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1. Selling Matters

I have a six-story townhouse in Boston overlooking MIT on the Charles River. I often invite young engineers and would-be entrepreneurs over to schmooze. Many of them tell me my townhouse is beautiful and they hope to invent something like Ethernet that will get them such a house.

The picture they have in their heads is of me lounging around on the beanbag chairs in a conference room at Xerox PARC in 1973. They see me having this idea for a computer network and submitting it as an invention proposal to Xerox. Then they envision me putting my feet up and letting the royalties roll in until I have enough to come up with the down payment on the townhouse with the river view.

My picture-the actual picture-is different. It’s the picture of innovation rather than invention, the weed instead of the flower. In my picture it’s the dead of winter and I am in the dark in a Ramada Inn in Schenectady, New York. A telephone is ringing with my wake-up call at 6 a.m., which is 3 a.m. in California, where I flew in from last night. I don’t know yet where I am, or where that damn ringing is coming from, but within the hour I’ll be in front of hostile strangers selling them on me, my company, and its strange products, which they have no idea they need.

If I persist, selling like this for 10 years, and I do it better and better each time, and I build a team to do everything else better and better each time, then I get the townhouse. Not because of any flowery flash of genius in some academic hothouse.

Most engineers don’t understand that selling matters. They think that on the food chain of life, salespeople are below green slime. They don’t understand that nothing happens until something gets sold. The way I think about it is that there are three sets of people in the world. There is the set of people who will buy your products no matter what (think of your mother). There’s the set who will never buy your products (think of your competitors). Both are much smaller than the set of people who will buy your products if the products are competently sold to them. That vast middle set is why sales is so important, and it represents one of the key differences between invention, which comes up with a brilliant new idea, and innovation, which gets that inspiration out into the world.

Sales may not matter in invention, but it matters-in a very big way-in innovation.

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