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An Inconvenient Truth:
Most Salespeople Are Very Good at a Game No Longer Being Played

The world of selling has changed more in the last 10 years than any other time. The information economy has had a dramatic impact on changing the rules of selling and the strategies and tactics that it takes to be successful.

The following ironies, contrary views and thought-provoking ideas represent some of the new realities that sales organizations are facing in the information economy. The tried and true rules of selling have been negated due to the fact that prospects evaluate relationships, products and value much differently than they have in the past. Because prospects are more demanding and it is tougher for companies to differentiate themselves from the competition, it requires new beliefs, strategies and tactics for companies to succeed.


  • All problems from your prospect are equal until proven otherwise. Don't go running off to the races to solve a prospect's problem until you've done your due diligence to understand whether that problem has consequences and is actionable.
  • Even if you know in advance 100% of the problems of your prospect, you must allow them to verbalize their own version and rendition. If the salesperson has not taken the time to patiently let the prospect verbalize their issues, the salesperson won't gain the prospect’s trust to solve it.
  • All problems are universal. No matter what industry you are in, regardless of your product or service, all prospects change because of fear, insecurity and dissatisfaction.
  • Since pleasure and opportunity represent a momentary problem-less state, even the pursuit of opportunity is an attempt to escape problems. All motives are driven by problems in some form or another, so always sell to your prospect's problems.
  • Any problem, when fully discovered, defined and explored by a salesperson, contains its own answers, solutions, and course of action for your prospect. No problem can be properly resolved by your prospect until you help them find and address its causes from within.
  • Prospects are more inclined to share information when you prompt them with questions that are designed to create or elicit hypothetical problems. Some prospects are more inclined to admit to imperfections before they will admit to problems. Effective salespeople will specifically detail all the positive things they know their prospect isn't experiencing, and let the prospect decide for themselves if they are willing to see and admit the large gap between perception and reality.
  • If your prospects are unwilling to put the past behind them and they do not use the past as a bellwether for the future, you probably are not going to get them to admit to their problems.
  • To establish credibility and interest in the information economy with prospects, don’t tell them how you can help them, what makes you different or unique or why they should buy from you. Simply tell them the problems you fix and address.
  • When the prospect has no problems, you have very little to sell.


  • Salespeople proactively protect their self-esteem and rate of rejection by being very discriminating and discerning as to when and under what conditions they will make offerings. They avoid making premature offerings in situations where they have a high likelihood of losing.
  • Salespeople put their self-esteem at risk when they are overly emotional about the outcome of the sale. This is why enthusiastic, positive selling has fatal flaws.
  • Salespeople who take 100% responsibility for how they feel about themselves and how others treat them will greatly increase their ability to stay mentally tough.
  • When boasting about your product's superiority or when putting all the focus of attention on your product, the only things that stand out are your own insecurity and irrelevance.


  • Salespeople who struggle to be good listeners generally are spending too much time listening too intently to their own internal dialogue. Their focus is too much about their own needs.
  • The art of listening is a selfless act when done properly. That's why it is so difficult for most salespeople.
  • To be a good listener, one should be in the moment and always be aware of their prospect's situation. If you are not distracted by the coming attractions of an impending sale, or by lost opportunities in the past, then rarely will you miss what's important. What's important is what your prospect is thinking, feeling, and saying – this is the main event at hand.
  • It isn't that salespeople are bad listeners; it is rather that they aren't good at asking compelling questions that will elicit answers that are worth listening to. Generally, when you ask compelling questions, you get compelling and revealing answers.
  • The only time it is appropriate to be overly aggressive is when you are aggressively listening.
  • Curiosity is the embryo of interest. The only time you really have your prospect's undivided attention is when you are listening.
  • The first and most important sale in the selling event is to get your prospect comfortable in sharing important and potentially sensitive information.

Time Utilization

  • The prospect you sell to and do business with will always pay in resources and time for those prospects you don't do business with.
  • When you let your prospects make their own decisions independent of your own agenda, you free them of self-imposed limitations and they return the favor by making decisions much quicker. By operating this way, you save yourself and your company an enormous amount of time.
  • Why do prospects not respect your salespeople's time? Because salespeople don't respect their own time and prospects return the favor.
  • Salespeople chase, badger, over-inform, and they don't take the time to understand what is most important to the prospect.
  • Time is the single most important asset salespeople have. They need to guard it and protect it and be very discriminating as to who qualifies for it.
  • Time management is an oxymoron. You can't manage time, you can only prioritize it. However, salespeople too often organize and manage their time very effectively with prospects who don't have problems, budget, political clout, will, and decision authority. They get an "A" for organization and an "F" for effective time utilization.
  • Salespeople should view their time as an inventory control system. The key characteristics of an effective inventory control system are time and money. The longer the inventory sits on the plant floor, the more it is going to cost you. Therefore, the goal is to turn and flip that inventory as quickly as possible. In the world of sales, what is a salesperson's inventory? It is their active pipeline of deals they are seeking closure on. If a salesperson viewed themselves as the CEO of their own enterprise, what would their goal be? To turn and flip their accounts as fast as possible, while at the same time keeping their prospects and themselves comfortable.


