You Can't Sell Anyone Anything

“You can’t sell anyone anything. They must discover they want/need it.”


         What a weird sales tactic, right? This Sandler rule explains one of the most critical things that prevents a salesperson from being successful.


I don’t know about you, but my parents didn’t spend my childhood telling me “You can be whatever you want when you grow up. You could even be a salesperson if you wanted to!” Doctor, Astronaut, President, Author, Teacher, Business Owner, sure. Salesperson? Not so much. When we picture a “salesperson” it’s usually a negative image. When I ask people to describe a salesperson I usually hear words like “pushy” or “annoying” or worse, “sleazy.” How did that happen?


         It’s pretty simple. Interestingly, it’s the same thing that gives some politicians the same adjectives. It’s what happens when someone in a role that is meant to serve others, or to support others, or help them get what they want, instead focuses on themselves. Because most salespeople are compensated monetarily in correlation to how much they sell, their own benefit becomes the focal point. A selfish mindset never leads down a path of good behavior. Instead, it causes us to adopt some of those earlier adjectives used to describe salespeople.


         How do you feel when someone approaches you from a mall kiosk as you’re walking by, and is showing you a product and telling you how much you could benefit from it? I know malls aren’t currently a place where many people are hanging out. However, if you were to observe human behavior in those moments you may see some things like: moving further from the kiosk; holding a hand out to defend one’s self; looking straight ahead and pretending one doesn’t notice the person yelling at or chasing them; the polite person that kindly says “no thank you” and because they expressed any acknowledgment is bombarded with even more aggressive attempts to sell. Are these reactions similar to your prospect’s? Here’s why:


         “You can’t sell anyone anything.” I can’t convince you that you want or need something that you don’t want or need. I can’t even convince my spouse to read a great book if it isn’t something he is interested in; and it costs him nothing. In fact, when we attempt to tell people what they should be doing we are often met with resistance. Picture the last time you were not looking for advice, but someone tried to bestow it upon you anyway. Did you take the advice?


         “They can only discover if they want or need it.” A salesperson’s job is again similar to that of a politician’s; maybe that’s why both are well known for getting it wrong. Our role is to hear and understand the voices of the people we are in a position to help. We need to get their stories, their perspectives, their problems, and craft a solution with them. We can’t listen if we are doing all the talking and “convincing” while pushing our own agendas.


         My advice here is not “be like a politician”, for the record. My advice is to stop attempting to convince someone to buy from you. Stop pressuring them to set a meeting with you because YOU think you have something that would really benefit them. As an alternative, explain the frustrations and the stress you help alleviate and ask if those are something they’re experiencing. If they express any interest, do not be the mall kiosk guy. Spend time truly listening to them. Ask questions to understand their perspective. Make no assumptions. I tell my clients often, “ask questions until you can literally picture their experience in your mind based solely upon information they have given you.” If it comes time to decide whether or not to take another step in the process, give them the permission to say no. “Doesn’t take no for an answer” is a great quality in character when it comes to reaching life goals and pursuing dreams. It is an off-putting and ineffective quality in a sales process.


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Emily Shaw

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For 25 years, Lushin has guided business leaders toward intentional, predictable growth.

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