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How to Succeed in Sales Without Really Trying

The 1967 American romcom How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying turned a 1961 stage musical and earlier book by Shepherd Mead by the same name into a hit film starring Robert Morse, Rudy Vallee and Michele Lee.  The movie plot loosely depicts how an ambitious new employee climbs the corporate ladder of the “World-Wide Wicket Company” (not the predecessor to the World Wide Web Consortium).  The book from which the movie was adapted was inspired by Mead’s experiences as an employee at an advertising agency.  It is best described as a satire of an instructional manual humorously detailing how to succeed at business.  To sum it all up the film, the musical, and the book are about questionable ethics, office romance, and a healthy dose of office shenanigans.

So just how does one succeed in sales without really trying?

Sales does not have to be a world filled with greed, nepotism, or manipulation.  Sales after all is a contact sport.  And competition is healthy, and many good salespersons have a desperate need to succeed.  For some, success in sales is the path from lowly lead development representative to chief executive officer.  However, a Forbes magazine article from 2011 states that only about 20 percent of then big company CEOs started out in sales and another 30 percent started in finance which accounts for 50 percent of the backgrounds of those leading Fortune 500 companies at that time of that article.

You will bring fairness, honesty, and integrity to your sales.

Is there such a thing as the salesperson’s code of ethics: “Thou shall not stelan your fellow salesperson’s leads.”  Stelan is Old English for “to commit a theft, to take and carry off clandestinely and without right or leave.”  The sales profession lacks an encompassing code of conduct or ethics.  Several attempts have been made, but the sales profession is mostly unregulated with several notable exceptions.  For example, professional codes of conduct exist including the Code of Ethics & Standards of Practice for Realtors and the Federal Trade Commission’s Code of Ethics.  You will pledge to serve your company and its customers with the highest possible standards of ethics and integrity.

You choose sales because you want to sell.

The truth about people in sales according to one study is that about 50 percent of them do not like their jobs and less than 25 percent are crushing their quota.  Among other things, job dissatisfaction and under performance drives problematic behavior.  According to George Bernard Shaw’s 1905 stage play Man and Superman: “Those who can, do; those who can’t, teach.”  By extension, those who can, do; those who can’t, go into sales.  Sales is often seen as something people do when they do not know what else to do.  So, it is no wonder that public perception of salespersons ranks them incredibly low.  According to a recently conducted HubSpot assessment only 3 percent of those surveyed ranked salespersons as trustworthy.  The perception is that salespersons are among those found hanging out at the den of iniquity – you know that place filled with wickedness and criminal activity.  Salespersons find themselves in the company of marketers, stockbrokers, politicians, car salespeople, and lobbyists who are all among the least trusted professionals there are.  You choose sales because it is something you desire, not something to do until you find something better.

You think sales is easy.

Why do salespeople think sales is hard?  Sales professionals have limiting beliefs just like customers.  While customers’ limiting beliefs are around fit and finance, salespeople often believe that they don’t have the right personality for sales, they can’t handle the rejection, buyers will never buy from them, they’ll never get any good at sales, they don’t see themselves doing this for very long, and that they’re not smart enough, not experienced enough, not credible enough to talk to the people in the C-suite.  Salespeople can and do overcome these objections with training and practice.  As you may recall, Malcolm Gladwell in his book Outliers popularized the idea that you needed to practice 10,000 hours to become an expert.  But all practice does is make permanent, not perfect.  Practice the wrong thing for a long time and you will get good at the wrong thing.  You might even go as far as to say you need to make 10,000 sales to get good at it; that is a lot of sales.  After thousands of calls and hundreds of sales, you will have achieved a level of proficiency in how sales works.  There are many books on sales, hundreds of sales training courses, and even more sales trainers all purporting to train you on the best practices.  You become a student of sales.

You are an outstanding salesperson, not a salesperson outstanding in your field.

If you want to be an outstanding salesperson, then learn the skills required for excellence.  Learn to listen sincerely without any agenda.  This means you must first understand the customer’s situation or problem before you can determine if and how you can help.  You will need to listen just a bit longer before you jump into offering your solutions, products, or services.  Next you want to do the ethical thing which might include not selling your products or services to a customer because it is not a fit, a competitor would better serve them, or they should not buy it at all.  Let the buyer make the decision to buy.  The salesperson’s job is to offer products and services of value honestly, ethically, and equally to all in the marketplace.  When done in this way, everyone wins; the customer wins, the company wins, the salesperson wins.  You will build a winning reputation by following this advice.