  • Closing is a nonevent. The real event is opening. Opening is where 90% of all sales are won or lost.
  • What is more valuable and realistic than closing, is seeking the truth. The truth will help you decide if closure is realistic.
  • Too many salespeople are trying to close prospects Moses couldn't close.
  • The more space and freedom you give your prospects the opportunity to say "no," the less inclined they are to use it as a response.
  • Seeking closure is a far more powerful closing tool than closing. The former is collaborative. The latter is manipulative.
  • Closing infers being open to only one response... "Yes." Closure infers being open to the full range of possible responses. The goal of closure is to get prospects to make decisions.
  • If salespeople aren’t decisive about getting closure on their own decisions, they will tend to attract prospects who act in the same way. Like attracts like.


  • To qualify effectively, you must address the full reality of your prospect’s situation. You need to know what are the competing initiatives; where would time be best spent based on the key priorities; where and who are the potential deal spoilers; does the prospect have the flexibility to roll out something new; are there the personnel to support it; is the timing right; and will the culture of the company be able to embrace and integrate the change? Once you understand all the variables necessary to consider changing, you can help lead your prospect in the direction that makes most sense for their priorities.
  • Any salesperson can qualify an opportunity. The real pros are very good at disqualifying opportunities.
  • Anyone can sell. However, it is more important to know who, when, where and under what circumstances not to sell.
  • The salesperson with the best understanding of the prospect's problems will consistently outsell the salesperson with the best solution.
  • One should be only as committed to sell as one’s prospect is to change. If you aren't getting reciprocal effort in exchange for your own effort, it is a waste of your time.
  • In any competitive sales situation, there are always two winners. The first winner is the salesperson who is awarded the deal. The second winner is the salesperson who lost quickly, effortlessly, and with minimal allotment of time, energy, and resources.
  • Selling is just as much about being efficient as it about being effective.


  • You are paid and rewarded for your questions, not your answers.
  • The act of questioning, probing, and discovery is done more for the benefit of your prospect than for yourself.
  • The best way to be heard, get attention, and make your case is to ask thought-provoking questions.
  • When you ask stupid questions, you get stupid answers. Questions that are biased toward eliciting favorable and hopeful answers generally get inane, superficial and untruthful answers.
  • Curiosity and inquisitiveness is to sales today as persuading, convincing, and cajoling was to sales in the past.
  • Natural curiosity, being genuinely interested, and being inquisitive represent the new power of persuasion for the future.
  • Asking “What" questions get you only a small piece of the equation, i.e., what are you looking for, what is important, what are your specifications and requirements, and what are your criteria for choosing a vendor? Instead, spend more time asking "Why" questions such as: why is that important to you, why do you want to consider changing now, and why would you consider switching from a supplier that you are happy with?

"What" questions tend to focus on what is important to the salesperson to get closer to the sale. Whereas, "Why" questions get to the real motivations and compelling reasons why prospects buy and what is at stake if they don't buy.

  • The best salesperson at the selling event is the prospect. Let them first sell themselves and then sell you.
  • In a sales call, what you don’t know is ultimately more important than what you do know.
  • Ask questions that are contrary to your best interests to build trust and to get to the truth.
  • Good questions are posed more for the benefit of the prospect than the salesperson.

Selling Strategies

  • What most salespeople think of as consultative selling is just a poor excuse for it. Usually, it is just transactional selling (a few safe questions) all dressed up with nowhere to go.
  • All tangible products should be positioned and sold as intangibles. Products sold as a concept have a much better chance of upholding margins and building a strong foundation for strategic relationships.
  • Salespeople should treat their very best clients as if they were prospects, because the longer you are with a client, the less you know about their critical success factors, since you are more focused on servicing, maintaining, growing and protecting, and not strategically learning about their ever-changing initiatives and priorities. When you are too close to the trees, you can't see the forest.
  • Sales organizations need to cease being seduced by low-hanging fruit (quick and easy transactional deals) and seek first to build long-term business relationships that will position them as strategic partners. Once you get stuck in the role of a transactional supplier, it is very hard to move up the food chain.
  • Most sales organizations are finding themselves in the inevitable position of being very good at a game no longer being played. Their sales strategies would fit very well into a charming and quaint Norman Rockwell painting.
  • In real estate, it is location, location, location. In sales, it is timing, timing, timing. That means being at the right place, at the right time, with the right person, and under the right circumstances. However, most sales organizations operate and behave under the notion that sales is all about product, product, product.
  • The harder you sell the harder it is to sell and find problems and a motive to change.
  • Prospects don't so much resist change, rather they resist and resent being changed. Taking a non-selling change agent posture minimizes this hurdle.
  • The best salesperson at the selling event is always the prospect. By allowing them to first sell themselves, they are far more willing to believe and act upon their own ideas. Few prospects resist their own ideas.
  • Never answer objections. Get your prospect to answer them themselves.
  • Your products and services are very unique and so is everyone else’s.
  • The most important presentation in the selling process is the prospects’ presentation of their problem, factored in with the consequences, costs, urgency, actionability and timing.
  • Your value proposition and value add is valueless.
  • What you sell has very little to do with what prospects are buying.
  • Selling’s greatest allure is its greatest weakness.
  • The prospect you do business with will always pay for those you don’t do business with.
  • The most important aspect of a sale is getting your prospect to share valuable information.
  • Infinite patience in the sales process produces immediate results.
  • Selling by its very nature so often produces the exact opposite effect. The harder you sell, the harder it is to sell.
  • The best presentation is no presentation at all. Or, said in a different way, the best presentation is the presentation the prospect never saw.
  • Great salespeople know when to quit and cut their losses. The odds are highly against you. Learn to lose quickly, early and with minimum exposure of time, resources, information and effort.
  • Your success in selling will diminish in direct proportion to your emotional investment in making the sale.
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.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: https://tangentknowledge.com