Selling to VITO

I couldn’t say that I’ve been interested in learning how to sell, but I need to be.

Selling brings to mind images of pushy men with skins and eardrums of steel. They have steely eyes that don’t see past the end of their nose, and they aren’t interested in helping you in anything but signing that dotted line. I think of car salesmen, telemarketing scripts, and the occassional roving salesteam that feels no shame in interrupting your day with their bullshit and their viewbooks. Who wants to be like that? Not me!

On the other hand, over the past few years I’ve met amazing sales people who are damn proud of it. One of them, aware of my nacent plans to somehow “step up” my solo practice, loaned me her copy of Selling to VITO. VITO stands for “Very Important Top Officer”. I’ve been reading the book 50 pages at a time, and it’s been the missing piece for me as far as relating actual value to salesmanship.

Although I’m only halfway through the book, here are the core ideas that have resonated with me so far:

  • VITO is the decision maker. She could be the CEO. Or he could be some Vice President. They think very differently from other people in the organization, with no tolerance for bullshit or indirection. They are open to any benefit to their company if you can catch their attention the right way, can back your claims up, and not waste their time with empty bullshit. It’s all in the way you do it: respectfully, intelligently, and by portraying yourself as a business peer.

  • Then there are what the author calls “Seymour”: the analysts who always want to “see more” data. They’re not the non-decision makers, can’t really decide anything, but make recommendations. They don’t think like VITO, and they’re more interested in protecting their turf and interest than the good of the company. Of course, not everyone is a Seymour, but you’ll know them when you see them. I can think of 2 or 3 of them.


p>When I used to think of selling, I used to get nervous because I thought myself to not be of the right mentality. I hate slinging empty phrases and trying to look like something I’m not, which seemed to be prerequisites to do the job well. I went solo partially to get out of the empty marketing culture, with the vague notion that somehow I could “build value” by myself and work that way. The jury’s still out on whether that was a wise decision :-)

I’m also not, as Eric Sink writes in his article on Sales Guys, particularly like being motivated solely by money–what Sink says is a critical aspect of a good sales guy. But even as I write that, I have to admit that yes…I do want money. Without money, I can’t build my future creative facility & resort, nor can I hire other amazing people to jam with, and then who’s going to teach with me at my University of Design and Technology? Not doing any of that would totally suck. So OK…I am officially motivated now by money, but I still felt I lack the extravert qualities required of the sales role.

Or do I? Here’s where the book comes in.

I am finding that Selling to VITO isn’t so much a book of tricks as it is a book of finding the right mentality. The mentality that the author extols is be a businessperson and think like one. This book is a bridge between how to think like an executive and how to sell, and it is the perspective I have needed to make sense of some observations I’ve made regarding the critical difference between people who lead/build companies and people who just work in them. As a sole practitioner / solopreneur, I want to be the leader and the builder. It’s extremely informative to see how a salesperson deconstructs the mentality of a VITO, and then proceeds to fabricate a package that meets actual needs in terms of company benefit. It’s win-win. It’s what being a business partner is about, and that’s how the author sees himself. That’s super cool, and I buy that 100%. The value is not the service or product: it’s the person making that offering. A VITO buys into the person that will benefit her company. A Seymour buys into a service that will benefit himself. Don’t be a Seymour!

Some of my favorite heresies in the book are not using your company logo in the initial contact (it’s not important), and dispensing with the crap business writing “etiquette” that persists in plague-like proportions across the land. The book isn’t an great piece of writing compared to other marketing / sales books you may have read, but it’s the ideas are what count. Make of them what you will.