Monday, March 20, 2017

Monday Book Review: The Sapient Salesman, by Erin Wilson

The Sapient Salesman: Spinning Life into Lessons, One Tale at a Time
by Erin Wilson, Published 2015

About the Book:
The Sapient Salesman: Spinning Life into Lessons, One Tale at a Time is a collection of short stories, based on real-life events, that showcase the salesmanship − or lack there of − present in every-day interactions.

Each story uses otherwise ordinary events to bring into question the sales tactics and interpersonal philosophies we employ and [perhaps] take for granted. Through the introspection they inspire, you will discover opportunities to improve your own sales practices − both personally and professionally.
My Take:

First of all, a disclaimer. This is not my usual fiction fare. This is full-on non-fiction, and kind of self-help as well.

My day job is as a technical writer for a software-as-a-service company. I recently attended their annual sales kickoff meeting, which was held in the home office out in California. It was great to get a chance to meet so many of my coworkers face-to-face, people I'd only emailed with or spoken on the phone with. A conversation with one such co-worker led me to purchasing a copy of her book, The Sapient Salesman, which I promised to read and review for her, because you know, that's my thing. Reading and reviewing books. And yes, I gave her cash for the book because I'm an author too. These things cost money, and while I'm always happy to give books away, it always feels good when someone values my work enough to pay for it.

Except I found myself in the strange position of realizing this is not my usual genre to read by any stretch, and I'm not sure I have a good basis for comparison to write a review. The book consists of 80 short stories which are more like parables -- think Aesop's Fables for salespeople -- but with the author as the protagonist of every tale and telling the story in first person. The tales themselves are just quirky stories like any co-worker might share over beer or wine as you sit in the hotel bar, but then the author ties each one to a sales technique, or lack thereof, like Aesop did with his morals.

Before I even opened my copy, I asked if it was aimed at women - while the cover art looks a little purplish online, in my hands it's actually neon pink. The author said she didn't intend to skew to one gender or the other, she just liked the black/pink combo. I suggested maybe neon green for the second edition (if she goes that route) but after reading it, I'm not sure about that. I think it would be better to embrace the marketing to women aspect and keep the bold neon pink. Just sayin'.

Okay, so armed with that foreknowledge - here's the official review.


This collection of short tales and vignettes combine self-deprecating humor with focused insight to make connections between our every day actions and the task of selling. Erin Wilson delivers bite-sized coaching lessons on understanding the sales mentality from the perspectives of both the seller and buyer.

Originally written as blog posts, the 80 stories in this book range in length from a scant 2 pages to the longest which is 6 pages (and includes an illustration.) As with most blogs, some of the "posts" are more effective than the others in tying the moral to the story, while others make a cognitive leap from their anecdote to the point the writer is trying to make. Likewise the humor levels vary from story to story, with some that are laugh-out-loud funny, to others that barely had me cracking a smile, but this kind of situational humor can be subjective. She has a sassy tone with a good command of both multi-syllabic words and slang that will resonate with readers.

While the lessons are not aimed specifically at male or female readers, I think women salespeople would probably gain the greatest insights from most of Ms. Wilson's stories, as she does have a unique viewpoint as an outspoken woman in a male-dominated industry. I'm not trying to say that male readers wouldn't benefit from her lessons about listening to what customers are saying, taking their needs and pain points into account, adjusting the sales pitch accordingly for your audience, etc. etc. My point is more that a lot of her situational humor hinges on gender in a way that's not totally obvious at first glance.

For example, one of her tales is of meeting with various salesmen to get estimates for a home project. The first salesperson won't speak to her alone until her husband is home from work, and reschedules the meeting. On the one hand, this is a lesson about making sure to schedule meetings when all the key decision makers are present. But it's also not a situation that too many male readers would be familiar with, so it may not resonate with them or feel authentic. (Contractors in general seem to have few qualms about going full throttle when pitching a husband alone.) That particular parable went on to illustrate an entirely different point, about listening to what your customer needs. As a reader, I was still with her because I could relate to the whole story, but I wonder how many male readers might get lost along the way.

On the one hand, the bite-sized stories are too short and sit and read straight through the book. On the other, reading a few here and there resonated with me and had me thinking about the points she made. Not every story is a winner, but there are enough in there to make me nod my head in agreement.

If you are in any sort of sales-related or sales-tangent position and want insight into how to look at situations from a different perspective, try picking up a copy of this book.

It's available on AMAZON and other online retailers.

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