How Much Should Sales Approaches Vary by Industry?

An open letter to my readers:

Hi everyone. First, let me thank you for following TrustMatters. 

Now, let me tell you a bit about your fellow readers (and by extension, yourself). You are a disproportionately well-educated businessperson. You are most likely a professional—law, communications, accounting, consulting. Some of you are in financial services, some in software and technology; a lot of you follow new media heavily, some of you are curmudgeons. You’re more likely young than old, you’re pretty hip, and you’re pretty literate.

In the field of sales, there is a lot of range. More of you are in B2B than B2C. Some of you sell into government vs. selling into the private sector. Some of you sell to purchasing agents, others to ultimate users.  Many of you don’t like to think of yourselves as being in sales, though you know you have an impact on clients’ buying decisions.  And we all tend to look for that slice of life, those lessons, those situations that speak uniquely to our own little corner of experience—often dismissing the experiences of those who look different.  

Sometimes, though, we overstate the differences, and forget how much of great sales is fundamental, consistent, inviolable across nearly all sales situations.

I was reminded of this the other day by one of Jeffrey Gitomer’s weekly columns.

Jeffrey Gitomer: King of Sales

If you don’t know Jeffrey Gitomer, you’re missing something. He is bald, rumpled, given to 82-point powerpoint fonts, and looks disturbingly like late-night comic Dave Attell. He wears a red Staples-like shirt, and his normal volume level is a shout.

He grew up in rough-and-tumble sales, in central New Jersey. Cold-calling. Wearing out shoe-leather. Closing, handling objections, fighting for lead lists. Hard core.

I know what you’re thinking. I’ll say it for you. He looks like a hick. What could he possibly have to say to me, a successful (consultant / accountant / finance professional / commercial banker / software / technology) business developer?

Well, look again. By any measure of success and respect, he’s The Man. And if you go to his seminars, you’d be surprised at how much the crowd looks more like you than like him. So I’m very proud, by the way, to have a testimonial quote from Jeffrey Gitomer on the front page of my own Trust-based Selling.

Gitomer’s List of Smart and Dumb Sales

But don’t take my word for it. Take a look at Gitomer’s recent ezine article How to Sell Best: Ask Someone Who Buys. It’s a great collection of wisdom from a purchasing agent fan of his about how salespeople blow it, and how they succeed.

My point is not how bright the purchasing agent is (very), but the fact that Gitomer—with all his schticky-hicky presentation—chose to highlight it in his e-zine. Because he believes in it.

Here’s an abridged list of what Gitomer considers smart—and dumb. (For more detail, see his original piece).

smart 1. Honesty. Truth at all times and at all costs.

dumb 1. Telling an expedient lie.

smart 2. Give me valuable ideas.

dumb 2. Function only as an order-taker.

smart 3. Understand and be interested in my business.

dumb 3. Communicate non-sense.

smart 4. Treat me with respect.

dumb 4. Use bad manners.

smart 5. Be a decent human being, with some sense of ethics and morals.

dumb 5. Schmooze bad about the competition.

smart 6. Know your own business cold.

dumb 6. Assume that I know nothing about your business.

smart 7. Be friendly and personable.

dumb 7. Fail to attempt to form a relationship.

smart 8. Remember the details.

dumb 8. Make a presentation with no copy of your proposal or supporting materials to leave behind.

smart 9. Make good on your word.

smart 10. Take responsibility.

dumb 10. Refuse to take responsibility; shift blame to other people.

Single smartest. Don’t "sell" me. Let me "buy."

Single dumbest. Manipulate me.

Now, let me ask the accountants out there: is there any item on that list that is wrong for selling tax, attest or risk management work to your clients?

Systems consultants: which items don’t apply to you?

Financial planners: which items apply only to big box stores, but not to you?

And so on for the rest of us. 

For my part, I can’t think of one that doesn’t apply. More importantly, if I did my own Top Ten smart/dumb list, it wouldn’t add or subtract much, if anything. 

And if all that’s true—well, let’s explore some implications.

First, when it comes to the important things—sales is sales is sales.

Second, maybe it’s time for us “professionals” to stop looking down on sales, and recognize that great sales are great professionals in every relevant sense of the word. Sell is no longer a 4-letter word. (Note to self: send email to inform Webster’s).

Third, about all that content expertise you’re in love with? It’s there all right: see items 2,3, and 6. But the other 7 items? They’re about relationships. 

Bottom line for me: there’s a conceit that exists in the professions, a deeply-embedded cleaner-hands-than-thou mentality, when it comes to selling. It’s unjustified, it’s wrong, it’s just another form of arrogance, and no one benefits from maintaining it. We all need to just get over it.

Great selling, above all, is about service to others: it requires great relationships.

What a metaphor for life.


4 replies
  1. John Gies
    John Gies says:

    Hi Charllie,


    Thanks for the post. While I often find Gitomers style challenging, I own his Little Red Book of Selling because there are nuggets worth the read in there.

    For the most part I agree with your premise that sales is sales. The diffferences I note are more cultural by industy. For example, I know people who have a selling cycle that is   30 – 90 days in length others can last years. Some industries buy via committee while in others you can still meet and do business with the decsion maker. This does not change the dynamics of the selling process.

    We still have to get their attention with a benefit. We then have to discover their needs (this seems particularly hard for many sales reps). We then want to help them visualize a solution (that hopefully includes our solution. If we have qualified them and done good discovery I’ll wager our solution is in the running) And then we have to ask for the business.  You would not believe the number of calls I have been on where the rep did NOT ask for the business.

    I would call the list you have above as the minimum criteria to get a seat at the table. Without these behaviors we don’t last long in a buying process.

    Take Good Care,


  2. Charlie (Green)
    Charlie (Green) says:


    Thanks for those thoughts.  We surely agree about the differences and the similarities, except maybe for your very last paragraph.  You characterize those traits as minimum criteria; I’m inclined to think you may be an optimist!  In the professional services arena, I find many of those rules violated commonly.  I think while everyone admires and claims to do them, actual performance falls short. 

    A few examples: 

    The dumb 1 rule–"we’ll put our best people on the case."  Most likely, you’ll put who’s available on the case; then you’ll compound it by arguing they’re the best, while arguing the same thing about someone else at another client.

    The dumb 7 rule–"you can’t be seen as getting all friendly-like; it makes you look unprofessional and like you’re trying to sell them; better to stay quiet and serious." Nope, that’s how you end up with clients calling you arrogant and distant.

    The smart 2 rule–"Give them great ideas? No way, not until they’re paying for them, otherwise we’re just getting taken advantage of."  Thus proving to clients that you’re in it not for them, but for yourself.

    The dumb 6 rule–"Let me tell you all about my business, especially about what makes us distinct and unique." Meanwhile, the client has heard four previous firms all claim to be unique–and all for precisely the same reason.  (Our reports don’t stay on shelves, we really implement, we walk the talk, we have skin in the game, 80% of our clients repeat, our people are our greatest asset…).  Thus proving you’d rather talk than listen, you don’t know the definition of ‘unique,’ and you’re ignorant of the client’s experience with your industry.

    Those are just a few common ones I’ve heard time and again.  It’s my experience not that these are minimum criteria, but that the firm that really does do all the things on Gitomer’s list really is a standout. 






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