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The Seven Deadly Sins
Of Highly Ineffective Salespeople

The seven deadly sins of highly ineffective salespeople are: control, narcissism, over-selling, too much emotion, need for approval, lack of personal responsibility and undo excess (time, information, persistence). These sins only become problematic when they are taken to extremes. I purposely choose this list of transgressions because they are non-intuitive, contrary and controversial. They underline some of the most divisive beliefs that will make a salesperson’s career a living hell. I could have shown the typical list of too much talking, not listening, no sales process, etc., but they are pedestrian and predictable.

The original seven deadly sins are: superbia, ira, invidia, avaritia, gula, acedia, and luxuria. Or, in order: pride, anger, envy, greed, gluttony, sloth, and lust. So here are Tangent Knowledge System’s seven deadly sins of highly ineffective salespeople:

The Sin of Control

Savvy salespeople know that the way you gain control is… you give it up. When we are too controlling in the sales process, we end up being controlled by the control we seek. Seeking control becomes counter-productive and unrealistic.

The average salesperson tries too hard; the exceptional salesperson doesn’t. Intelligent and selective effort attracts customers; over-the-board effort and control detracts. Salespeople who learn to adopt this posture become lazy like a fox.

We think we are in control of a sales call, but we really aren’t. We think we know what is best for our customers, but we don’t. We think we can accurately interpret their lack of responses, but we can’t. The good news is that once we realize all this, the mystery of selling is greatly diminished.

We mistakenly confuse giving up control for weakness and seizing control for strength. Actually the inverse is true. “When you accept that there is no effective way to control what another thinks, and that all attempts at such control simply introduce static into your communication, then you are better prepared to deal with people with differing points of view (diversity),” says Susan Campbell.

I like to refer to giving up control as the non-selling posture: Nothing to prove, nothing to disprove. It is non-dogmatic and non-authoritative. It allows customers the authority, the control and the independence to seek their own answers and conclusions independent of the salesperson’s selling agenda.

In sales, it is imperative that we give up control and temper our need for recognition, validation, to stand out and to truly be heard and listened to, so that we don’t compete and overshadow our customer’s exact same needs. Nothing strengthens your customer’s sense of being in control and sense of self than being right. Strive to consistently make your customer right. Customers will have a strong need to make you wrong when they don’t feel in control or feel they are right.

So the purpose of the non-selling posture is to get your customer to change their ego-state to a less demanding and inflexible posture. Customers are far more willing to be open, frank and share the truth with you if they believe they are in control. The non-selling posture works so well because it asks so little in return.

The non-selling posture takes the position that you don’t know what is best for your customer. As long as you don’t know what is best for them, you’ll spend a lot of time, care, empathy and focus on trying to find out. The better you get at selling this way, the less you appear to be selling. Average salespeople use their ego to sell, and it gets them only average results.

The ultimate journey to giving up control is giving your customer permission and in some cases, encouragement to give you a “no.” If you think giving up an addiction like crack is difficult, try giving up control and going for “no.” “No, the word you have been trained to fear, is, in fact, the word that will change your life for the better, forever,” says Jim Lamp.

The problem with the way most salespeople sell is that the more enthusiastic, positive, best foot forward, excited, optimistic and, yes, subjective you are, the more vulnerable you will be to getting “yes’d to death.” Traditional selling is unfortunately fear-based selling. It is eternal optimism run amok. A non-selling posture invites “no” as a viable and realistic outcome. The non-selling posture and giving up control is built on the foundation of good business decisions and not rampaging emotions, wild assumptions and unrealistic expectations. If you can’t get a customer to commit to say “yes,” see if you can get them to commit to say “no.”

The Sin of Selling

Selling by its very nature produces so often the exact opposite effect. Selling is repelling. The harder you sell, the harder it is to sell. Selling has nothing to do with selling; selling has everything to do with asking thought-provoking questions and honoring your customer with incisive listening.

