What I Learned about Selling from Elon Musk

By John R. Aberle | heart centered sales

Jan 05
Screen capture of Chris Anderson of TED interviewing Elon Musk on “The future we're building -- and boring”

It's truly amazing how different people respond to stress and abuse. Some turn to violence and become criminals while others consign themselves forever to be victims. Elon Musk chose a very proactive, positive response instead. Yet that background is probably the reason I learned an important lesson about selling from Elon Musk.

He used that stress and both mental and physical abuse in childhood to motivate himself to find a way out of South Africa and eventually to the United States, earning a couple undergraduate degrees along the way. Then he dropped out of graduate school before really getting a start because he became fascinated with mastering the Internet and a variety of engineering fields.


Book Review about Elon Musk’s Story

Screen Capture of John R. Aberle’s Review on Amazon of Elon Musk biography

John R. Aberle’s Review on Amazon of Elon Musk biography

I recently read Ashlee Vance’s biography of Elon Musk, Elon Musk: Tesla, SpaceX, and the Quest for a Fantastic Future. While reading, one scene jumped out at me: how Musk treated a salesman who tried to build a relationship with him rather than getting straight to the point of the call. Basically, Musk tossed him out after a few short minutes.

Heart-Centered Selling Is about Building Trust

When I wrote How Relationship Selling Rewards Small Businesses, I considered relationships core to heart-centered selling. What Elon Musk’s actions taught me about sales is something I’d forgotten. Heart-centered selling isn’t about building the relationship. It’s about developing trust by communicating with your prospect or customer in the way he wants to do business.

Years ago, I saw this explained as an approach to understand people, especially customers. Though I never took the time to become an expert in personal styles, I’ve valued the insights gained from just those exposures. Admittedly, I believe I would have found selling easier with CR Leader’s training on their Personal Style Indicator (PSI).

PSI Enables You to Adjust to Your Prospect’s Personal Style 

The PSI helps explain the different social styles or personal styles of people, whether prospects, customers, employees, or other team members or even family and friends. An assessment shows you where you fall in your natural preferences towards time, people, tasks, and situations. Likewise, it enables you to recognize where others fall on those elements.

The key point here is that Elon Musk would fall high on assertiveness, fast paced and very task oriented. He apparently viewed the salesman as wasting his time.

Had this sales person recognized Elon Musk’s personal style, he could have adjusted to fit the way Musk wanted to be approached. Over time, they might have developed a relationship, one of mutual respect. However, in a business context, it is unlikely that Musk would ever want to just sit around and socialize.

Heart-Centered Selling Means You Help Customers Buy

Heart-centered selling is about identifying a prospect’s perceived needs and wants then helping him get them. In order to build the necessary trust relationship, you need communicate in the way your prospect wants to interact. It’s a matter of respect.

You start out with the assumptions that led you to believe this prospect has a need for your products and services. But, even when the person is fast paced and task oriented, you don’t tell, you ask and confirm that your suspicions are correct. Only then do you talk about how your products and services will benefit him.

Keep your sales presentation focused on answering the overriding question every prospect has, “What’s in it for me?” Use features, also known as specifications, only as necessary to support how or why you can deliver the desired benefits.


Reading about Elon Musk’s treatment of the relationship building salesman taught me an important lesson. Heart-centered selling isn’t about the relationship, it’s about building trust.

Prospects like Elon Musk are a challenge for most sales people. Training on the Personal Style Indicator would likely have enabled that sales person to salvage his sales call and maybe even make a sale because he could have adapted his call to Elon Musk’s personal style, which would have built that trust.

After all, the key to success in heart-centered selling is communicating with your prospect as he or she wants. Whether you ever call on Elon Musk yourself, you will eventually meet people are different from your own comfort zone. Tools like the Personal Style Indicator can make your job easier by enabling you to recognize and adapt to those personal styles. In doing so, you will build the trust essential to helping the customer buy.

Open your heart in selling,

John's signature in Rage Italic script

John R. Aberle, Aberle Enterprises

Do you ever encounter prospects who make you uncomfortable by their personal style? Training on the Personal Style Indicator enables you to recognize both your personal style of interaction and that of your prospect so you can adapt your personal style to fit his needs thereby enabling him to know, like and, most of all, trust you.

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About the Author

I have a strong love for small businesses, especially brick and mortar companies. After an 18-year career in sales and marketing, I started my own service company, which I grew in both sales and profits for the first five years. In my sixth year, the bottom dropped out of the printer market such that it made more sense to sell my assets and return to Southern California. There I went to work for an international small business consulting company. I spent over three years on the road with them helping small businesses to become more profitable and better managed. I then started my own company specializing in sales and marketing consulting, coaching and training. My emphasis is on heart-centered, relationship selling that empowers prospects to make their own choices.