5 common pieces of sales advice that you should ignore.

I’m so sick of the word “thought leader”. Sometimes it seems like all you need to be one these days is an internet connection and an opinion, because as someone who has been a fanatic about sales for 20+ years, I see an awful lot of “thought leaders” who have been in the industry for 5 minutes spouting “wisdom” about sales that hasn’t ever proven to be true in my time in the field


Let’s be honest with ourselves, just because you have a killer following doesn’t mean you have insights that are thought leadership “worthy”.


That said, I know it’s hard to tell what really works if you’re new in this game (salesperson or startup leadership). So I thought it was important to take a few minutes to dispel some of these pieces of common advice that floats around in sales circles these days on the web.


But before I do, Jacco Van der Kooij makes a really good point in this article when he mentions that he opens his workshops with the question “What do you want to know about me?” His purpose is to challenge participants to validate that he is worth listening to for themselves.


So that said, I want to take a second to highlight the back story on this article and why the points I’m about to make are sound (i.e. why this isn’t coming from someone who just has an internet connection and opinion):


  1. I have over 20 successful years in sales… and enterprise sales is my first love. One of my top achievements was taking a company from 2 Million to 20 Million in revenue in one year all by myself.
  2. I actually polled my sales comrades (enterprise, sales enablement, inside, mid-market, leadership, etc) who have over a collective century of battle-tested sales success to see if this bad advice matched with their experience.


Here’s the consensus we came to on the worst and most common bad sales advice after over a collective century+ of experience.


1. “It’s a numbers game.”




I’m not saying that quantity/hustle is not important in sales. It absolutely is. However, I am saying that the best salespeople prioritize quality over quantity, no matter what market segment they are in.


The ROI from focusing on a handful of the best customers who can really benefit from what you do is so much higher than trying to throw a bunch of spaghetti at the wall and seeing what sticks for so many reasons.


The link above goes into detail why this is true, but I’ll highlight the reasons here:


  1. Quality makes you and your company/product more valuable to your customers – highly-effective, specialized solutions always command a higher price tag than generalist solutions. Focus on executing each deal to perfection and collect feedback on your product and strategy so you can provide more value to the customer.
  2. Quality helps you grow sustainably and predictably – it’s 5x-19x more expensive to find new business than keep the business you have already. Start small and stack the revenue from customers who are going to stick around for the long haul.
  3. Quality creates good vibes with the right people and drives referrals – which are 16% more lucrative than non referrals. When you treat each customer like they’re getting a custom solution, they will recognize that… and be much more likely to rave about you to their network.


It doesn’t matter whether it’s prospecting, demos, or closing the deal… finding the highest quality leads and highest quality customers will reward you tenfold rather than just blasting as many prospects as you can.


So the next time some tells you to just “pound out the emails and see who responds”, run the other way.


(Related: Why the best salespeople are snipers, not spear throwers.)


2. “______ sales methodology is dead/the best.”


The most common one I hear these days is that “cold calling is dead.” And that’s simply not true. Many startups are still using cold calling to generate leads today still.


It’s true, the introduction of social media and the internet has permanently altered the sales landscape. But sales is as much an art as it is a science… and speaking in absolutes about methodology is pretty foolish.


That’s because the reverse also is true too – cold calling doesn’t work everywhere. There are markets where social selling is clearly the better approach.


Same goes for Challenger vs. solution selling and the list goes on…


The point is, the customer doesn’t care one bit about your methodology or what tools you use… they just want to fix their problems and not look like a jerk for supporting the purchase of your solution.


You need to reach your customer using the method that works best for them, not they way others are doing it or what YOU want to use. And the only way to do that is to do your research and keep your focus on them. Remember, there is no one-size-fits-all solution for this!


3. “If you’re good at sales, you should be able to sell ice to an eskimo.”


News flash: anyone who tells you that “you should be able to sell ice to an eskimo” is missing the bigger picture – does the eskimo even need ice in the first place? Are they the best customer to target?


Maybe they use ice to build an igloo and yours has additives to help it stick together better for that. Great! That sounds like it could work. But, if they also melt it for drinking water too, additives are likely no good to them.


The analogy above is going to break down shortly, but my point is I’m not saying s/he does or doesn’t or is/isn’t a good customer… I’m saying, GO ASK THEM and find out. It’s easy to make assumptions about our customers’ needs or wants. But it’s another thing altogether to verify them with data and “old fashion” conversation in an effort to truly understand.


Just keep in mind your success rate is going to be awfully low trying to sell a vitamin to someone who needs a pain killer (and vice versa).


(Related: 42% of startups fail from lack of market demand)


Bottom line: go talk to your customers. You have to know whether what you’re selling is going to be the right fit for the person in front of you and there is more information in a single (high-quality) customer’s head than you could ever hope to digest and apply to your sales process or use to iterate on your product.


4. “Customer don’t know what they need – we have to educate them!”


Imagine walking into a doctor’s office with a sore throat and without being examined, your physician immediately writes you a prescription for morphine.


How likely are you to get a second opinion on that diagnosis?


Sadly, this is the way that so many sales people approach their prospects. Sure, if you’ve done your research and know that the person on the phone or across the table needs your product, it’s tempting to just get to the point. But this usually doesn’t work either. Not because your solution is bad, but because they don’t trust YOU yet.


And that’s even more important than the solution.


The first rule of sales is people don’t like to be soldthey like to buy. Because when your customer is buying, they feel like they’re in control. And that’s why your customers don’t need to “educated” on why your product or service is the solution to their problems (which is about knowledge)… at least not right away.


At first, they need to be empathized with, and to know you care about properly understanding them and their problems. Only once you’ve cracked that nut, they’ll be ready to consider the solution you offer “intellectually”.


Bottom line: anyone who tells you to “educate the customer” is missing the point unless the prospect has been properly warmed up and knows that you truly have their best interests in mind first!


After all there’s a reason we have two ears and one mouth 😉


5. “Just read from the script – we don’t need personalization.”


Honestly, when was the last time you were fooled by someone who called or emailed a script to you? Your customers are going to sniff that out in a heartbeat if you try it, and it instantly destroys your credibility with them when they do.


Selling is a human process, and since humans are all different (as well as the businesses they run), each person/customer is going to need a different approach to get warmed up to your solution.


Again, there is not a one-size-fits-all solution to this stuff! The way you provide value for any single customer is not likely to be 100% identical to the way you provide value to a second one. And when you consider that quality is really the road to success in sales, it makes sense to treat each customer individually.


I’m not going to go much further here, because I think that this mindset is rooted in a “quantity first” approach. If you eliminate that, this becomes a non-issue.




Seriously, the best way to filter out bad advice is to remember that no one has the answers to this stuff – because it’s all dependent on your specific customer/product match.


One of the reasons I’ve been successful as I approach things as a custom, not one-size-fits all with a kit of “tools” that I use when/where appropriate versus one standard way that I’ve always done things or will do things.


So before you take any wisdom as gospel, test it out in the right place – the market. Don’t spend too much time navel gazing or looking over your shoulder at what everyone else is doing… keep your focus centered squarely on your customers’ needs and filter advice you get through the lens they see through.


You’ll know what is true golden insight and what isn’t pretty quickly.


I want to hear from you – what’s the worst sales advice you’ve ever received? Drop it in the comments below!


Found this enlightening? Time to share to see what your network thinks!


-Amy Volas