Myths and Delusions in Selling
the profession of selling has always been considered in the past as
more art than science, there have been a lot of half-baked, hokey and
downright silly theories and strategies that have successfully infiltrated
smart and well-intended sales professionals’ techniques. Many of these
strategies worked reasonably well in a bygone and quaint era where business
was won on a smile and a firm handshake.
presented with these myths and delusions, many salespeople grimace in
disgust. Yet I consistently find that their actions subscribe to these
dated, archaic and caveman-like sales strategies. However, in good conscience,
I must disclose that if you violate one, many or all of these tenets,
you can still enjoy success in your sales career. This is one of the
true, sad tragedies in our profession. There are legions of salespeople
who enjoy some measure of success, who perpetuate these myths and delusions.
In my training classes, I call this madness “positive-negative reinforcement
theory.” You get just enough to get a modicum of success and never
get enough to get what you really want. So the myths continue because
you can be effective, but you rarely get to see the enormous downside
in inefficiency because it is so masterfully masked.
- Winners never
quit, quitters never win. Actually, the most productive salespeople
learn to quit early, fast and with minimal expenditure of resources
and energy with prospects who ultimately will waste their time.
- ABC – Always be closing. Closing is the most overrated skill set
in selling. The most important skill set is opening. Too many salespeople
try to close prospects that Moses couldn’t close. Salespeople have been taught
to ask questions that get their prospect used to saying “yes”
so they can position their close with a final affirmation of “yes.”
This is insulting to prospects and they see right through it. The same
goes for any facsimile of questions such as “Can you see how this
will help you?”
- A great presentation
will pave the way for many sales. The presentation is the least
important part of the selling event. The most important presentation at the selling event is the prospect
presenting their problems, their consequences and their priorities.
- Sales is a
numbers game. This works to about $40,000 dollars in income. It’s
not the numbers, it’s the quality of the engagement that carries the
- It is important
to educate my prospect. Actually, education too often is done prematurely
without prospect input and perspective, and it too often leads to loss
of leverage and control, sets
one up for unfair comparison, raises unnecessary objections and reduces
one to a commodity.
- An objection
is a sign of interest and a request for more information. This one
is so silly and archaic, it doesn’t even need to be addressed.
- Learn to love
objections. I’ve seen this in enough classic sales books; I had
to throw it in for grins.
- Never take
“no” for an answer. The more inclined a salesperson is to hearing
and accepting “no”, the more inclined their prospect is to not flex
- Sell the sizzle
(FAB) – Features, advantages & benefits. This style of selling
that worked so well in the past no longer works like it used to. Companies
pride themselves on their value add and value proposition, and from
the prospect’s position, their value proposition is valueless. What
FAB works so hard to prevent, commoditization, it actually creates.
The fatal flaw with FAB is that it puts all the emphasis on the least
important person in the selling event… the salesperson. The only sizzle
that one should sell is pain.
sells. Ironically, enthusiastic selling kills more deals than it
sells. The fatal flaw of enthusiastic selling is that one can’t be
problem focused and prospect focused and at the same time be positive,
excited and enthusiastic. How can you ask thought-provoking questions
that cover fear, risk, liabilities, potential loss.
and at the same time be upbeat and enthusiastic. Of course you can’t.
It is totally out of context. How many physicians have you known who
are upbeat, bubbly and excited when they are doing a diagnostic review
with a sick patient? The other killjoy for enthusiastic selling is that
one can’t remain objective and emotionally detached from the sale
and the outcome.
- Always answer
your prospect’s questions. The problem with this tenet is prospects
rarely ask the real question they are most concerned with. Salespeople
fault by trying to be accommodating and courteous and they lose out
in really learning what was the question behind the question.
- Find out what
their needs are and you’ll uncover their buying motives. One problem
here: people don’t buy what they need. They buy what they want.
Prospects don’t buy drills. They buy holes. Too many sales organizations
think they are in the drill business, when in reality they are in the
buy rationally, logically and intellectually. Most companies are positioning their offering in
a well thought-out logical manner, and their prospects are buying from
their gut, their intuition and their emotions.
- First sell
yourself, then your product and then your company. Where is the
prospect’s situation and perspective in this equation?
- Everyone needs
your product. Nothing could be further from the truth. Even if they
do need it, it doesn’t mean they have the means, motivation, and authority
- If you are
a great conversationalist and have the gift of gab, you should be in
sales. How come we never hear what is most important: you
are a great listener, you demonstrate empathy and understanding, you
should be in sales.
- You are paid
and rewarded to fix problems. But not really. You really are paid
and rewarded far more handsomely for identifying problems,
helping prospects understand the cost of their problems, the consequences,
and helping them understand the reality of changing.
