One of Us in This Room Must Be an Idiot …


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One of the pitfalls in having your salespeople naively adopt “solution selling” is the danger that your sales people may present themselves as knowing more about their prospects business than the prospect does themselves – which is either unlikely or insulting …

This was brought home to me the other day when talking to one of my clients about a particularly salutary experience. It turns out that one of their sales people had been calling on the VP of Procurement of a Fortune 500 Company.

The sales person hadn’t started off very well – he launched into a premature product pitch without making any meaningful attempt to explore the potential prospect’s key issues, but things REALLY went downhill fast when the sales person made the bold claim that they could save the prospect 20% of their annual procurement costs.

At which point, the hapless sales person heard their so-called prospect offer the unexpected response “Well, in that case, I guess one of us in this room must be an idiot”.

The ‘prospect’ explained: “If I have spent 20 years in this company, and 5 years in this position, and somehow missed identifying how I could have saved my company 20% in its’ procurement costs, I guess that makes me an idiot.”

“However”, he continued “If you can turn up on my doorstep, claiming to be able to save me 20% on my costs, not knowing anything about my company, and without making any attempt to truly understand my business, I guess that makes you the idiot”.

The meeting ended at that point, and needless to say, the sales person did not leave with the order – then or at any time afterwards.


Sales people must always diagnose before they prescribe – and avoid claiming to be able to solve the client’s problems for them.

It’s always better to find out how you can make your prospect a hero – by equipping them to solve a problem, address a need, or reach a goal that they have acknowledged – than to make it appear that they must have been doing it wrong all these years.

Imagine how much better the sales person might have done if they had packed the product presentation away, asked a few relevant questions – and educated the potential buyer as to how they had helped in similar situations through a few well chosen anecdotes.

In sales situations, it’s generally better if neither party thinks that – or behaves as if – the other is an idiot!

Bob Apollo
Bob Apollo is the CEO of UK-based Inflexion-Point Strategy Partners, the B2B sales performance improvement specialists. Following a varied corporate career, Bob now works with a rapidly expanding client base of B2B-focused growth-phase technology companies, helping them to implement systematic sales processes that drive predictable revenue growth.


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