What Elon Musk and Great Salespeople Do Differently Than Everyone Else

Do you know who said, “You can please some of the people all of the time, you can please all of the people some of the time, but you can’t please all of the people all of the time?”

It was Abraham Lincoln.  And he should know.  America had a civil war under his watch!

Many outstanding leaders have been polarizing figures.

But this article is about a more recent polarizing figure, Elon Musk, who was universally popular – BEFORE he purchased Twitter and had to deal with  the platform’s censorship policies which upset influencers, politicians, activists, and anyone else with opinions and followers. While some were happy that he made the platform more inclusive, many became upset with him for allowing people, platforms and opinions they didn’t agree with to tweet again.

A new book about Elon Musk is available and it’s already #1 on Amazon. I haven’t read the book yet but I heard the author, Walter Isaacson, interviewed on a podcast where he discussed Elon Musk’s lack of impulse control.  On the positive side, the lack of impulse control allows him to literally jump in and take action with his huge, game-changing ideas that introduced electric cars at scale with Tesla, the biggest space rocket with SpaceX, the bold purchase and reorganization of Twitter, his satellite WiFi service known as Starlink, and more.  On the negative side, his impulsive and controversial tweets often cause tremendous  criticism, while some people have been outraged by his changes at X (formerly Twitter).  In other words, you can’t have the features of Elon Musk’s brilliance, without the bugs of his ill-advised comments and tweets.  Musk has differentiated himself and his companies by standing out and showcasing his ideas, even though it sometimes comes back to bite him.  The good usually far outweighs the bad.

How is he able to do this?

Elon Musk doesn’t care whether you like him or not.  He doesn’t care what you think about him.  He doesn’t care what you say about him.  All he cares about, relative to his tweets and impulsive comments, is that he is getting a lot of attention.  And what can provide more attention than being the chief tweeter?  And as Ed Marsh points out in his LinkedIn comment, he very much cares about results.

How does this apply to sales and selling?

Salespeople need to effectively differentiate themselves from their competitors and stand out.  It is accomplished by impulsively interrupting to ask great questions, introducing different ways to think about a challenge or solution, or challenging a prospect’s position. It is a great way to gain the respect of top executives.  Most great salespeople do this, and while it’s not on purpose, they are impulsive, like Musk.

There are some things to consider.

Suppose you are impulsive but only in your own mind where you have impulsive thoughts but you don’t share them.

Well, if you need people to like you, if you worry about what they might think of you or what they might say about you, then standing out and behaving differently won’t be your cup of tea.  It’s OK.  Just accept that you’ll appear to be the same as everyone else who calls on your prospect/customer/client.  You won’t be in the minority because  60% of all salespeople need to be liked.  However, if we focus on the very best salespeople, that number drops to just 21%.  That’s right.  Four out of five top salespeople don’t care what you think about them.  On the other end of the spectrum, 85% of the bottom half of all salespeople need to be liked and if you focus on the bottom 10% of all salespeople, the number is a staggering 98%.  There is a very strong correlation between sales ineffectiveness and the degree to which one needs to be liked.  The more you need to be liked, the less effective you will be.

If you don’t need people to like you, and you are measured and thoughtful before you say anything, you will be more effective than those who need to be liked.  However, you will miss opportunities to differentiate because those opportunities present themselves in real time and in the moment.  Take advantage of the opportunities to differentiate by temporarily disabling your built-in filters. Speak up and out!

Differentiate appropriately.  If you are having a conversation about the components of an electric car, that’s not a particularly appropriate time to interrupt and talk about plywood.

The need to be liked is one of the 21 Sales Core Competencies that Objective Management Group (OMG) measures.  OMG has assessed around 2.4 million salespeople and you can see their data, broken down by sales percentile, on this free website.  While you’re there, filter by industry and see how your company compares!