Sometimes we learn best by watching what not to do. Yet rare is the book that focuses not just on the best practices but, in this case, entirely on the very worst practices in a particular profession.
That’s what makes Sales Insanity: 20 True Stories of Epic Sales Blunders (and how to avoid them yourself) so compelling. You will cringe often reading this book, yet far too many of the stories will also be far too familiar.
Sales Insanity was written by Cannon Thomas, but that’s not the author’s real name either. It’s pen name for a prominent sales consultant who has chosen to stay out of the fray. For fear of “outing” those who made the epic sales blunders? To introduce controversy without experiencing it directly?
A couple weeks ago, I dusted off my old investigative journalism gear and found Cannon Thomas, or rather the author behind the name. We had a fascinating conversation about the book and its content. Here’s an edited version of our interview.
What made you want to write a book about worst practices in the first place?
Three things really. First, I think people learn more from failures than successes. We all have hard-learned lessons burned painfully into our memories. Yet, sales people don’t really share their failures, which leads to an entire industry of sellers making the same mistakes over and over. What a shame.
Second, I thought a totally different approach to a sales improvement book would be refreshing. Thousands have books have been written about the right things to do in sales… Why not write a book about the wrong things?
Third, worst practices are funny. When’s the last time you read a sales book that was entertaining? I tried to keep it light-hearted and easy to read, and many folks have told me Sales Insanity is so fun they couldn’t put it down. If it’s funny and educational, then it deserved to be written.
There are some scary stories in this book, but we both know these are too often the truth. Why do we keep making the same mistakes over and over again in sales?
An interesting thing about sales is that it’s harder than it looks. No salesperson is trying to fail – we’re all doing our best to succeed. But sometimes reasonable assumptions lead to bad outcomes. Take one example from the book: Sellers assume (logically) that buyers want the lowest price possible, so they start slashing the price at the first sign of trouble in a sale.
In reality, most buyers will pay a higher price if they perceive there’s incremental value. Compound such bad assumptions with the reality that most sellers would rather hide their failures than share them, and you get millions of well-intentioned sellers doing counterproductive things. Hence, a book filled with observed worst practices. Sadly, I believe this book is timeless, because salespeople will still be making these same mistakes in 100 years… But not you, if you read it now!
Are there one or two of these “worst practices” that you think are in fact the worst of the worst?
The book is divided into two sections – 10 stories of sales person worst practices and 10 stories of sales management worst practices. I think the management practices are the worst of the worst, because they negatively affected entire sales forces.
Like the company that fired all of its sales managers… Bad move. Or the company that purposefully pitted its salespeople against one another in the marketplace… stupid idea. When sales leadership does something stupid, hundreds of salespeople suffer. At least when sales people do something stupid, they only hurt themselves… and their customers, of course.
What should sales leaders do if reading this book is like looking in a mirror? Where do they start to right the wrongs?
Every sales leader will recognize behaviors from his or her own organization – whether sales person behaviors or ill-fated management decisions. Guaranteed! At the end of each story, I give bite-sized pieces of advice for proactively avoiding such tragic outcomes, and each morsel is very straight-forward. Most sales leaders are smart and motivated – they just need to be thoughtful about the unintended consequences of their actions. Once sales leaders see the light, they’ll know what to do.
Why write this book under a pen name? Are you worried about the fallout?
Great question – I did write Sales Insanity under a pen name. I’m not concerned about fallout, because I didn’t name specific companies or people in the book (except for one company whose bad behavior led them to a highly visible bankruptcy). Plus the book is written with a positive spirit, ironically. But Sales Insanity was a pet project that I’ve worked on for a while, and I thought it deserved its own ‘brand.’ It’s unlike anything else I’ve done, and I think should have a life of its own. And so should Cannon.
Please tell me this isn’t the last we’ve heard of Cannon Thomas…
I don’t think so — there is surely more insanity to be shared. In fact, there’s an extra chapter you can download from SalesInsanity.com – Cannon just couldn’t stop writing! But next in line to be written is a book titled Sales Epiphanies that will document the smartest things I’ve ever seen sales people and sales leaders do. It will be the foil to Sales Insanity, if you will. Hopefully Cannon and I will enjoy a long career together.