By Ellie Hearne

Some day I'll write a book about being a shy, introverted communications consultant who regularly leads large-scale workshops and speaks from mainstages. For today though, I'm going to focus on sales: where I struggle and how I overcome, how I generate revenue for my company, and how I address my weak spots.

Despite rampant imposter syndrome, within a year of launching Pencil or Ink, I'd signed more than a dozen clients - including a few Fortune 500 companies - opened an office in New York City, and garnered a lot of good publicity. Today I continue to make sales, pay bills, and take names. How do I do it?

First of all, I play to my strengths. Approaching sales as relationship-building is a primary example. I dislike selling. But I love getting to know people and forming connections.

This is a subtle shift, but a significant one nonetheless. Every single meeting is a relationship-building opportunity. I'm not going to pitch every person I meet - but I am going to get to know them and take time to learn about their world. While I don't expect to make a sale, I know that sometimes, simply making an effort to connect with someone will lead to some revenue. 

Some take a more aggressive stance. "If you're following up 3-4 times, that's not enough. I make at least 20 phone calls until the person answers me." That may be effective, but I will never be that salesperson, nor would I ever want to be. When people work with Pencil or Ink, I want it to be because they want to work with us - not because they were hounded into it.

I know when to adapt. If the person I'm meeting with is loud, fast-moving, and high-energy, I don't parrot them, but I meet them in the middle by dialing up my energy accordingly. It's not about being someone else or playing a part - it's about using the muscles I flex less often and amplifying what's already there. Short of Google-stalking, I try to learn a little about the person before I meet.

"Oh look we went to the same university" is at best forced and at worst stalker-ish.

So I do some research, focusing on personality cues rather than flimsy points of common ground.

How does the person communicate? Brief, to-the-point emails? Long, meandering, sociable phone calls? Detailed follow-up with well-organized bullet points? All of these things represent clues as to how best to communicate with a person. Communications is a strength of mine - and it always starts with knowing your audience, so this is a no-brainer for me.

In all aspects of business and life, I endeavor to be respectful of others and to use people's time well. It took me a long while to realize that this approach is also good for sales. So how can you do the same?

Approach each meeting with a degree of professionalism and you're starting on a good footing. A few examples:

  • Take time to prepare

  • Arrive on time or just a few minutes early

  • Listen well

  • Outline clear next steps

  • Mean what you say and say what you mean - people can smell it when you don't

  • End your meetings early

You'll be hard pressed to find anyone who dislikes good prep, being listening to, modeling integrity, and getting time back - and these are easy ways to stand out as a salesperson.

What else should I consider?

Good dialogue skills, savvy networking, elevator pitches/"personal brand," strong presence, robust follow-up, objection handling, closing... There's more to making sales than the techniques we outline above. Talk to us to learn more about our individual and team sales offerings; we can be reached here, here, and here.


  • Play to your strengths

  • Look for personality cues - and communicate in a way the person appreciates. Telling them you "couldn't help but notice you once lived near them" is creepy

  • Exercise professionalism - in every interaction

  • Be genuine: mean what you say and say what you mean

  • Know your sales weaknesses: listening, networking, elevator pitching, executive presence, follow-up cadence, handling objections, closing... Where can you improve?

  • Talk to us to enhance your selling skills - in a way that feels right



Ellie Hearne is a leadership-communications expert and founder of Pencil or Ink. She has worked with Apple, Google, Kate Spade, Marriott, Morgan Stanley, Oracle, Pfizer, Piaget, Spotify, Starbucks, and Twitter, among others, and has coached numerous sales teams. Ellie can be reached herehere, and here.