Seven Sales Topics That Need to Die. And Seven That Need to be Heard.


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Amber Naslund’s rant, 9 Social Media Topics that Need to Die (March 25th), was an exhilarating slap to the head. Even though I could be among the guilty, I’ll pile on with my list of unloved topics for Sales.

What makes a topic scream for a quick death? Ones that are beaten six ways to Sunday. Ones that reinforce negative stereotypes. Ones that don’t enable insight or understanding. Ones that are “safe,” and don’t challenge the status quo. Ones that are a pander for behaviors and tactics that are ethically shaky.

7 Sales Topics that need to die:

1. How to get prospects to [fill in the blank]. Nothing reinforces the ugly manipulative-salesperson stereotype better than promoting manipulative practices. See (“Question them into a corner and close them when they get there.”)

2. “Proving the ROI” as an essential selling tactic. Amber said it best: “. . . quit bastardizing the term ROI and using cryptic, fluffy interpretations of it in order to avoid admitting that you don’t understand it, or to dodge the whole measurement and accountability issue altogether.” Amen. Selling to a business decision maker includes understanding what you’re talking about.

3. Ending “the conflict” between marketing and sales. Decades of rancor-filled debate hasn’t brought us closer to resolution. That’s because the issue isn’t marketing versus sales. It’s about how companies organize internally to deliver value, and how they lead, manage, measure, and provision.

4. How salespeople can become “trusted advisors.” Facilitating trust in a business relationship is fundamental to selling anything. But asking salespeople to become a “Trusted Advisor” to their clients is a setup for failure. I trust my insurance broker. But as long as he’s on the hook to make a quarterly revenue target and earns commission on the services he sells, he will never be my “trusted advisor,” and he doesn’t need to waste effort trying.

5. Best techniques to close deals. When was the last time you were “closed?” Was it fun? According to Jill Konrath, “the very best salespeople don’t employ any special closing techniques at all. They simply focus on understanding their customer’s business and helping them achieve their desired outcomes.”

6. “Immutable laws” of selling. In an unpredictable world, shreds of certainty are attractive—and serve as fodder for those who prey on the gullible. Nothing’s constant. New contexts require questioning everything, and searching for exceptions. The rewards go to those who see things differently and break from convention.

7. Strategies and tactics to beat a bad economy. Although the idea might appeal to our inner warrior, The Economy cannot be vanquished. The economy is a combination of complex forces that present risks and opportunities. Beating-the-economy thinking distorts planning, and makes no more sense than beating the force of demographic change or beating the weather.

7 topics that need to be heard:

1. How the next generation of sales leaders must lead to balance ethics, sales effectiveness, and improving shareholder value

2. Emerging competencies for sales success

3. The impact that social media-enabled sales strategies will have on millions of people and businesses worldwide that do not have access to social media

4. Opening sales career opportunities for economically disadvantaged people

5. The most significant forces that impact sales strategy, and what they mean for process innovation

6. Buyer viewpoints on what makes a salesperson valuable and effective, and what contributes to a positive experience

7. The sales story behind achievements that have created positive social change

OK. Done! There’s a strong flavor of do-goodism because the sales profession could benefit from a makeover. So it’s time to shut up and get to work. I’m going to change the image of the salesperson from paunchy, opportunistic huckster to one that resembles Mother Theresa. I won’t do it single-handedly, and it won’t happen overnight, but choosing good topics seems a reasonable way to begin.


  1. Terrific post Andrew! As I read through your list of topics that need to die, I thought to myself, “I hope I’m not teaching people that!”

    And your list of ideas that need to be heard was very thought-provoking. It gave me a couple of ideas for articles and blog posts.

    Nicely done!

  2. …or maybe I misunderstood your comment about ROI. In my view a clearly articulated statement of ROI in terms of dollars and cents is the ONLY truly compelling value proposition. If a rep doesn’t understand and regularly use things like Discounted Cash Flow, Break-Even Point and Internal Rate of Return to articulate value, shame on the rep and especially shame on the sales manager. It’s not that difficult!

  3. Your seven points that must die are WAY out of touch w/ reality. Haven’t carried a bag in a while have you….these principles most certainly still do apply.

  4. Everyone: thanks for your comments. @Todd: the use of ROI creates major problems in selling because the term has a specific financial meaning that doesn’t match its use (or, more accurately, abuse) in sales discussions. I pursued this issue a couple of months ago when I saw ROI crop up continually in blogs, Tweets, and sales proposals. I began to wonder what the precise meaning was. So I spent an hour on the phone with an accounting professor who set me straight on what the calculation means, and how it is used and interpreted.

    I won’t go into the detail here, but you can read the blog. If you want to save the time, here’s the gist: ROI is not an umbrella term for a bunch of different financial calculations. Business decision makers might include an ROI calculation when they vet projects, but many business decisions are based on other metrics that consider time and risk (which ROI doesn’t). Salespeople who don’t understand what Return on Investment really means to CFO’s risk losing trust and credibility–if not the sale itself.

    @kelley: I look forward to reading your blog. Please let me know when you’ve posted it!

  5. Andy

    Good food for thought. A common thread that seams to connect all of the “must die” and “need to be heard” ideas here is less reliance on formulas/tactics and more effective interaction with the customer. I couldn’t agree more. If social media is teaching us anything, it’s that sales is no longer about building a better mouse trap; it’s about being helpful, effective and creating value that makes customers look for you.

    Good form!


  6. Hey Andrew,

    Agreed. Some of have been talked to death (or would Death have had the mercy to take us).

    But, let me pick nits. Some sales laws are every bit as hard to break as the law of gravity. I remember the scene in the Ten Commandments when Charlton Heston as Moses says (paraphrasing): “You can’t break the laws. You can only break yourself against them.”Just as true for sales!

    Let’s try just one (doing my best Charlton Heston):

    1. Thou shalt prospect every day, even when the pipeline seems to be full.

    Rock solid and unbreakable!

    Was going to write more, but I think the next nine might make a better blog post!


  7. Anthony: thanks for taking the time to post your comment. There’s durable sales wisdom, but I’m not convinced by anything touted as “immutable” or “irrefutable.” Example: I believe any sales engagement must include trust between buyer and seller. I’ve never seen it work without it. But a behavioral economist could disprove my assertion. So it’s more logical for me to go with theory in place of calling my idea immutable.

    But just for the heck of it, I did an online search for immutable, irrefutable sales stuff. Here are two that I found.

    The 10 Immutable Laws of Sales Success, circa 2004.

    7 Irrefutable Laws of Sales Success

    No doubt, to these authors, these ideas are (were?) rock solid. While I enthusiastically agreed with some of the laws–others, well . . . I’ll just say that there were more than a few “Yes, but’s. . . .” “Yes, but’s” don’t mesh with immutable/irrefutable. At some point, everything changes, or shifts from new insight.

    Anyway, I’ll look for your blog. We can re-read it in 2110. If the laws still apply, I’ll buy you a beer–and that’s a promise!

    By the way–and only because I recently learned this–Aristotle’s theory about the force of gravity was accepted for about 2,000 years until Newton’s theory supplanted it. Admittedly, that’s many sales cycles, but underscores the idea that nothing’s permanent.

  8. Hi,
    could not help myself and had to reply after reading your excellent post. In my blog , which deals with sales of industrial high value capital equipment, I deal with ROI and in my 22 years of selling, I have been able to close about 50% of my sales through ROI. Everyone is wary about capital expenditure, so all other things being equal, even if you are up 20% from your competitor,ROI which is not a bunch of financial calculations, but only a yearly monetization of value, customers will come to you.

    But a very interesting post


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