You can act while still being your authentic self.

How you show up in the world matters, from dressing for success to the words and phrases you choose.  Want to sell in New York?  You will need to up your pace; everything moves faster in New York including the speed at which a conversation occurs.  Want to sell in the deep South?  You might need to slow your pace down; you would not want to sound like a Yankee, would you?  In addition to matching the pace, tone, and pitch of your prospect, you may need to look the part.  Would you buy a luxury car from someone dressed like they cannot afford it?  Want to sell into the C-suite?  You will need to dress for success.  Working from home using video conferencing for the last few years has allowed us to dress down.  It is unlikely that we would have ever considered showing up at the office in our pandemic relaxed outfits.  Research shows that approximately 55 percent of our communication is visual, the next 38 percent is tone, which leaves only 7 percent for what you say.  When you think about it, sales is an acting job at it’s core.  You will want to learn your lines – you sales pitch.  Preparation is paramount and improvisational skills prepare you for the curveballs customers throw at salespeople.

You never give up.

You will need to get it right on the first try, you are not likely to get a do-over.  This puts a lot of stress on salespeople.  No matter what, be resilient in closing deals.  Sometimes it will go well and sometimes it will not.  You should not be discouraged when deals do not close.  Acknowledge the deals that do not, celebrate those that do, then move on.  You are like Thomas the Train: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”  And when you cross the threshold at the pinnacle of your sales career, you will congratulate yourself by saying: “I thought I could, I thought I could.”  The best of the best get better and better by staying with it, learning about what works and what does not, honing and crafting their pitch, and knowing when to let a prospect go.  Some prospects will waste your time, they are never going to buy from you.  They might buy from your competitor but what they are really doing is making sure their preferred supplier is not giving them a bad deal.  Letting go of unproductive prospects means you have more time to spend on those that are going to buy from you.  Learning the signs of an unproductive prospect is one of a handful of critical skills for you will need to master.  One tail-tell sign is when the prospect says, “I just want to know the price.”  Another sign is when prospects miss appointments, run late, or postpone.  You have a “can do” attitude that carry you far and you will push through by keeping at it.

You put your customers’ interests ahead of your own.

The successful people in sales are willing to do what the unsuccessful are not.  And that means putting the customer’s interest ahead of your own.  Prospects and customers are astute at sniffing out those salespersons only interested in their commissions.  Customers feel manipulated, swindled, dupped and outright lied to when the salesperson is only out to make the sale.  Sales psychology hacks and shortcuts are purposely designed to make the sale no matter what.  No wonder buyers feel like their autonomy in the buying process has been stripped away.  Salespeople use tricks to persuade, cajole, coax buyers into purchasing something they do not need and do not want.  They used to be called snake oil salesmen and shysters.  Now we call them internet influencers who peddle dubious lifestyle choices and must haves.  No wonder we are all so unhappy with our lives.

You are always closing: the ABCs of Salesmanship.

In conclusion, according to Phil Dunphy, the real estate agent on the TV show Modern Family: “What does it take to make a great salesman?  It’s no big secret.  You just follow the ABCs of salesmanship: Always Be Closing.”  We sell all the time.  We sell to our spouses, partners, parents, and children.  We also negotiate all the time with them too.  The big secret nobody tells new salespeople is: Ask for the sale.  That is all you need to do to be successful, just ask for the sale.

About the Author

Stephen Howell is a multifaceted expert with a wealth of experience in technology, business management, and development. He is the innovative mind behind the cutting-edge AI powered Kognetiks Chatbot for WordPress plugin. Utilizing the robust capabilities of OpenAI's API, this conversational chatbot can dramatically enhance your website's user engagement. Visit Kognetiks Chatbot for WordPress to explore how to elevate your visitors' experience, and stay connected with his latest advancements and offerings in the WordPress community.

Stephen Howell
Stephen Howell is a multifaceted expert with a wealth of experience in technology, business management, and development. He is the innovative mind behind the cutting-edge AI powered Kognetiks Chatbot for WordPress plugin. Utilizing the robust capabilities of OpenAI's API, this conversational chatbot can dramatically enhance your website's user engagement. Visit Kognetiks Chatbot for WordPress to explore how to elevate your visitors' experience, and stay connected with his latest advancements and offerings in the WordPress community.
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