Selling While Black

Over Christmas break last year, I spent a lot of time testing software to increase productivity. As I get busier, it’s essential I find ways to get more done in less time without compromising quality. One of the tools I implemented was a simple calendar invite link above my work signature. I downloaded the app Calendly allowing another party to click on the link and schedule a 15 or 30 minute conference call. The paid version lets you brand the invite and add your pic.

Candidly, I thought long and hard as to whether or not I should include a profile picture. Professionally, it’d be suspicious to receive a calendar invite from a salesperson in this digital age without seeing their face. Today, salespeople aren’t just strangers on the other line. There’s much more visibility in our space and to be relevant, you’ve got to put your face out there.

I’m fully aware of my tendency to overthink things. But, I’m also confident in my ability to think before I act when it comes to handling my business. Up until recently, I haven’t wanted my prospects to know I was black before our first conference call.

Blackout

It was just a few months ago that a segment aired about our Commander in Bleach. Among other leaked indiscretions, he was heard saying that he wouldn’t conduct business with black people — allegedly. Whether he said it or not doesn’t matter since his stance on race is crystal. What resonates is the notion of whites or other races’ continued reluctance to engage with blacks on a business level — still.

The absurdity of my great debate on making my face public is that prospects probably already know I’m black. I sell legal/ auditing services into the enterprise. The first thing anyone does before outsourcing specialized solutions is Google you. Invariably, they’d see my Linkedin profile or stumble onto my Facebook page.

EF Hutton

When I started in Sales, my mentor was an American-born black guy with an African first name. He took me under his wing, showed me the ropes and taught me how to sell from the ground up. We were doing inside sales so all client interactions were by telephone and email. One of the first things he taught me was that you can be anyone on the phone. When talking to prospects, “you’re EF Fuckin’ Hutton”, he’d say. After all, When EF Hutton Talks, People Listen as the infamous tagline pronounced.

I realize now just how liberating it was to hear those words. Google wasn’t what it is today so I could actually be whoever I wanted to. And who do people trust the most when hiring professional services? A white male, navy suit, crisp white shirt, mid thirties/ early forties, European whip in the garage, educated, successful and charming. In many circles, the guy you’d want your daughter to marry. That’s who I’d be on the phone.

With all my insecurities of being new to the game, the EF Hutton hack granted me permission to let loose and . Which is exactly what I did with aplomb. My mentor and I were a dynamic duo who consistently out-shined and out-sold our peers.

I can’t say with any conviction nor quantify prospects’ reticence about conducting business with me because of my color. And even though I’ve managed to survive in this high-octane industry all these years, I still think about it daily. A rational mind will square you into thinking the reason someone won’t to do business with you is simply because they’re not interested. But, when you exist in a world of patterns, all you see are those patterns. So, the nagging sensation lingers. How much does race actually affect Sales?

Head Games

Living inside our heads as black men is unhealthy but a fait d’accompli. Recently, I read Shook One by Lenard McKelvey AKA Charlamagne tha God who had the sack to write about mental health in the black community. He waxes poetic about how we’ve never embraced its merits due to the stigma that therapy is for whites only. The misconception being black people aren’t capable of feeling on deep level; we are callous beings lacking profundity, critical thinking and the empathy gene so therefore, therapy would be lost on us. Charlamagne tha God explains why blacks are therapy-averse and the negative effects of not talking openly about our pain.

The book was awakening. McKelvey grew up slinging drugs in the projects/ Monck’s Corner, South Carolina. I grew up in the Congo and didn’t speak a lick of English until I was eight. I attended public and private schools and lived in predominantly white neighborhoods and yet, our emotional experiences are eerily similar.

CTG further elaborates on blacks having a form of PTSD that stems from slavery and the relentless vitriol hurled towards us. I never thought about it as PTSD till reading Shook One. Unfortunately, it’s so entrenched in our psyche that we’ve never known its absence. How can you not be affected by a segment of the population who knows nothing about you but hates you before you’re even born? How would we not be traumatized knowing our lives could end just because of tone or (_____ing while black)?

CTSD — Continuous Traumatic Stress Disorder

Part of this C/PTSD is falsely internalizing one’s worth based on aspersions. But, what people are beginning to understand about us is that we exist in a heightened state. When we walk in a room, we immediately identify someone else who looks like us. Not because we’re going to be best friends but in case shit goes sideways, we know we have an ally. Despite mountains of racist evidence, our play by plays are casually upended as paranoid or downgraded to irrational. C/overt racism and the gaslight express encircle us 24/7 and we calculate every situation in a matter of seconds to assess its racial threat. Is it real or perceived? In these moments, we have to be 100% right each and every time, lest be accused of feigning victimhood or worse, paying the price with our lives.

The Okey-Doke

There’s been progress and light but as a people, we don’t fall for the old Okey-Doke or banana in the tail pipe. Just because Black is the New Black and suddenly good for business, change means Action with prosecutory repercussions and not just another contrived ad campaign or crisis-managed apology to protect a brand.

As a black man who owes absolutely everything to those before me, I am/ we are resilient. Instead of hate, anger and bemusement, I try and focus on what I can control. And although revealing an innocent profile pic might seem trivial, how one makes a living is not. In sales, you are literally and figuratively the face of what you sell.

I’ve closed four deals so far and it’s only February. It’s safe to assume these new clients don’t give a damn about my race because they are now clients.

Next…

Originally published at https://saleslane.com on June 7, 2020.

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If these thoughts could talk

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