Own Your Label

Own Your Label

Recently, I was meeting with a “prospective client” and as we continued to talk it became more and more apparent to me that this person was not in fact a “prospective client” after all as his company’s needs really did not align with the services that my company delivers. For those of you reading this who are experienced “biz dev” types this sort of thing probably happens to you all the time and – truth be told – I’ve done enough biz dev myself at this point in my career to have had this happen to me numerous times before as well but this time something was different.

But before I get to what that difference was…a brief story: When I was in grade school I began drawing. In fact, I was drawing so much back then that after the occasional “back to school night” (or some other such event designed by the schools to artificially put parents and teachers together), I can remember my mother often telling me that my teachers said that I was “artistic”, “bright”, “learned quickly”, etc. Yay me!

Unfortunately, she would usually go on to tell me that they (my teachers) also called me other things as well, e.g., “talkative”, “disruptive” and – I’m not proud of this – sometimes even “disrespectful”…yeah, that last one always turned into some sort of grounding for me. Not-so-yay-me!

As a kid I didn’t really understand what sort of impact that those labels (and that’s really what these words were…labels…a sort of shorthand that somehow defined who I was) had on me but I realize now that consciously (or otherwise) I began to identify myself with those labels or at least one in particular: I was an “artist”.

True…I also talked too much in class and was sometimes a bit of a “smart aleck” to teachers but what else could be expected from a kid who read as much Mad magazine as I did back then? (I still have my first issue tucked away in the attic somewhere waiting to be sold for MILLIONS!) The bottom line, though, was that I didn’t really own those labels…people put them on me and I either glommed to them because I liked them (“Danny is so bright”…from a favorite teacher) or I cringed at them because I hated them (“Danny’s a sissy”…from some jerk kid on the playground).

These days, though, I’m a bit more introspective (only just a bit as I recognize that even as a forty-something that there’s still way too much “Beavis and Butt-head” running through my brain than there should be but I suspect that I’m not alone in this) and I try to make a conscious effort to own my labels via the things that I say and, more importantly, via the things I do. To be sure, I’m not always successful at this (my wife has some choice labels for me that will take me YEARS to shake…if ever) but that does not mean that I have stopped trying to change my labels for the better as much as I can.

What’s this whole “own my label” thing have to do with the “prospective client” meeting that I began this post with?

Well, at the moment in time when I realized that this person’s company was very likely not a good fit for my company’s services (at least not right now) I began to hear the voice of Alec Baldwin in my head saying, “coffee’s for closers only.” (I love “Glengarry Glen Ross” but I’m not sure that it did much to improve the image of sales people.)

Put another way, while I’ve been “doing sales” now for quite some time (and there are those who would argue that everyone is selling something all the time) I’ve never really felt like a “sales person” until that very moment with my “prospective client”. In fact, I remember distinctly saying to that “little Alec Baldwin” in myself, “who the hell are you???” (Not out loud, of course.)

Please understand that I have nothing against “sales people” (I am one whether I like it or not and it is TON of work as I’ve come to realize) but in that moment with my “prospective client” I had two choices: That is, I could either label myself as a “sales person” by trying to figure out another tactic to “Always Be Closing” or I could label myself as I actually see myself…as a “technology guide” who is trying to help people (“prospective clients”, actual clients or otherwise) find the best possible technical solutions to their problems.

Again, this is not a qualitative statement that somehow being a “technology guide” is better than being a “sales person”…it is NOT better…it’s a statement about who I am…I’m a better “technology guide” than a “sales person”, though, I clearly perform both functions. It’s also a statement about what label I would like others to tag me with (to the degree that I can control that perception at all).

So how did that meeting with the “prospective client” end? Well, I think that he needs to hire someone to help meet their very specific needs and I ended up telling him as much. I even went on to recommend one very good candidate to him and will recommend others if he is interested in me doing so again.


When Danny is NOT watching “Glengarry Glen Ross” for the umpteenth time looking for tips on how to hone his “sales game”, he also leads a technology consulting company. Hit him on Twitter or Facebook.

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