. 1
( 5)


the 24 sales
traps and how
to avoid them
the 24 sales
traps and how
to avoid them
Recognizing the Pitfalls That
Mislead Even the Best Performers

Dick Canada

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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Canada, Dick, 1945“
The 24 sales traps and how to avoid them : recognizing the pitfalls that
mislead even the best performers / Dick Canada.
p. cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 0-8144-7141-2 (pbk.)”0-8144-0735-8 (hc.)
1. Selling. I. Title: Twenty four sales traps and how to avoid them. II. Title.

HF5438.25 .C28 2002

© 2002 Dick Canada.
All rights reserved.
Printed in the United States of America.

This publication may not be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or
transmitted in whole or in part, in any form or by any means, electronic,
mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior writ-
ten permission of AMACOM, a division of American Management
Association, 1601 Broadway, New York, NY 10019.

Printing number

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
In loving memory of my parents,
Lawrence M. and Violet H. Canada
Preface . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . IX
Acknowledgments. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . XIII


. . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11
Sales Trap 1: You Must Be Aggressive to Succeed
in Sales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15
Sales Trap 2: You Can Make a Complex Sale Without
an Account Champion . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 20
Sales Trap 3: It™s Best to Offer Solutions to
Problems You See . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 25

BEST PEOPLE . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 33
Sales Trap 4: Rejection Is Failure . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 36
Sales Trap 5: Academic Studies Aren™t Helpful in
Real-World Sales. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 43
Sales Trap 6: Either Salespeople Have It or They Don™t . . . 51

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 57
Sales Trap 7: It™s the Content of the Skill Training
That Matters Most . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 60

Sales Trap 8: Beginners Should Start With
Comprehensive Training . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 66

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 69
Sales Trap 9: You Won™t Make the Sale Unless
You Reach the Decision Maker . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 72
VIII contents

Sales Trap 10: Rank Decision Criteria Relative
to Competitors . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 76
Sales Trap 11: Providing Information About Products
and Services Creates Customer Value . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 84
Sales Trap 12: You™re Selling Value Versus Price. . . . . . . . 88

Sales Trap 13: Lower Your Price to Make the Sale . . . . . . 94
Sales Trap 14: It™s Possible to Sell Anything
to Anybody . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 102

Sales Trap 15: Offer Solutions Early . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 106
Sales Trap 16: Let the Customer Control the
Sales Call . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 111

Sales Trap 17: The Purpose of Questions Is to
Persuade Someone to Do Something . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 115
Sales Trap 18: A Skilled Salesperson Doesn™t Need
to Plan Sales Calls . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 120

. . . . . . 125
Sales Trap 19: Sales Skill Training Is Enough to
Solve Selling Problems . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 129

Sales Trap 20: If You Generate Sales Activity,
You™ll Close More Sales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 132

Sales Trap 21: Top Performers Are the Best Teachers. . . . 137

Sales Trap 22: Sales Managers Are Good Coaches . . . . . 142

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 147
Sales Trap 23: The Internet Has Changed Selling . . . . . 151
Sales Trap 24: The Internet Will Replace All
Consultative Salespeople . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 156

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 163

Notes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 167
Index . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 181
About the Author . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 189
A wise person once said that you should begin a project
with the end in mind. If that were the case, when you
finished reading this book, this is what you would have
learned: It is not what sales and marketing people don™t
know that is most likely to significantly hurt their per-
formance; it is what they think they know that turns out
to be either a partial truth, fallacy, or mistaken belief
that affects their results more. We call these half-truths
and falsehoods sales traps, and each trap springs from
validated research. There are 24 traps that could be
adversely affecting individual, team, group, and com-
pany sales performance. So much for the ending, let™s go
to the beginning.

It all began at the Xerox International Training Center
(now known as Xerox Document University) in Lees-
burg, Virginia, where I was serving as a manager of
training and development. Ted, a Xerox sales manager
and a good friend of mine, stormed up to the table
where I was having lunch with a few of our colleagues
after a training session. The major account team Ted
was in charge of was growing, and he was adding to his
sales staff, but his new hires were not closing sales as
effectively as he had hoped, and he was unhappy with
X preface

their lack of productivity. What™s more, he couldn™t see the bene-
fit of pulling key staff out of the field to take the particular skill-
training course we were offering. He expected to see bottom-line
results in the field”and in his training expense budget”from our
sales training. I knew that he was dissatisfied with his team™s per-
formance. He had often complained about our skills-based train-
ing, saying, “They either have what it takes or they don™t, so why
are we wasting our time training them?” This time, he was red-
hot angry.
And, inadvertently, I had just added fuel to the fire. Recently, we
had announced the results of a new sales research project conducted
by Xerox.1 The study showed that without reinforcement, our
salespeople lost 87 percent of the sales skills they learned within
thirty days.
“So, now you™re finally admitting that sales-skill training courses
don™t work?” he asked, addressing me but looking around our table
with a triumphant smile on his face.
“Sales training doesn™t work,” I responded immediately, “unless
sales managers are willing to reinforce it!”
I didn™t realize it at the time, but I had just identified my first sales
trap. What I mean by a sales trap is an incorrect action or strategy
undertaken by a salesperson or sales organization because of a mis-
taken belief, fallacy, or partial truth. The sales trap Ted had put his
finger on was “sales training doesn™t work.” This statement is a par-
tial truth. In other words, taken at face value, it™s true that sales train-
ing doesn™t work because, as the Xerox study showed, attendees
forgot 87 percent of the skills they learned within thirty days. In
Ted™s case, sales training didn™t work because he (like many sales
managers) didn™t reinforce the skills with his reps after the training
course was over. But what Ted said didn™t go far enough. The sales
truth is “sales training doesn™t work without reinforcement.” Sales
traps are extremely important. They hurt an individual™s perfor-
mance and compensation and lower an organization™s sales revenues

and margins. Salespeople should recognize and avoid these pitfalls
and base their sales techniques on updated sales research.

