Is Your Sales Strategy Based On Assumptions?


Share on LinkedIn

The scene gets played over and over, literally hundreds of times every year. I’m sitting with a sales person or team, we’re reviewing a deal, building a strategy to win it.

I’ll ask a question, it could be about the problem the customer is trying to solve, their needs and priorities, the decision-making process, the competition, how differentiated the value proposition is. It could be anything.

The sale person responds. Say we’ve been talking about the decision making process and I ask who the decision maker is, the sale person says, “Erin is the key decision maker.” I follow-up, asking, “How do you know?” Usually, I get a blank stare. Sometimes the response is, “Well she was in the last deal.”

Or we can be talking about the requirements and priorities, the sales person presents the requirements and priorities, and I always ask, “How do you know?” Again, eyes cross, frustrated looks on a sales person’s face and a response, “Because these are always the things people are looking for.”

The question, “How do you know,” is always the telling question. It’s central to whether you can win or lose.

The danger sign on responses is when I hear the words, “I think….,” “I guess……,” “This is the way it always happens…” In all these responses, the sales person is making assumptions and not dealing with the specific facts about the deal.

Until it something comes straight from the customer’s mouth, until what we think has been tested and validated by the customer, we are just guessing. Guesses destroy our ability to develop a winning strategy. Guesses may cause us to be focusing on things that are irrelevant or unimportant to the customer.

A sales strategy based on assumptions is pure wishful thinking.

Assumptions are particularly dangerous as we become more “experienced” or “seasoned.” We’ve done dozens or hundreds of deals before. We, “know” how to do things. Our experience shapes how we deal with each deal we face today. But our experience causes us to be sloppy. We make assumptions—our assumptions may be right, but until validated by the customer, they put our strategies at risk.

Assumptions are driven by our own guesses, point of view, and experiences. Sales people are eternally optimistic, so that may make our assumptions even more dangerous. We are developing our sales strategies based on our views, not the customer’s.

We have to constantly test everything with the customer—in each deal. Regardless how, similar each deal may look, until validated directly by the customer, it’s a guess, and assumption.

As you develop and execute your sales strategies, make sure you are acting based on what the customer has said, what you have validated directly with them. Until it comes directly from the customers’ mouths, you are just guessing.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Dave Brock
Dave has spent his career developing high performance organizations. He worked in sales, marketing, and executive management capacities with IBM, Tektronix and Keithley Instruments. His consulting clients include companies in the semiconductor, aerospace, electronics, consumer products, computer, telecommunications, retailing, internet, software, professional and financial services industries.


  1. Dave: I followed your reasoning all the way to “A sales strategy based on assumptions is pure wishful thinking.” Then I read “We have to constantly test everything with the customer—in each deal.” At that point, I was moved to comment, because I struggled to find the logic, and ‘testing everything’ isn’t practical.

    Complete certainty is nice to have in selling, but it’s theoretical. We’ll never achieve it. Even after the order is signed, there’s plenty of uncertainty. And I don’t buy the equivalence of guesses and assumptions. They’re not the same.

    But for a moment, let’s follow the idea that salespeople must eliminate assumptions. We would enter sales relationships absent fundamental ideas that we take for granted today: that prospect intentions for using our products and services are benign, that they will comply with commercial laws and regulations at the time of purchase and beyond, that prospects will represent themselves honestly and will not intentionally mislead.

    Every salesperson carries different assumptions into a business relationship, and those are only a few of mine. I probably have hundreds, maybe even more if I took the trouble to write all of them down. Imagine not assuming, and having to ask pointed questions around these matters early in the sales conversation! (Though in some situations, such as foreign military sales, these assumptions are poor ones.)

    My point is less about whether these assumptions are right or wrong (they generally work for me), but that assumptions underpin everything we do in selling. I agree that the assumptions you mentioned in this blog are weak ones, and could take a sales opportunity down the wrong road. But so could mine, in the wrong situation. And some assumptions are quite strong, such as “My prospect has a performance gap.” That’s another assumption I take to every sales call. I’ve never found it wrong, but it’s still an assumption. The larger questions are 1) what the gap is, and 2) whether it matters. I focus on discovering those questions, though I’ve assumed the answers in the past, with poor outcomes.

    What’s needed isn’t a ban on assumptions, but a stronger recognition of the assumptions we make (some of which we don’t even realize!), and the ability to identify the ones which are weak and in need of validation.

    I explain more about this in a blog that I wrote, Salespeople Can’t Sell Without Assumptions, posted on CustomerThink.


Please use comments to add value to the discussion. Maximum one link to an educational blog post or article. We will NOT PUBLISH brief comments like "good post," comments that mainly promote links, or comments with links to companies, products, or services.

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here