- Pre-call planning
is a must. Too often, pre-call planning is a poor substitute for
listening, questioning and coming to a meeting with no agenda to control
or to sell. Pre-call planning is very effective when you are extremely
knowledgeable about the prospect and their situation and you use that
information to gain more information. Most salespeople use pre-call
planning as a tool to control the agenda and the meeting and to steer
the call in a direction that will get them to the conclusion they are
seeking, instead of surrendering control and allowing the meeting to
take its natural course based on the reality of the prospect’s unique
situation. Most pre-call planning doesn’t factor in enough the consideration
that no matter how pre-informed you are of the prospect’s situation,
you’ll rarely, truly know the prospect’s unique situation without
getting their personal interpretation and rendition. Unless they’re
willing to admit to problems and ‘fess up to their consequences, it
doesn’t matter what you know. You need to hear it straight from the
horse’s mouth. Unless your prospect is verbalizing their problems
and are willing to emotionally go back in time to re-experience it,
you don’t have an engaged prospect.
- Internal sales
training prepares salespeople to effectively sell. Most internal,
company produced sales training is simply marketing and product training.
It convinces salespeople to regurgitate senseless product information
without any perspective of the prospect’s business and/or problems.
It focuses all the attention on the least important party in the selling
event. You guessed it… your company.
- Selling is
an art. True… for the 5% who are truly gifted. The remaining 95%
of us mere mortals rely on the science of principles, formulas and processes
to make up for pure natural intuition. If you believe selling is an
art, “it presents a self-fulfilling excuse for salespeople not
to get better. If selling is an art, and I’m not an artist, then I'm
off the hook,” says John Holland.
- The customer
is always right. This assertion encourages salespeople to be approval
seekers who rarely challenge in a professional manner the actions, beliefs
and statements of prospects. Prospects frequently aren’t right. The
goal of salespeople is to learn when to professionally challenge and
when to choose to fall back and exercise other options. Salespeople
need to realize that they also project an arrogant air of always being
right. As they temper their own assertions, they will find that prospects
will tone down their own assertions – like attracts like.
should do what prospects tell them to do. This is a close cousin
to “the customer is always right.” Salespeople have to diligently
assess every request from prospects as to what kind of return on investment
they will get from their actions. Salespeople need to have the confidence
to walk away from deals and opportunities that they deem a waste of
time, energy, resources and information.
are honest. So often prospects aren’t honest because salespeople
paint them into a corner. Not only are prospects not always honest,
but salespeople aren’t honest always. How can you tell when a salesperson
is lying… their lips are moving. When salespeople project a more neutral,
unbiased and impartial approach, that is when prospects will return
the favor and be more transparent themselves.
- The more thoroughly
my prospect understands my value proposition, my technical information
and my products and services, the more successful I will be in selling
them. The reality is, the more you understand their business and
their unique circumstances, the more successful you will be.
- Price is the
#1 criterion for purchasing for prospects. All the research supports
that out of the top five buying criteria, price is #4. When price becomes
a driving factor, it is usually because of the way salespeople sell.
- Never ask
a question you don’t know the answer to. This isn’t a court
of law. The whole idea is to ask questions to get your prospect’s
unique spin on it.
- Answer objections
with feel, felt and found. The problem with answering objections
is so often you are answering the wrong objection. Rarely does the prospect
state their real objection. The key is to ask questions when you get
- Always ask
open-ended questions to fully engage your prospects. This is without
a doubt the best questioning tactic. However, it only works when you
have trust, cooperation and an open-minded prospect. This questioning
tactic can be especially ineffective in a cold solicitation call on
the phone where resistance is high. When resistance is high, close-ended
questions are more effective, since they require less time and commitment
on the part of the other party.
- Show me a
persistent, dogged salesperson and I’ll show you a winner. The
problem with persistence is that it isn’t highly targeted. There are
legions of salespeople who are persistent with prospects who have no
authority, no problems, no money and no inclination to change. The other
problem with persistence is that it works only 50% of the time; salespeople
don’t know which is the 50% that works, so they are equally persistent
with everyone. Persistence also doesn’t work as well in the information
economy because it is so hard to get hold of people because of voicemail,
email, caller ID and electronic secretaries. I find persistence is too
often a skill set overused to make up for poor selling strategies and
skills. And as in dating, no one likes to do business with someone who
- When closing,
always position for a “yes” response. The
problem with this is when prospects are only given the choice of saying
“yes” out of discomfort to tell you “no,” they will
“yes” you to death. Prospects are far more sophisticated than
we give them credit for. When you honor your prospects with the freedom
to come to their own conclusions, independent of your selling agenda,
you build trust and you save an untold amount of time not wasting your
effort and resources on unqualified opportunities.
- Always establish
early rapport with chitchat to connect to the prospect personally.
All the research that I see today, especially from the Brooks Group,
underscores that prospects find that unsolicited, superficial chitchat
with salespeople is distasteful and counterproductive (80% of respondents).
So you better be sure you are with the right person under the right
circumstances when you decide to engage them with light chitchat.
- Don’t bring
up price or money early in the sales cycle. As soon as you’ve
done your due diligence in understanding your prospect’s problem,
you should bring up your prospect’s willingness to spend money to
get rid of the problem. This should be done early in the sales process.