Today we™re in the fortunate position of being able to identify Sales
Traps more accurately because of the revolutionary sales research
done in the last twenty years. The scientific validation of sales prin-
ciples and techniques has introduced standards of measurement,
control, and uniformity to the sales cycle and has introduced pro-
fessionalism to the sales training process that was unheard of before.
The 24 Sales Traps and How to Avoid Them relies on this published
research”as well as field research conducted by The Dartmouth
Group, Ltd., and the Institute for Global Sales Studies”to estab-
lish that key ideas and beliefs about sales are based on incorrect
information. It also includes real-life examples and practical infor-
mation from savvy and experienced sales professionals.

I™ve come to see that given the choice between sales traps and sales
truths, salespeople choose the sales truths. They choose the more
effective way to sell, if for no other reason than that the correct way
enables them to work smarter”not harder”with the same or bet-
ter bottom-line results. Of course, you™ll still have to work hard. But
you™re already doing that, or you wouldn™t have picked up this book.
This book is for you if you:

∆ Are searching for easier access to the approaches and tech-
niques that improve sales effectiveness

∆ Are curious about the process of selling and want to do it

∆ Have ever thought that “this is the way we™ve always done
it” wasn™t a good enough answer
XII preface

∆ Have known on a gut level that the techniques you learned
didn™t seem right, but weren™t sure of what to do instead

∆ Have ever wanted to know the valid reasons for sales prin-
ciples and techniques, beyond the reasons you hear so often

This book is designed to be useful to:

∆ Salespeople at all levels of expertise

∆ Sales managers, trainers, and coaches

∆ Consultants

∆ People who want to get others to think differently

∆ Managers, trainers, and coaches

∆ Students considering a career in consultative sales or

This book will help you not only to identify what you™ve been
doing wrong, but also to replace your mistakes with the right tech-
nique for the right circumstance. Above all, this book will show you
how to improve your sales effectiveness.
I™d like to thank the dean of the Kelley School of
Business, Dr. Dan Dalton, and the chairman of the
marketing department, Dr. Frank Acito. Both were
encouraging and supportive of our efforts to raise
money to establish the Institute for Global Sales
Studies. I would also like to thank Dr. Rosann Spiro,
former chairperson of the American Marketing
Association. Not only has she challenged me, but she
has also helped me immensely in deciding what aca-
demic research might be helpful to this book. I would
also like to recognize Dr. John Summers, Dr. Gil
Frisbie, Dr. Tom Hustadt, Dr. Ron Stephenson, Dr.
Rockney Walters, Dr. Ray Burke, Dr. Dan Smith, and
Brenda Crohn, who have lent their moral and intel-
lectual support to the endeavors of the Institute for
Global Sales Studies. Without their support, the
research that forms the basis of this book might never
have been completed.
Without my colleagues and partners at The
Dartmouth Group, Ltd., this book would not have
been as comprehensive. Therefore, my thanks to
Susan Woods, whose loyalty and support has been
the best. Also, my gratitude to R. Michael Lockman;
his input and suggestions for this final manuscript
were insightful and helpful. My appreciation also
XIV acknowledgments

extends to Mike Navel, who has the uncanny knack of being able
to take complex problems and discussions and reduce them to a
simple and understandable format. You have a gift. I need to rec-
ognize Tricia Wilson for her constructive input; her passion for
consulting and training makes The Dartmouth Group, Ltd., a fun
place to work. Lastly, my gratitude to Tracy Welch for her behav-
ior analysis studies during client field observations, Flora Walters
for her administrative support with this manuscript, and Erika
Meditz for initial editing.
I would like to document my thanks and appreciation to two col-
leagues in the sales profession who have inspired, motivated, and
mentored me over the last two decades through their books, their
articles, their research, and their friendship: Neil Rackham and
Dr. Richard Ruff. It™s now possible to validate sales techniques,
thanks to researchers such as Neil Rackham, Dr. Richard Ruff,
Robert B. Miller and Stephen E. Heiman (authors of The New
Conceptual Selling and Strategic Selling), Dr. Rosann L. Spiro,
Dr. Thomas N. Ingram, Dr. Ramon A. Avila, Dr. Ronald E.
Michaels, Dr. Barton A. Weitz, Dr. Charles M. Futrell, Professor
Tom Leigh, Dr. Dan McQuiston, Jamie Comstock and Gary
Higgins, Lawrence G. Friedman and Timothy R. Furey (authors of
The Channel Advantage), and Jerome A. Colletti (author of
Compensating New Sales Roles), to name only a few. Because of their
work, we can now give definitive answers to a myriad of questions
about sales principles and techniques.
I would also like to mention some key people who over the years
have kept my passion for sales, consulting, training, and teaching
burning: Carole Canada Driver, Jim Cotterill, Jack Fidger, Bernie
Sanders, Larry Thomas, Don Kutch, and Karen Thor. Additional
mention goes to those sales practitioners, many of whom I worked
with at Procter & Gamble and Xerox, who have affected my think-
ing regarding the sales profession: Ted Rubley, Jon King, Bridget
Momcilovich, Jim Rayl, Jack Thompson, Greg Graham, C. Bruce