Feature and benefit selling represents the granddaddy of them all as the biggest offender of the sin of selling. Most companies and their salespeople covet their value-add, their features and benefits, and their value proposition as if it were the Holy Grail. The reality is that all value propositions are inherently valueless. The feature and benefit style of selling that has served companies so well in the past, no longer works. It is tried, but no longer true.

Value-added (feature and benefits) selling is rooted in old economic conditions using time-honored traditions; a sales strategy from another era entirely; some unimaginable distant epoch of 5-10 years ago. This artificial style of selling that, until recently, has withstood the test of time only homogenizes your offering. Value proposition selling is just roll-the-dice selling; you are on autopilot and you cross your fingers and show up and throw up. It is driven by the love to talk and the fear to listen. It is jargon on crack.

Premature presentation syndrome is typified by ready, fire, and then aim. Shoot and ask questions later. You are simply unleashing the product hammer and as Abraham Maslow stated so eloquently, “if you only have a hammer, you tend to see everything [problem] as a nail.”

Salespeople operate under the quaint notion that it is their God-given right to sell their features and benefits. Since it states in the Sales Constitution that all products are not created equal, it is your solemn right and salesperson duty to show customers the correct way to the Promised Land. However, the reality is that no one has the corner on absolute truth.

The irony is that all companies, big or small, sophisticated or unworldly, in all industries, covering all products and all services, intangibles or tangibles, sell the same way. They sanitize and whitewash their offering by using common standards, open architecture specifications that multiple vendors can easily meet. In the end, it becomes a wash. The very thing that feature and benefit selling tries to protect against, it reinforces. Salespeople’s self-indulgent presentations reflect mostly minimum standards and lowest common denominators for being considered or just staying in business. It is truly a zero-sum game.

In the knowledge-based economy, the value of a salesperson is judged not on what they know about their product, but on what they can learn about their customers’ problems and critical success factors. Unlike the Dark Ages, leading with your product information and solutions is now looked upon with suspicion.

In the Internet era, sales organizations can no longer get away with placing pathetic faith and stock in their products and solutions. We eulogize and romanticize our products and service offerings as if they were the end all, the real thing. We can no longer afford to treat customers as Pavlovian dogs that are trained to respond to only one stimulus – our features and benefits. All products and services are intrinsically valueless. We need to put more faith and value into our customers’ problems and their corresponding consequences, and learning the intricacies of their business.

The reason sales can appear to be so challenging and difficult is because we carry this heavy burden of proof around. The more we think we must sell our product’s features and benefits, the less we sell. It is a cruel joke of the universe. Ironically, the reason we do not change is because we would feel so guilty at how easy it is by not selling – it would grate against our Puritan work ethic. We would feel so cheated and shortchanged by patiently sitting back, listening, observing, questioning, and letting the customer proactively do all the selling as to why or why not they would be open to changing. What would you do if you no longer had to be in charge? We take the path of most resistance because we feel in control, we hate to listen, we are self-absorbed and we love to convince and persuade, even when it is not necessary.

As soon as salespeople conclude that they have nothing inherently special or unique to sell, that is when they will truly differentiate themselves from the competition and not have to rely on a flawed style of selling, such as features and benefits selling. We should no longer treat our product as if it were the means to an end. Our product and its attributes are simply a vehicle to help us build trust and respect by learning about our customer’s business.

The Sin of Excess

Persistence, time and overload of information represent the sins of excess. Any positive action taken to an extreme produces the exact opposite effect. That is the exact case with the sin of excess. The antidote for the sin of excess is, less is more.

Too many well-intended salespeople have been schooled in the notion that a good salesperson never quits. Actually, the difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional gives up early, easily and effortlessly on losing causes. The problem is that too many salespeople use persistence as a tool to mask poor selling skills and strategies.


Raw, indiscriminate persistence doesn’t work like it used to work in the information economy because of the sheer technological barriers. How can you hope to be efficient and effective while at the same time be persistent with customers who hide behind email, national do not call lists, voicemail, caller ID and an electronic secretary that has you announce your name.

