I’ve had some good jobs in my life, but the most foundational one was when I spent a year behind a counter in a discount store — Two Guys — selling cameras.
From the second week I was the top commission earner in the department. I just figured out the spiff system and sold to it. Easy.
When they brought in a manager who could sell, all shiny teeth and canned tricks, I screwed up his plan. He figured he’d get modest increases in his “Beat Yesterday” book the first year, and then turn on the taps and do better the second year.
He just hadn’t reckoned he would get someone who could sell.
He pulled me aside after a sale.
“You did that whole sale wrong,” he told me. “You told them it was $300, not $299.99, you didn’t start with a kit price, you showed them too many options.”
“But you made the sale,” he continued. “I guess I can’t complain about that.”
I sold my way, the earnest nerd down the block who really knew cameras, who was really trying to help, rather than the slick salesman with a prestigitator’s touch. And I worked to learn what I could from his polished techniques. Great salespeople are always learning.
Selling is foundational in society. Everybody sells, all the time.
We want, no, we need people to buy int0 what we are selling. It’s a key way to take power, to get people onto our side, to sell to them.
That time behind a counter taught me to sell. And it taught me to sell my way, not by using some pre-cut template based system. Those skills have been the basis of whatever success I have had since. Sure, I’m smart and fast, but unless you can pitch your ideas to people, well, not much will happen.
At Startup Weekend, the two juniors had to pitch to a judge after Chris & I left for the day. The next morning they told us that they realized after that it didn’t come out as well, as compelling, as when one of us did the pitch.
They don’t have their sales voices yet. We did.
I fear, though, that my sales voice won’t work when people see me in women’s clothes. I worry that the noise of transgender expression will overwhelm my skills, and make me impotent to connect and persuade. I fear they won’t get it.
One thing standing behind the counter at the Empire Conference taught me is that my sales voice isn’t completely gone after people figure out I am a woman of transgender history.
In fact, I was teaching the interns and students in to support Provider Day tricks about putting guests at ease. I would have taught the transpeople, too, but most of us exist in the world by being very set in our ways. That’s one of the key factors for me not bulling my way into trans expression, because I knew that I needed to keep learning, to listen and adapt, to connect with people in a way I couldn’t do if I were in the hard lucite egg armour that so many of us wear. We are lucky enough to have a professional trans organizer in the area, but I watch him lecture like a professor rather than sell, and that’s hard to see.
And at Startup Weekend, it became very clear that my pitch would work best if I presented as a woman. So I did. And the two women judges were loud and clear to me: they loved my voice. They loved my sales voice.
There have been other examples, too. When I came out of a meeting with Merissa Sherrill Lynn after the IFGE board asked me to try and rescue the Atlanta conference in 1995, the born female partner of Dr. Sheila Kirk and I shared a moment at the water cooler.
“I like you,” she said. “You can say ‘Fuck You!’ in so many nice ways!” It’s a woman’s technique that she saw, understood and appreciated.
It’s so, so hard to ask other people about how your expression is coming through. Their expression isn’t considered and constructed, so they can’t coach about how they are experiencing you. And so many people who set themselves up as coaches do what my old photo boss did, trying to teach you how to do it by the numbers, rather than help polish your natural voice.
“Of course you are a woman,” Ava said to me at the conference, as we sat outside, finally in the sunshine. “You have been flirting like hell the entire time I have been around you.” As a long time hairdresser I trusted her, because she had to understand the power of a sales voice to get and keep clients, had to see which voices worked and which didn’t as she looked around the salon.
And I trusted her because her fears about her connection to the world weren’t the same as mine, so she had a different view. So many times we are drawn to people with similar fears, which becomes self-reinforcing, but touching people with different fears can be self-healing. As a Samantha, Ava fears that she isn’t seen as smart, while as a Miranda, I worry I’m not seen as attractive.
Flirting is a key power of sales voice to women. You focus on others, drawing people to you, letting you connect with them, letting you share ideas and secrets, letting you build relationships.
I know that if I can’t trust my flirting, I can’t trust my sales voice.
And if I can’t trust my sales voice, I can’t trust that I can build a practice in the world. If I can’t trust my sales voice, I can’t take risks and unlock my own energy.
Too much of trans expression is fear based. But you can’t sell if you are scared and skittish, ready to bolt and hide. You need to be confident, assured and outwardly focused, attending to the needs and desires of others, meeting them where they are, shifting their worldview a little bit.
I need to trust that I have something to share, quick clean and useful.
And I need to trust that I have a sales voice which can make that sharing happen.
Maybe I still do. Maybe, just maybe, it even works better as a woman, more authentic and open, more relaxed and less defended. Maybe my sales voice has been centred in my femme heart all the time.