McIntyre, William G. Mays, George C. Platt, David V. LeVine, J. J.
Moffat, T Palmer, Frank Pacetta, Thomas M. O™Neil, Sue Matchett,
John Cuny, John Pitz, Mark D. Slaby, Gina Shupe, Jay Preston,
David Renzi, Mary Riley Quinn, Jon Robisch, Paul MacKinnon,
Jim Piotter, Pat Elizondo, Ross Raifsnider, Bill Ziegert, Steve
Iden, Jim Wallace, Jason Craven, Kristi Johnson, Jennifer Brase,
Mark Lindenberg, Judy Paton Schnettgoecke, Jeff Henry, and
Suzy Yancey DuBois, Greg Kluesner, Phil Engle, Dave Pannell,
and Rich Schwimmer.
To those worthy competitors from IBM during the 1970s, thanks
for the defeats, and a few victories, to Bob Armstrong, David Knoll,
and Joe Galati.
I would like to thank those clients who have unselfishly partici-
pated in our research efforts to either confirm or deny the validity
of many of the traps included in this book. For those clients that I
failed to mention, please accept my heartfelt apologies for the over-
sight. Our sincere appreciation is extended to Greg Lucas, Larry
O™Connor, Greg Lucas, Gerald Rush, Ben Campbell, Tom
Bareford, Marsha Jay, Jill Hill, Chip Myers, Gilmour Lake, Mike
O™Connor, Randy McNutt, Shelby Solomon, Channing Mitzell,
Vicki Mech Hester, Ed. D., Jane Ellis, Don Schenkel, Dr. Jack
Engledow, and Ed Engledow.
I would be remiss if I didn™t recognize my friend Dr. Ed.
Mitchell, one of the best listeners and communicators I have ever
known, for his insights into people.
A special thanks to Russell P. Valentine, M.D., whose professional
counsel and friendship I greatly appreciate”and this generation™s
answer to Marcus Welby, M.D. Thanks, Russ, for helping me to be
here to write this book.
I wish I could individually thank each of the marketing students
who over the years have taken my consultative marketing and sales
management classes at the Kelley School of Business at Indiana Uni-
versity. Not only have they participated in my classroom research
XVI acknowledgments

projects and lent support to the Institute for Global Sales Studies,
they have also participated in my “experimental groups” so that I
could test various “half-baked” consultative models in the hopes that
these ideas would become “fully baked.” I will be forever grateful.
Please continue to stay in touch.
I would not have finished this book without my literary agent,
Martha Jewett (www.marthajewett.com). Thanks, Martha, for your
immense help and your solid writing and editorial consultation, as
well as your excellent literary representation. You are a true pro-
fessional and no-nonsense person. Smith College should be proud
of you.
Nor would this book have been published without the support of
my editor, Ellen Kadin, at AMACOM Books. Thanks, Ellen, for
recognizing how this book was different from the other sales and
consulting books. And to Christina McLaughlin for her fine editing
skills and suggestions that made this book better. You were truly
impressive, Christina.
Next to last, my special recognition to Frank and Bets Johnson
for your love and support over the years. I love you both. Also, to
the quintessential family patriarch and matriarch, Joe and Bev Cegala,
you have affected me more than you™ll ever know. And to Jenny,
Vince, and David, may you live your dreams.
Last, my heartfelt love goes out to my wonderful wife, Debbie,
the best of the best, for her understanding and patience as I contin-
ued to sand the rough edges of this book”often past the midnight
hour. And, of course, my two lovely daughters, Andria and Erin. I
love each of you more as the days pass.
Sales Trap n: An incorrect action or strategy undertaken
by a salesperson or sales organization because of a mis-
taken belief, fallacy, or partial truth.
the 24 sales
traps and how
to avoid them

what you
think you
SALES TRAPS result from three things: falla-
cies, mistaken beliefs, and partial truths. In selling,
it™s easy to believe the wrong thing and as a conse-
quence do the wrong thing. A fallacy is a false or
erroneous idea that is the result of having the wrong
information or making the wrong inference. Mistaken
beliefs that cause people to fall into sales traps include
cultural stereotypes and prejudices. For example, a mis-
taken belief based upon a stereotype is that top sales-
people need to be aggressive. Scientific research has
proved that a salesperson does not have to be aggres-
sive to succeed.
4 the 24 sales traps

Sales traps can also result from having the wrong information or
from applying the right information in the wrong situation. For
example, your information about the competitive marketplace may
be outdated. You may not be aware of validated, effective sales strate-
gies or the latest sales research. The information at your disposal
may be incomplete or unavailable. You may not bring back enough
information about client needs. In addition, a fallacy can also occur
when you apply the correct information in the wrong circumstances.
For example, a transactional sales strategy, such as increasing sales
activity, may be mistakenly chosen in a consultative sales situation.
(See Sales Trap 20, “If You Generate Sales Activity, You™ll Close
More Sales.”) Having the wrong information leads to poor results for
reasons that you can™t see or don™t acknowledge.
You can also fall into a sales trap if you draw the wrong conclu-
sion from the information at hand. You may have correct informa-
tion or information that is good enough for your sales purpose, but
make the wrong inference from it, resulting in a fallacy. For exam-
ple, Sales Trap 21, “Top Performers Are the Best Teachers,” is the
result of a fallacy. In this case, the inference is that because top per-
formers are the best at what they do, they will be the best at teach-
ing others what they do. But, in fact, top performers aren™t sure why
they are the best. Finally, partial truths can result in sales traps. For
example, it is often said that salespeople should ask questions in
order to persuade someone to do something. Well, yes, but that is
only a partial truth. Salespeople should probe to understand the cus-
tomer first, and try to persuade second.

The 24 sales traps are illustrations of ways in which salespeople, sales
managers, consultants, and sales organizations do the wrong thing and
how this prevents them from achieving high-performance results.
Sales traps have serious consequences. For instance, one trap says
that sales-skill training works. This is partially true; however, sales-

skill training doesn™t work without coaching and reinforcement. In
life, we can usually get by without holding or acting on the correct
belief or having the best information. But what if doing the wrong
thing as a result of believing the wrong thing makes a big difference?
In sales, doing the wrong thing can lead to a negative outcome with
serious financial consequences. It may mean not making the sale. It
may even mean losing a large client or a favorite customer.
And what if the sales trap is so seductive or so deeply ingrained
in a salesperson™s thinking that it becomes an unconscious pattern,
a bad habit? In the worst case, you may have fallen into a sales trap
and not even realized it. How do you know where you need to make
improvements if you think what you™re doing is just fine?
How do you know where to start?