Salespeople who wait to the end to have a frank discussion about price
generally have a personal money weakness and they weaken their negotiating
- Leaving voicemail
while prospecting is productive. Industry research shows that the
average hit rate for leaving voicemail with prospects is 1 in 130. To
underscore the futility of leaving voicemail, I tell my seminar participants
that my best friends don’t return my messages, how can you expect
total strangers to return your messages.
who want to “think it over” will eventually buy. Unfortunately,
prospects who want to think it over are saying in a nice way, “I’m
not interested.” The same is generally the case when they say,
“Send me some information, call me back next week or I still need
to talk this over with my boss and I need some more time.” For
some salespeople, these are still considered buying signals.
- Always be
first in with your proposal. This is especially not true in a very
competitive marketplace. The general rule of thumb that will consistently
give you a better return is, be first in to define the problem and set
the parameters for the proposal and be last in for the solution.
- Don’t ask
too deep or too many questions because your prospect will resent the
personal intrusion. The salesperson who has the deepest understanding
of the prospect’s business will consistently outsell the salesperson
with the best price and the best solution. Prospects only resent your
questions when they don’t trust you, or they have no interest in your
- Always put
your best foot forward: lead with benefits, don’t bring up negatives,
presume the close and have an attitude that the prospect should buy
from you. Since all of these fit a similar theme, I bunched them
- Lead with benefits
– Most salespeople are taught, especially when they are doing new
business prospecting, to lead with benefits to establish credibility
and interest. In the information economy, to establish credibility,
don’t tell them about how you can help them and what makes you unique;
simply tell them the problems and pains you fix and address.
- Don’t bring
up negatives – Bringing up negatives is how you create credibility
and authenticity. If you never bring up negatives that you know the
prospect is thinking about, you’ll never be able to consistently get
the prospect to share “the truth” with you. You’ll also find prospects
will give you the run-around and “yes” you to death, or give
you long drawn out “no’s.”
- Presume the
close – The classic presumptive closes such as: “Would you
like to meet on Tuesday at 8:00 or Friday at 3:00?”;
“Can you see how this can save you so much money?”; or, “I’m assuming you’d be interested in learning?” are
early warning signals for prospects that they are dealing with a company-centric,
self-centered amateur salesperson.
- Assume the
prospect should buy from you and you can help them – This tenet
is probably one of the hardest, most deeply conditioned habits to break.
When you take on the posture that you can help the prospect and they
should buy from you right out of the gate, you tend to have a one-way,
unengaged conversation with the prospect politely nodding, and never
getting to the core of deeply understanding whether that prospect has
a compelling reason to change or buy from you.
- Always have
a positive mental attitude. Many salespeople are into the cult of
“Positive Thinking”; however, so often what they think about doesn’t
result in prosperity. This is an age-old problem. The reason is regardless
of the surface level of positive thinking, we ultimately don’t understand
and value our true self-worth. If you really knew your true worth and
were in touch with it, you wouldn’t feel that something was missing.
Arguably, positive thinking has surface benefits, but they are too often
can’t make negative thoughts go away by focusing on positive thoughts.
For example, think positive thoughts for a moment… now think negative
thoughts... now positive... now negative. For the next 20 seconds, think
of anything other than pink giraffes. The problem is that you have to
think of pink giraffes in order to remember not to think about it. Wow.
Ironically, the more you try to control your thoughts, the less control
you have. Sometimes the more you focus on positive thoughts, the more
energy and power you give to your negative thoughts. A positive mental
attitude is best characterized by not being emotionally attached to
an end result. You maintain positive thinking when you accept your circumstances
without resisting them.
all hocus-pocus. Stop chasing away negative thoughts and just be aware
of them and accept them for what they are… random negative thoughts.
All obsessions with scarcity thinking come from constantly reliving
your past circumstances. If you didn’t mind having negative thoughts,
you would no longer have them. It is your resistance and your chasing
away of thoughts that make them so real and omnipresent. You guarantee
their perpetuation,” says Paul Ferrini. Positive thinking is too
often negative thinking all dressed up. You can’t force yourself to
be positive and even if you do, it is just a surface projection and
your frustrations and rejections allows you to come to terms with them
and ultimately release them. Denying and justifying our shortcomings
with positive thinking without first truly emotionally experiencing
them only represses them deeper to pop up at a later date. When you
first see negative thoughts, don’t judge or resist them. When you
start to increase your awareness of them, you find that they don’t
have as much potency to run your life,” says Paul Ferrini.
and carefully answer your prospect’s objections. I find it easier
to get the prospect to answer their own objections because if you try
to, you’ll find that the objection they raised is rarely the real
objection. How often have you found that you answer with perfect logic
a prospect’s objection, only to find they have an even more difficult
one waiting in its wake?
- I really like
people so I’d be good in sales. Salespeople too often get into
sales because they are very friendly, have lots of friends and contacts
and believe these are winning attributes. I know far too many unsuccessful
salespeople that you’d love to have as a neighbor, but you’d never
want them on your sales team. They are very gracious, authentic and
kind, and they end up being empty suits – goodwill ambassadors who
Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training
firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.