For persistence to be effective, it has to be targeted and focused. I know way too many salespeople who are extremely persistent with customers who have no money, no authority, no budget and no problems, but are more than happy to lead these gullible salespeople astray. Also, the harder you pursue, the more you try to control, the less your customer feels in control, the more they feel compelled to push you away. “The salesman who knows when to walk away, lives to sell another day,” says John Klymsryn.

Too many salespeople are guided by a private code or gospel of productivity, aimless busy work or avoidance activity. When you unshackle yourself from a superstitious reverence for the mysterious god named productivity (persistence), you can actually get a lot of focused work done.

Customers generally have stronger resistance than salespeople have stamina. “Decision makers vote with their bodies. If they don’t return your phone calls, or get back to you when they promise to, they’re trying to tell you something. Their bodies are voting no. So-called persistence is nothing more than a desperate need to find out what’s going on and to be in control when all evidence tells you that nothing is going on,” says Bill Brooks.


The sin of excess also applies to wasteful allocation of time. We spend too much time with the wrong opportunities and not enough time with the right opportunities.

Ever-shortening product life cycles due to rapid technological advancements in the global economy are causing virtually every product and service to quickly become a commodity. Given the warp speed economy in which we do business, nothing is more important in salespeople’s work life than time.

Time is your single most important leverage. Unfortunately, it is a depreciating asset that is non-recoverable. Once you’ve given it away, you can never get it back. Since time is money, you should be discriminating as to whom, when and under what circumstances you should allocate it. Not only do we have to manage spending time on the right people, we also have to work to shorten the length of time it takes to sell to people. Equally important is the time it takes to lose deals. “Bad news is good news when it is received early,” says Bill Brooks. Too often salespeople operate under the belief that “my time isn’t as valuable as yours.” They would rather patiently wait for the occasional bones or crumbs that customers throw their way than go out and look for better opportunities. Customers receive this unintended message and they have no problem having you go on unending fools’ errands. Many salespeople would rather chase opportunities in the face of insurmountable odds and face inevitable failure than to prospect for new business. A lot of misdirected use of time is simply avoidance activity. There will always be more opportunities to invest in than there are time and resources. Therefore, salespeople should be discriminatory and selective with their time.

Time kills all deals, and shortening the selling cycle is critical to managing time. The longer deals sit out there, the greater the chance they will go south. Most salespeople operate under the exact opposite assumption. They operate under a false sense of security that if they persist, outlast the competition, show the customer they care, and are assertive, they will ultimately prevail. In reality, this is simply not true. Professional salespeople are good at qualifying their opportunities and cutting their losses when they are operating under non-optimal conditions. They know there are only two winners in a competitive selling situation: the salesperson who was awarded the deal and the salesperson who lost early and saved time.

In today’s marketplace, selling is more about sifting, sorting and selecting opportunities that have the greatest likelihood of closing, as opposed to always trying to sell, convince, persuade and cajole. Salespeople who take on a business owner mentality look at acquisition costs as overhead that needs to be judiciously guarded and protected. Unfortunately, 80% of what salespeople are spending their time on has a low value. Working in this way is a waste of your most valuable asset of time, and is not consistent with a business owner’s mentality.

Time should also be viewed as an inventory control system. A business owner who looks at inventory has one thing in mind: turn it as quickly as possible, because time is money. A salesperson with a business owner mentality sees their sales pipeline in the same way. They must move their customers quickly and profitably through their pipeline while at the same time keeping them comfortable and feeling no pressure. A poor inventory control system in sales is a surplus in the pipeline of accounts that aren’t viable, closeable and moving in a timely fashion. Time-oriented salespeople know that the longer it takes to sell to customers, the less time and money they have to invest elsewhere. “Time becomes your enemy because it downgrades the value of your proposals, the likelihood that priorities will shift and the money your customers can save or gain by your proposal,” says Jim Holden.


The last sin of excess is misallocation of information. Salespeople give too much, too soon without any consideration as to its cost.