The 24 sales traps show you how to stop doing the things you do that
are wrong and replace them with what™s correct. You™ve all heard of
the 80/20 rule. It™s used almost as commonly as Catch-22. If you™re a
sales manager, for example, you probably can identify the 20 percent
of your accounts that produce 80 percent of your sales and the 20 per-
cent of your sales reps that produce 80 percent of your sales revenues.

The 80/20 rule says that a selected small fraction in
THE 80/20 RULE.
terms of number almost always accounts for a large fraction in terms
of effect. If you can identify which 20 percent produces the much
larger effect, then you can take steps that focus on that 20 percent
and benefit from the much larger effect that the 20 percent pro-
duces. It is not what sales and marketing people don™t know that is most
likely to significantly hurt their performance; it is what they think they
know that turns out to be either a partial truth, a fallacy, or a mistaken
belief that affects their results more.

I can™t say with scientific certainty that 20
percent of what salespeople do is wrong, but my experience in
6 the 24 sales traps

training and consulting tells me that the 80/20 rule comes close.
Salespeople do the right thing about 80 percent of the time. But
approximately 20 percent of the time, they don™t. What™s more, most
salespeople don™t even know what exactly they™re doing wrong.
For instance, if a salesperson believes he gets too many objec-
tions, he probably will want to study objection-handling techniques.
But one research finding has revealed that objections are often
symptoms of a bigger problem, such as ineffective probing. In this
case, the salesperson believes the problem is one thing (objections),
when it is really another (probing).
As another example, many salespeople believe that open-ended
questions are more effective than closed-ended questions. These
salespeople don™t know that it isn™t the category of questions that
matters; the type of question within each category is more important.

No one”including academics, consultants, and senior managers”
is immune from sales traps. There may well be more than just 24 of
them. The ones I™ve identified here meet the following two strin-
gent criteria:

1. The sales trap will have a large negative impact on business
results if it is not immediately recognized and avoided.
(Negative results include financial loss, lack of customer
loyalty and retention, and strategic market competitive-
ness issues.)

2. There is reliable published or field research with which to
refute the mistaken beliefs, fallacies, or partial truths inher-
ent in the sales trap.

If there wasn™t sound evidence to prove that a belief was a sales
trap, I didn™t include it.

If you avoid the 24 sales traps and
execute the action points, you™re going to see a dramatic increase in
your personal sales effectiveness and sales results (remember the
80/20 ratio). If your organization avoids these traps consistently
across the board, it will be on its way to being a successful sales team.
Avoiding the 24 sales traps will enable you to:

∆ Increase your sales call effectiveness

∆ Improve your personal selling skills

∆ Have a greater impact on your buyer™s business

∆ Improve your customer retention and customer satisfaction

∆ Be more effective in sales management

∆ Produce higher sales revenues and profits for your company
and for your clients

This book identifies six basic principles followed by successful sales
organizations. These principles are based on ten years of observation
of top companies, teams, and individual sales forces. Avoiding the sales
traps associated with each principle will help you achieve success in
that area. For each sales trap, you™ll find explanatory text, action
points, and, at the end of each sales trap, the “sales truth,” the coun-
terintuitive sales reality. The sales truths summarize published and
field research, as well as best practices. The action points I give for
each sales trap are practical real-world guidelines based on the best
practices of The Dartmouth Group, the Institute for Global Sales
Studies at Indiana University, and hundreds of top-notch companies.
Endnotes with full citations are given at end of the book. See the
notes section for more information on the research and/or
researcher who disproves each mistaken belief, fallacy, or half-truth.
8 the 24 sales traps

It includes primary sources, secondary sources, and other research
material (including field studies and face-to-face interviews). The
names in the case studies and examples have been changed to pro-
tect confidentiality.
I™ve designed this book to be engaging and fun (well, as engag-
ing and fun as any sales book can be). Skim the table of contents,
and identify the sales traps that make you go “Hmmm” or that you
disagree with. Turn to the sales truth at the end of each. Do you
agree with it? Did you get it? If you didn™t get it, or you don™t believe
it, you™ll want to read the explanation. If you know the answer, but
you want to see how I came up with it, you may want to read the
explanation to see why your answer is correct.

In order to place the sales traps in this book in their real-world con-
text, I™ve organized them around the six key principles that leading
sales organizations, teams, and top performers follow. These are the
six principles that differentiate average-performing groups and sales-
people from those that are outstanding. Companies such as Xerox,
IBM, Dell Computer, Microsoft, Procter & Gamble, General
Electric, Guidant, Motorola, Eli Lilly, INB Bank of Indiana (now
Bank One), Duracell, Hewlett-Packard, Thomson RCA, North-
western Mutual, UPS, and AT&T espouse these six principles:

1. Focus outside.

2. Get the most out of the best people.

3. Train effectively.

4. Create value.

5. Offer feedback and opportunities for learning.

6. Use the Internet and databases effectively.

Fundamentally, these six principles incorporate the 24 sales
truths. The trick is to identify and avoid the sales traps in order to
improve your performance”company, team, or individual.

