Genius is complicated. No one illustrated that better than Steve Jobs. On the one hand, he was a brilliant designer, a charismatic leader, and an electrifying presenter. Some have compared his genius to that of Einstein and his impact on our culture to Guttenberg.
On the other hand, he was eccentric, unkind and duplicitous. He once ordered a calla lilly and a piano for his Manhattan hotel room. He didn’t play the piano. His evaluations of people and their work had no middle ground and fell into just two categories. Both were labeled with expletives. Although he promised not to compete with Apple when he started NeXT, he pirated key Apple people. (Businessweek, Steve Jobs, 1955-2011)
It should be no surprise, then, that Steve Jobs is difficult to interpret when we look to him for lessons on selling. Steve Jurveston, who worked with Jobs at both Apple and NeXT, writes that Jobs found selling boring. Ross Perot who invested $20 million in NeXT and served on its board, once chastised Jobs and NeXT for not listening closely to its customers. Jobs responded by walking out of the meeting. That move prompted Perot to ask if Jobs’ gesture meant he could get his money back. (Businessweek, Steve Jobs, 1955-2011)
But, boy, could Jobs sell. Part of his genius was his natural charisma. True, I am the author of Rainmakers, Closers & Other Sales Myths wherein I claim salespeople are made and not born. But, I also offer the caveat that
natural gifts, like charisma, serve a salesperson just like a great vertical
leap serves a basketball or volleyball player.
Jobs had charisma in spades. So much so that his co-workers coined the phrase Reality Distortion Field to describe his uncanny ability to inspire an audience, any audience, to look beyond the realities of facts and share his excitement about an idea.
But Jobs ability to sell was not limited to natural gifts. He also worked on his presentation skills. The more he presented the better he got. He understood the power of stories, and as Seth Godin writes in All Marketers Are
Liars, he knew that facts don’t sell. Stories do. His slides consisted only
of images; no bullet points, no words.
If we whittle selling down to the core steps of first understanding a client’s needs and then proposing solutions, Jobs may have been unconventional at the former and brilliant at the latter. Perhaps he was one of those once in a lifetime geniuses who was able to intuit what customers want without even them knowing it. As he once said, “A lot of times, people don’t know what they
want until you show them.”