Information is your intellectual capital. Salespeople with a business owner mentality plays their cards close to the chest and judiciously guard and protect their information and dispense with it sparingly. As John Hirth says, “What you know can hurt you.” The problem with all of our precious and hard-won information is that there is an over-tendency to want to give it out early, often and prematurely, resulting in salespeople being reduced to “free consultants.” To minimize free consulting, guard your asset of information. You allocate your information when your customer is in a position to make decisions. Your information represents your leverage and control points in the sales cycle. In the past, salespeople’s value was firmly established by the information they brought to the table. The information economy has changed all that. Since information is accessible freely and widely, salespeople’s value proposition has been neutralized and marginalized. Salespeople’s mandate now should be to get information, not give it. This totally changes the dynamics of a typical sales call.

You are now paid and rewarded for your questions, not your answers. No longer can you afford to build a product case; you have to build a business case that is heavily influenced by your ability to garner important, privileged and sensitive information from your customer.

Selling is more about what you don’t know versus what you do know. The customer’s information carries the most weight. Yet, salespeople act as if their information is king and they invariably overplay their hand, in turn diminishing the importance and dignity of their customer.

The Sin of Lack of Personal Responsibility

Salespeople who don’t take personal responsibility for their results don’t grow… period. The beauty of not taking personal responsibility is that you don’t have to change, and you get the distinct pleasure of pointing the finger.

The more you justify your failures and point the finger, the more you hold on to them, the greater the likelihood you will simply recycle them. Taking ownership and responsibility always empowers us. Denying responsibility will always disempower us.

The ability to take responsibility also allows you to not take things so personally. When you take 100% responsibility for rejection in sales, it can be very liberating because all our negative thoughts that we entertain are always putting the blame elsewhere. Since our own self-worth only comes from the internal, blaming outside circumstances is simply giving up responsibility. As Paul Ferrini states, our merit is the cause of everything it feels and thinks. Our mind therefore is the only thing we can legitimately blame.

The Sin of Emotion

Salespeople who can’t control their emotions lose perspective in a sales call. They lose objectivity and patience and can’t properly determine if they have a qualified customer. Because they are so emotionally involved, they don’t listen and they miss out on critical information.

Salespeople who are emotionally invested in a deal tend to be overly persistent, waste time, and crash and burn when they get negative information. Keep in mind, the salesperson that is the least emotionally invested in the outcome of a sale will consistently outsell the salesperson who is the most enthusiastic and gung-ho.

Salespeople who aren’t emotionally invested in the sales interaction are neutral, unbiased and aren’t afraid to hear “no” – they actually encourage it in some cases. They sell from a business strategist position and build a business case for change, not a product case. They have a quiet confidence instead of an overly emotional posture, so they minimize all the typical static of self-talk: “I wonder when they’ll make up their mind; what if I don’t make this sale; what am I going to spend my commission check on; what am I going to do if they want to think it over?”

The Sin of Narcissism

Narcissistic salespeople are self-centered, company and product-centered and lack self-awareness. They believe in the art of enthusiasm in a sales call. They aren’t aware that this traditional sales strategy has a fatal flaw – you can’t be enthusiastic and gung-ho and be customer-centric and understanding at the same time. How can you ask insightful questions that get to the core of your customer’s business and problems and be enthusiastic and upbeat at the same time? It’s totally out of context.

The Sin of Approval

The classic portrayal of a salesperson is someone who is very enthusiastic and friendly; wants people to like them; is persuasive and talkative; and is intelligent and persistent. The problem is, most salespeople have taken this art form to an extreme. They aren’t willing to challenge customers and risk losing approval. They avoid asking tough questions that will get them the truth. They shy away from healthy confrontation and getting their own needs met as opposed to getting the more important need of making the sale. They are more concerned that customers like them rather than respect them. These types are constantly used by their customers for their expertise and solutions.


The sevens sins of highly ineffective salespeople represent mindsets and strategies that are flawed and put salespeople at a severe disadvantage. These transgressions put too much focus on the wrong party: the salesperson and their product. In order to be more productive and effective salespeople need to be able to maximize their time and manage their information more effectively. And they need to give up the hope of controlling the sales process and being too emotionally vested in the outcome of 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