Every week I am asked some version of the
question, “What am I doing wrong?” Specifically, I™m asked the fol-
lowing three questions every week by salespeople:

1. What am I (is our team, our department, our organization,
our company) doing wrong”so that I (we) can stop doing it?

2. What am I (is our organization) doing right”so that I (we)
can continue doing it and improve upon it?

3. How do I (we) know what™s correct”based on the research,
not just an opinion?

The goal of The 24 Sales Traps and How to Avoid Them is to answer
these questions. If you want to see results, you need to fix your mis-
takes. Start by avoiding the 24 sales traps in this book. The 24 Sales
Traps and How to Avoid Them puts a counterintuitive emphasis on
what salespeople do wrong because in sales, especially at advanced lev-
els, there are so many ways to do things right. There are many fewer
ways to do things wrong.
Finally, if this book does nothing else, I hope it causes you to see
your “sales piece” differently, to see what you™ve been doing in a new
light, so that you can be more effective. The reason to change your
behavior based on the sales truths is simple: They work. In sales,
actions based on fallacies, mistaken beliefs, and half-truths don™t
work. When salespeople believe and do the wrong thing, they often
fall into one or more of these 24 sales traps.

adopt an
SUCCESSFUL sales teams focus their energies
outside the company. The efforts of sales and mar-
keting appear seamless; they appear to be one entity,
not two, when solving customer needs.

Leading sales teams focus on customers™ buying pref-
erences, requirements, and needs before focusing on
their own targets. They place their focus outside of
their organizations by following their customers™
buying trends. Less stellar sales organizations focus
inside their organizations and then figure out how to
12 the 24 sales traps

capture the customers. For example, people in these less stellar
organizations place more emphasis on internal paperwork to cover
their behinds than on quickly and effectively solving customer
issues. In contrast, sales leaders make their customers™ requirements
and needs their priority, then align their sales and marketing oper-
ations and processes to best address those needs.
For example, Dell Computer Corporation stays abreast with”
if not ahead of”the buying requirements and patterns of its cus-
tomers. Michael Dell recognized in the early 1980s that his
targeted customer base didn™t see the value of a faster processor. He
changed strategic direction from creating faster processors to mak-
ing computers available over the phone. He recognized that there
were many customers who were knowledgeable enough to order
their computer solutions directly from Dell over the phone (and
eventually over the Net). Thus, Dell has become a giant by focus-
ing on what it knows its customers want and aligning the company
to meet those requirements, rather than focusing on what it thinks
its customers want.
Sales forces should focus on solutions, not on particular products.
When products that are needed to solve key customer problems do
not exist and must be developed, the products should be developed
by the marketing departments but in concert with the customers.

Salespeople should focus much more heavily on product solutions
than on features and advantages. An excellent example of this is IBM™s
sales force, because it focuses on solutions and not on pushing prod-
ucts. Likewise, Xerox™s salespeople thoroughly probe to understand
the customer™s needs today and in the future before they talk about
new products, new features, new pricing on old products, and so on.
Such salespeople are “walking problem solvers” rather than “talking
adopt an outside focus

What is usually a broad chasm between the marketing department
and the sales organization is narrow in top sales organizations. The
right hand should know what the left hand is doing, and why. Both
groups should focus on the customer and coordinate their activities
to provide the best solutions for the customer”even if they have to
create solutions “on the fly” to satisfy customer needs. They should
work closely together to develop solutions, attractive pricing, and
customer incentives.
One of the key factors that reduced this gap between sales and
marketing in the 1980s was the “quality initiatives.” The com-
panies that did a good job of implementing a strong quality pro-
gram tended to end up with a strong sense of cooperation between
sales and marketing. This makes sense, given that the primary
goal of quality programs was to figure out how to focus better on
the customer.
Xerox Corporation, which in 1989 won the Malcolm Baldrige
Award, presented by the U.S. Department of Commerce to compa-
nies that exemplify the best in American business, for its Leadership
Through Quality Program, is an example of a company that attained
a close working relationship between sales and marketing. As Scott
Bradley, a vice president at Xerox, said, “Our quality program really
helps us to focus on the customer requirements, both external and
internal, in order to make certain that we are creating customer
value. And, one of the keys for us is when our marketing and sales
organizations work closely together.” 1
Xerox was by no means the only company to effectively coordi-
nate sales and marketing activities. Procter & Gamble used a team
selling approach to literally force cooperation between marketing
and sales by including people from brand marketing and sales, and
also key management personnel, on the sales teams that work with
megachains such as Kroger, Wal-Mart, and Target. Salespeople who
14 the 24 sales traps

fail to keep their focus on the customer begin to fall into sales traps.
They become too aggressive, fail to relate the product to the cus-
tomer™s needs, and fail to recognize potential champions.

* * *
adopt an outside focus

sales trap
You Must Be Aggressive to Succeed in Sales
Here™s the idea: You have to be aggressive to succeed in sales.
This mistaken belief is widely held. But when salespeople believe
they need to be aggressive, and when they are aggressive, they focus
on the wrong thing: themselves. Aggressiveness reduces sales effec-
tiveness because it reduces what should be your outside focus on the

Everyone recognizes the cultural stereotype of the obnoxious sales-
person. At the beginning of each semester in the class I teach on
sales management and consultative marketing, I ask my students to
raise their hands if they want to be salespeople. Although the thirty
to forty students who have registered for the class clearly know that
they™re taking a career-oriented sales class, only about three in ten
students will raise his or her hand.
“Why is it that you wouldn™t want to pursue a sales career?” I
then ask the others.
“I don™t want to be obnoxious” is the most common answer.
These students don™t want to be salespeople because they think
salespeople have to be aggressive or”worse yet”obnoxious if they
are to succeed. Some students tone their answers down and say they
don™t feel it™s in their nature to be as “persistent” or to “bug” cus-
tomers as much as they think they will have to. (Persistence is an
important ingredient in sales success, as I discuss shortly.)
The idea that you have to be aggressive in order to succeed in
sales is practically universal. Corporate recruiters report that in
recruiting interviews, students mention their aggressiveness as a
positive attribute that will lead to their success on the job. However,
the recruiters aren™t necessarily looking for aggressiveness, because
it is not tied to sales success.
16 the 24 sales traps

