Lessons from Estée Lauder

I recently read a very brief piece on Estee Lauder, who was described as a “family business icon” by the Family Firm Institute (FFI). They also stated that her motto was “I have never worked a day in my life without selling. If I believe in something, I sell it, and I sell it hard.”

I found her motto very interesting, especially the second sentence, where she mentions selling something in which she truly believes. Obviously if you do not believe in what you are selling, it is very difficult to do a good job of selling it.

It also struck me because the word “sell” has a variety of meanings and connotations, which have also evolved over the decades since she likely came up with her motto. And as someone who despises coming across as a “salesman”, it forced me to think through her motto to try to find a way to make it work for me.

There is also the part about the difference between selling a product like cosmetics versus selling a professional service, like family business advising. The sales and marketing contexts and processes are very different. But I was determined to find the “gold” in her motto in a way that could be useful to me.

As a solo practitioner, what I am selling is myself, in many ways, and some people are over-the-top when they talk about themselves, while others are “under-the-bottom”, if you will allow me to invent such an awkward antonym.

Since I am someone who lives at the lower end of this scale, it is always a stretch for me to “sell myself”. When someone seems to be trying to hard to “sell me”, it is a huge turn-off, so I naturally assume that others also hate this tactic, and I try to avoid it, and sometimes I try too hard, to my detriment.

Back to Lauder’s motto, though, she states “if I believe in something, I sell it”. She did not say somebody, so for me, the take-home message is to focus less on the “who” and more on the “what”.

For those of you who are regular readers (thanks!) you may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about “who I am” being more relevant and important than “what I do”, so the trick is to try to find the right balance, and to come up with the proper messaging of what I can to do help business families, along with the personal branding of the guy who delivers those services.

I am so much more comfortable selling an IDEA, as opposed to myself, but I also understand quite clearly that nobody would buy the stuff that I am selling if they were not convinced that I am someone that they can trust to work with some of their most precious valuables, the members of their family.

When speaking with others who do this work, I often bring up the phrase “spreading the gospel”, so allow me to attempt to lay out what this gospel is, because that is what needs to be sold.

Let’s start with a tag line that I recently came up with, which is still a work-in-progress:   “I help business families turn their transition dreams into a workable plan”.

For a family, this is hard work, and if they don’t start early, learn to work together, and have the crucial conversations that they need to have to do the work well, there are lots of negative consequences that will likely arise, not just for the business, but also for the family.

Very few if any families will undertake this work on their own, without professional external advisors. We do exist, but the families are not always “ready” for the hard work to begin, often until it is nearly too late.

If you are such a family, or if you currently advise such a family in another professional capacity, please reach out to start a no obligation conversation.