A Sales Lesson from Rakim and Mahan Khalsa
I’ve wanted to write this article for a while. I’ve had it in my head but have convinced myself it will be a flop. But I’ve decided it’s better out of my head and into the world. So here goes.
Sales and Hip Hop. Two of my favorite things to talk about. Not necessarily together, but there is a first for everything. Although, I would argue that many of the musicians in this genre are among the best salespeople on the planet. They sell stories. A lifestyle that in many cases, they have not actually lived, but they have perfected the art of telling a story. I digress…
I read a book, Let’s Get Real or Let’s Not Play, in 2008 that has had one of the biggest influences on my sales mindset, second only to The Greatest Salesman in the World. In particular, the concept that Intent Counts More than Technique has always stuck with me. How important is authenticity in sales? Oftentimes we get so hung up on our sales process or handling objections or missing closing cues we don’t stop and think, why are we here? Is your goal to help your customer find a solution that exactly meets their needs? If that is truly your intent, the person at the other end of the table will sense it and they will tell you what you need to know to help. But if your intent is only to sell something, whether or not it’s a good fit, they will sense that too. And you will fail.
Rakim is arguably the most important emcees of all time in hip hop, dead or alive. Maybe not the most popular, but most important. He made his mark during what most fans would say was the golden era of hip hop. His early success was as the frontman for hip hop super duo, Eric B & Rakim. Not exactly the most creative name, but nonetheless, critics in the know, have named them one of the most influential duos, not just in hip hop, but pop music period. Their fourth and final effort, Don’t Sweat the Technique, was released in 1992, almost 20 years before I read Mahan Khalsa’s book. This is where one of my favorite tracks, the title track, lives.
“I speak in discreet cause talk is cheap
Then I get deep in the beat then completes
Compose with physique never weak or obsolete
They never grow old technique’s become antique
Better then something brand new cause it’s original
In a while the style, I have much more value
Classical to intelligent to be radical
Masterful never irrelevant mathematical”
To read this doesn’t do it justice. To hear it, you can appreciate Rakim’s technical skill. He is credited with pioneering both multisyllabic rhymes (known colloquially as “multis”) and internal rhymes. Internal rhymes are rhymes that occur within a single line, while multis, as their name suggest require you to rhyme multiple syllables. See the last two lines above: classical/masterful, intelligent/irrelevant, radical/mathematical. I snicker when people say “that’s not music.” Sonnets, couplets, alliteration, literate imagery, text painting, syncopation–it’s all there. And it’s done to a beat and sometimes off beat, the latter has earned him comparisons to Thelonius Monk. Even the background music includes a saxophone and upright bass, an obvious nod to his proclaimed jazz influences.
Now you are googling like crazy if you haven’t heard of him.
Let me tie this together for you. Why would one of the most technical, most influential and arguably most important emcees in hip hop write a song called, Don’t Sweat the Technique? The largely accepted meaning of the song is that he saw as his popularity rise that other emcees were copying his style. This was a warning to them. I will offer an alternative.
Rakim did an interview in 2016 by Howls and Echos.
Here’s an excerpt:
H&E: For nearly three decades your voice has not only set an incredible rhythmic and lyrical standard, but you have spread important message…
Rakim: The audience is the only thing…
So maybe we should keep this in mind? It’s not about your sales process. Isn’t it about understanding if someone has a problem you can solve? If they do and you can, then can you help them move through their buying process?
Don’t sweat the technique. Intent counts more than technique. It’s not about you. It’s about them.