Is there a rational foundation for students™ aversion to salespeo-
ple? Unfortunately, yes. In the real world, we™ve all dealt with
obnoxious salespeople. “Pressuring the customer succeeds in very
small sales or with very unsophisticated buyers. But in larger sales
and with sophisticated customers, the effect of pressure is negative”
aggressive selling hurts your sales results,” says Neil Rackham.2

An encounter with an aggressive, dominant, controlling salesperson
might look like the following scenario, in which Debbie Dale is
exploring her options for a cellular phone. The dialogue goes some-
thing like this:
May I help you?
Phone Man (PM):

Well, I™m looking for an inexpensive cellular
Debbie Dale (DD):
Good. You have come to the right place. Are you looking
for any particular features?
I thought I might like to have voice mail and call waiting,
if those features don™t cost me too much.
PM: No sweat. Our pricing is as competitive as anybody™s. Let™s
look at several models we have here. Were you interested in
activating the phone today?
I don™t know. I™m just looking at different options right
PM: Well, no need to look any further. We have everything you
need. Will you be paying by credit card or check?
Oh, I seem to have forgotten my purse. I™m sorry. Bye.

Debbie was actually thinking, but was too polite to say, “Neither,
sir; I™m giving my money to one of your competitors.” We have all
adopt an outside focus

had unproductive exchanges with obnoxious salespeople. Salespeople
who believe they need to be aggressive in order to succeed in sales
put themselves first and the customer second. Debbie™s needs were sec-
ondary to the salesperson™s need to close, or perhaps, worse still, to
his company™s need for the order.
Fortunately, however, a salesperson does not have to be aggres-
sive or obnoxious in order to succeed. As a matter of fact, aggres-
siveness is an undesirable trait.

It™s a shame that so many salespeople are aggressive. Customers
consider salespeople to be guilty of being aggressive until proven
innocent. At the very least, customers consider them to be guilty of
not always putting the customer™s needs ahead of their own. Aggres-
siveness doesn™t bring credibility to the profession. Unlike
assertiveness, hard work, or ambition, all of which help in sales as
much as in any career, aggressiveness gives the sales profession a
bad name.
Research shows that aggressive salespeople turn buyers off.
Buyers rank dominance as one of the least preferred qualities in
salespeople. Instead, they want salespeople who are confident and
assertive. Dominance is viewed as self-oriented, not customer-ori-
ented, and therefore reduces buyer trust.3

Here™s how a more confident and less aggressive salesperson would
have handled the sales interaction with Debbie:

May I help you?

Well, I™m looking for an inexpensive cellular phone.

Good. Can you tell me what price range you were look-
ing at?
18 the 24 sales traps

Oh, around $75.

I see. Any particular features you were looking for?

I thought I might like to have voice mail and call waiting,
if those particular features don™t cost too much.
Normally not. But the price may or may not seem like a
lot to you, depending on the particular needs that you have.
Do you mind if I ask you a few questions in order to help iden-
tify what we might be able to offer as a possible solution to
your problem?
Okay. What do you want to know?

Well, to begin with, how much time do you expect to be
on your phone each day?

This salesperson put the customer first, probing in depth by
asking appropriate questions, and displaying genuine concern for
Channing (Chap) Mitzell, president of the Windsor Financial
Group, Ltd., put it best when he said, “The era of the pushy, aggres-
sive financial consultant and their organizations putting their own
quotas, requirements, and needs before their client™s needs is over. In
our industry, if a consultant doesn™t view value from the customer per-
spective, they won™t last to view value from their own perspective.”

” Being aggressive may get you the appointment, but it won™t get you the
sale (and it definitely won™t get you the sustainable business relation-
ship). Buyers prefer sellers whose personal style is cooperative, not
aggressive. The cooperative style is characterized by the salesper-
son™s receptivity, precision, friendliness, and lack of contentious-
ness. Buyers don™t like salespeople who compete with them.4
adopt an outside focus

” Be professional. Above everything else, clients want a professional
relationship, and they want salespeople who are trustworthy, com-
posed, and task-oriented.5

” Display concern about the customer. The best way to show concern is
to ask questions. It is difficult to be aggressive if you are asking
lots of good questions. And it™s always better to show concern for
the customer than to talk about how wonderful your product or
service is.6

1: Buyers don™t like salespeople
who are aggressive.
20 the 24 sales traps

sales trap
You Can Make a Complex Sale Without an
Account Champion
It™s a mistake to believe that you can make a complex sale without a
“champion” inside the account”a person who wants to see you
make the sale and is willing to help you do so. Research shows that
complex sales can™t be made without such help.7 Large corporations
may have decentralized corporate structures, no clear purchasing
channel, and an enormous number of people involved. This makes
finding the key players in the buyer™s decision-making process mad-
deningly difficult, expensive, and sometimes nearly impossible. It™s
difficult to focus outside, on the customer, under such circum-
stances. And yet many try.

Here™s a common scenario:

Heather, a three-year sales veteran for the Atlantic
Storm & Casualty Company, knew a lot of people at
Global Enterprises, a potentially large account. Heather
knew decision makers, decision influencers, policy
administrators, receptionists, and even the window
cleaner. Heather had been working with the key per-
sonnel at Global for fourteen months. They had been
receptive in meetings to her ideas regarding additional
coverages for their offices along the Atlantic and Pacific
seaboards, which were often hit by hurricanes, violent
storms, and earthquakes, not to mention floods and
heavy snow damage.

She had displayed concern for her customer. She had
probed effectively and thoroughly to understand her
client™s needs. Her prices were competitive, and Global™s
adopt an outside focus

people liked her. But Heather couldn™t secure the busi-
ness relationship. She finally convinced herself that these
nice people at Global were indecisive and fearful of mak-
ing decisions. How else could they like her and need her
policies, but still not move forward with business?

