

Aristotle was concerned about the art of speaking—the core arts of a sales person.  In an oral presentation, there are no little nit-picking so-called “grammar” rules at work. What works is at a much higher and much more important level of language.

Likewise, Whale Hunting is based on the analogy of how the indigenous Inuit people hunted whales, centuries ago. The Inuit had an oral culture—their language was not written down. So they did not deal with commas, apostrophes, or spelling. They dealt instead with wisdom rooted in history and tradition. Their beliefs, their stories, have great explanatory power for modern businesses and sales teams.

Why do you read A Sales Guy’s blog? I think because he challenges our thinking and behavior in ways that help to make you better at the arts of selling and sales management.  Likewise, scholars read Aristotle, because he challenges our understanding of what matters and what ordinary people are capable of achieving through the power of language.

I’m still enough of an English prof to know that when you submit a written proposal, be sure you have an editor on your team. Don’t ever tempt the grammar Nazis to kick you out in round one.

But more important are these criteria:  Is your proposal authoritative? Does it capture your passion about the value proposition for your buyers? And does it demonstrate your superior knowledge of the marketplace?

Whether you’re delivering face to face or on paper, these are the true “grammar rules” that you ought to be cultivating.

What do you think?



Barbara Weaver Smith

Barbara Weaver Smith is founder and CEO of The Whale Hunters® and co-author of Whale Hunting: How to Land Big Sales and Transform Your Company.  Her business development process is based on the collaborative culture of the Inuit people and how they engaged their entire village to land whales.  Barbara works mostly with small and midsize companies about how to grow their business by making bigger sales to bigger customers. She has directly helped dozens of privately-held companies to implement The Whale Hunters Process to dramatically increase their sales, deal size, and predictability and reaches thousands of small business leaders in workshops, seminars, and keynote speeches.

Barbara also produces books, articles, podcasts, webinars, and online training programs for entrepreneurs who want fast, consistent revenue growth.

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