Unfortunately, this story is all too common”for both parties. It™s
frustrating to the salesperson or consultant who has invested her or
his time with an account, but can™t seem to advance the account far
enough to get an order. And it™s frustrating to the people at the
account to invest their time in meetings that end without any defi-
nite progress. What™s wrong? Although Heather knew many key
people, she didn™t have an internal champion inside the account.
Rather than investing all her time in developing superficial rela-
tionships, she should have focused more of her energies on finding
and maintaining an account champion.

In Strategic Selling, Robert Miller and Stephen Heiman reveal that
top-performing salespeople have internal “coaches” who, among
other things, help guide the salespeople over, under, and around the
various political sensitivities and hidden agendas within the
account.8 In Miller and Heiman™s terminology, coach means “inter-
nal account champion.” Later, I will use the term coach to refer to
the role the sales manager or an outside trainer undertakes when he
or she teaches a sales rep or gives one-on-one feedback about sales
skills. Therefore, for the sake of clarity, in this discussion I will use
internal champion instead of Miller and Heiman™s word coach.9
The internal champion functions as an “inside salesperson” for
the “outside salesperson.” In other words, when the salesperson
isn™t at the account and when closed-door meetings take place, the
salesperson™s internal champion can go to bat to support the sale.
In some cases, the internal champion will even sell the outside
22 the 24 sales traps

salesperson™s ideas, opinions, and solutions to the key people in his
or her own organization.10
Understanding the political issues and recognizing the sacred
cows within an account is just another key element in an outside
focus that puts the customer first. Corporate cultures breed sen-
sitivities and strong opinions, and salespeople have to have an
inside track in order to understand these issues and therefore to
sell effectively. Today™s salespeople need to send the message that
they care enough to understand the client™s behind-the-scenes
concerns. Because complex sales involve multiple players with
various perspectives, an internal champion is necessary if the
salesperson is to navigate the corridors and unlock doors through-
out the account.

Returning to the scenario with Heather, let™s see how having an
internal champion might have helped. If Heather had taken the
time to identify, select, and ask for the help of an internal cham-
pion, she might have secured the business relationship and cut her
sales cycle in half. And she might also have reduced the frustration
level of certain people within the account who felt that she wasn™t
making progress.
The internal champion could have advised Heather that the pres-
ident of his company had been a college roommate of the senior vice
president of sales for Heather™s competitor. This might have led
Heather to use a different strategy. For example, she could have
suggested that her company did not expect to replace the competi-
tor™s business, but would merely supplement it. That way, Heather
wouldn™t have been a threat to the relationship between Global™s
president and his college friend.
This inside information would have also reduced the anxiety level
of people at Global who reported to the president and knew of his
relationship with her competitor™s senior manager. While there is
adopt an outside focus

rarely such a thing as just one decision maker in a complex sale,
there is almost always an internal champion who can help make an
affirmative decision a little bit easier.

The following steps will help you to identify your internal champion:

1. Find decision influencers and decision makers. List the key deci-
sion influencers (people who do not have the final say but
will influence the decision outcome) and decision makers
(the people who will take the responsibility for making the

2. Determine which of the decision influencers and decision makers
will help you. Seek out their colleagues™ perceptions of these
potential internal champions. When seeking perceptions,
you are trying to get answers to such questions as, Which
of the people within the company might be willing to help?
Which ones can you trust? Which ones have the power but
maybe not the position? Which ones™ ideas would be more
likely to align with your own philosophy of business?
Which ones are destined for promotion?

3. Ask for introductions. If you don™t already know one or more
of these potential internal champions, you might ask some-
one in the account that you do know if he or she would be
kind enough to introduce you.

4. Meet. Try to secure a thirty-minute initial meeting with the
potential internal champion to assess how you might work
with her or him. This internal champion can also advise you
on your sales strategy and offer advice and counsel con-
cerning the best plan for developing a partnership between
your organization and the client™s.
24 the 24 sales traps

5. Ask the person if he or she will function as your internal cham-
pion. Ask the individual to help you, so that you can be the
most effective not only for yourself and your company, but
also for the account. Explain that his or her suggestions and
counsel will not only help you to avoid potential land mines
but also help you to create better value for the champion™s
company by enabling you to understand its inner workings
more fully.

” You can™t do it by yourself. Research shows that to make complex
sales, you need to have an internal champion.

” Maintain two-way communication with your internal champion. Make
an agreement with your internal champion to keep each other
apprised of the efforts each of you is making.

” Don™t become too dependent on one account champion. A note of caution
here: People in organizations change. They retire, they™re replaced,
they™re promoted, and they fall out of favor. Be careful not to place
all your eggs in one basket with just one internal champion. The
more perspectives and insights that you can get into the inner
workings of an account, the better”for both parties.

2: In complex selling, you need
an internal champion.
adopt an outside focus

sales trap
It™s Best to Offer Solutions to Problems
You See
As a general rule, it™s good to offer solutions to customer problems.
True or false?
If you say “true,” you™re like a lot of salespeople I know.
But you™re wrong.
It™s a mistake to assume that you should offer solutions to cus-
tomer problems that you see. Contrary to the conventional wisdom,
it™s generally not a good idea to offer your solutions to customer
problems unless the customer recognizes these problems.11 The fal-
lacy is that if we can help customers understand their problems
clearly enough”if we™re persuasive enough as salespeople”then
they™ll buy what we™re selling. But this doesn™t always work.
Moreover, like Sales Traps 1 and 2, this trap causes the salesperson
to focus on himself or herself and not on the customer, which results
in fewer successful sales.

Consider the following example in which the buyer doesn™t see a
problem as being big enough to solve. How does the consultant
react? In this dialogue, Joe is a consultant selling advertising ser-
vices. Bev, the customer, is the vice president (VP) of marketing at
a major corporation:
What ad agency do you presently use?
Joe (consultant):

Gloom, Gloomier, & Gloomiest in
Bev (VP of marketing):
New York.
Are you happy with their ad campaigns?

Not necessarily. They don™t seem to generate as much
business as we would like.
26 the 24 sales traps

Joe: That is too bad. But we will be able to help you there. Our
ad campaigns are likely to increase your sales here at
Optimism, Ltd.
Well, they might do that. But we™re not ready to change
ad agencies just yet. Our problem with Gloom is not serious
enough for us to change agencies at this point. It™s true that
one ad campaign that we selected from Gloom didn™t perform
as well as we had hoped. But, hey, Joe, those things happen.
We have been with Gloom for thirteen years now. Besides,
we may have an image problem”at least according to one of
our clients.
I understand, Bev. We could really help you there. One of
our core competencies is conducting ad and PR campaigns to
improve a company™s image.
Hold on, Joe. I know you could probably solve that prob-
lem. But it™s really not big enough for us to sweat that either,
and we aren™t willing to go through the hassle of changing
agencies. Remember, only one of our clients seems concerned
about our image. The rest of them, about 99 percent, think
our image is great. Why don™t I call you when we are ready to
change agencies? Thanks for stopping by, though, Joe. We
may be in touch.

Joe kept trying to sell his solution to what he perceived was
the customer™s problem without listening to the customer. He
didn™t want to hear that Bev didn™t think the problem was big
enough to solve, and he lost the sale. By probing more effectively,
Joe might have saved the sale. He could have explored the conse-
quences of the problem (and perhaps led Bev to see it as more seri-
ous) or explored other problems that might be a reason for a change
of agencies.
adopt an outside focus

Research shows that people buy when the pain of making a change
is less than the pain of staying the same.12 In other words, buyers
need to see the problem as being big enough to justify their going
through the hassle of solving it.
A buyer may not be ready to acknowledge a problem. What
seems to you to be a serious problem may not be perceived as seri-
ous by the buyer. A good example from outside the sales arena is the
married couple whose marital problems appear to the outside world
to be serious enough to make the couple a likely candidate for
divorce. Yet they do not get divorced because the hassle, risk, and
financial cost of divorce as they perceive them are not offset by the
size of the problems in their marriage. In other words, people dif-
fer in how they will adjust to, adapt to, and live with their problems.
It is helpful for salespeople to separate customer problems into
two categories: problems that the customer is willing to live with and
problems that the customer wants to solve. Customers are more
receptive to the solutions you offer when they perceive their prob-
lems as serious enough to solve.
Returning to the initial scenario with Bev and Joe, a buyer may
agree that a problem exists, but not think it™s serious enough to solve,
especially if there is a substantial risk associated with the solution. A
buyer also may not see that a problem exists, even though one does.
The solution here is to either probe the buyer for problems or con-
duct your due diligence efforts with other people who may be more
familiar with the problems than the buyer. A buyer may also see that
a problem exists, want to solve it, and already be looking around for
potential solutions. Let™s revisit the scenario with Bev and Joe and
consider two of these situations.


Joe: Are you confident that you are projecting the right image?
28 the 24 sales traps

(She doesn™t see that a problem exists.) I think so, Joe.

(He recognizes that Bev may not realize that she has a
problem.) Are you comfortable that your current image will
still be attractive to your targeted customers three to five years
from now?
What do you mean?

Buying patterns of customers are continually changing.
You may want to have the image of your company stay abreast
of these changes, such as lower prices and purchasing conve-
nience. It often takes a company two or three years to change
its image. That™s why I was wondering if that could be a poten-
tial problem.
Well, put that way, Joe, it might be. Tell me more.

Before I can explain much more, I need to ask you a few
questions about your current image, your current targeted
customers, and what changes you anticipate in your company
and your customers three to five years from now. Would that
be okay?

For instance, how would you describe the image that you
want your customers to have of Optimist?
Excellent question. Let™s see, . . .

In this scenario, the customer recognizes that he or she has a prob-
lem and wants to solve it. Here, the exchange between Bev and Joe
might look like this.
Thanks for coming, Joe. We need to change ad agencies
because we are just not happy with the sales results our ad
adopt an outside focus

campaigns are generating. We also aren™t satisfied with the
image that we are projecting to the marketplace. So, we
thought we would explore some alternatives to our current ad
agency. That™s where you come in. How do you think you
could help us?
I hope we can. But I™m going to need to ask you several
questions to find out just how we might be able to offer the
best solutions to your sales performance and image issues. Is
that OK?
Of course. Fire away.

You said your ad campaigns were unsatisfactory when it
came to sales results. Why do you think this was the case?
This will help us not to make the same mistake.
Well, our biggest problem in that area was that we didn™t
appeal to the right market segment, i.e., the 21- to 35-year-olds.
I see. So you basically want us to put together a mock ad
campaign on how we would go about capturing that business,
is that right?

Okay, we will do that, but before we do, let me ask you a
few more questions about the characteristics of the people
within that age group that you wish to target, if you don™t mind?
Go right ahead, Joe.

Joe: Well, my first question focuses on what the characteristics
are of the people who are currently buying.

What advances the sale is showing buyers the solutions to their
problems when their pain is great enough to warrant a change or
getting them to see their problems as big enough to solve with solu-
tions that only you can provide. If you can™t do that, you may do a
30 the 24 sales traps

lot of talking, but you won™t get very far toward sustaining a busi-
ness relationship.

As we™ve seen, it™s much easier to get customers to buy your solu-
tion when the problem is one that they themselves want to solve. To
figure out whether the buyer wants to solve the problem, salespeo-
ple should consider the following questions: Does the customer view
the problem as big enough to solve? And what does the customer
see as the value of solving this problem?

Here are exam-
ples of questions you could ask:
∆ Is this an issue that you feel you need to address?

∆ It sounds like that is a pretty sizable problem. Would you
like to explore some possible solutions, or is it perhaps not
serious enough to solve just yet?

Here are

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