Books We Trust: You’re Working Too Hard to Make the Sale

This is the first in a new series called Books We Trust. We expect to publish it irregularly, but about monthly.

The first book was a no-brainer for me. You’ve probably never heard of it; it was not a best-seller; it ranks about 900,000 on Amazon (not high). But I’m telling you; it is a wonderful book. It’s called You’re Working Too Hard to Make the Sale, by Bill Brooks and Tom Travisano.


I came late to the study of sales (though early, and miserably, to selling itself). None of it made much sense to me—it all seemed either excessively hormonal, abstract, or manipulative. It all felt vague—a feast of gratuitous adjectives and amateur psychology.

I persisted, reading books I won’t mention, which only made it worse. Then one day, I ran across You’re Working Too Hard , by two folks I’d never heard of.

It made everything click for me. Suddenly I could make sense of trust, influence, psychology, money, fear, and closing.

One of the points that book made was that the concept of “needs” had gotten over-used. Everyone, they said, was focused on identifying needs and generating a complete picture of what the clients needed so that they could consultatively package and sell a solution that fit the specs of what the client really needed.

I had always felt something was lacking in that formulation (years later, John Caddell wrote, “No one ever bought a value proposition”), putting more words to my feeling—but that was later). Brooks nailed it down, with page after page making fun of the penchant for identifying needs.

It was “wants,” he insisted, that motivated buying behavior, not needs. Needs included toothpaste, bicycles, audits and CRM systems. But wants—that was different: wants included a myriad of hopes, wishes, fears, desires and aspirations. If a seller could connect on that level, the story went, buyers would transfer the purchase of their “needs” to those who had made the wants connection.

The data were astonishing. Travisano in particular—a former political consultant and pollster, I believe—had crafted the research to explore exactly that thesis. And, they’d done it across several relevant business sectors, including CEOs of small entrepreneurial companies and CIOs.

I knew how serious, educated people made big dollar decisions for serious investments in major services, and the rational, deductive model of decision-making that I had been taught simply did not bear resemblance to the undeniable parade of actual decisions I had seen. This book explained it.

And the punch line was marvelous: you didn’t have to satisfy people’s wants to get the sale—who would believe a salesperson could deliver on a buyer’s wishes, needs, hopes fears and aspirations? It was enough that you connected; that they felt understood, that someone “got” who they were. That, the research said, powerfully drove sales.

It was a eureka book for me. It meant you could be a real, genuine, flawed, warts-and-all human being—and still sell. As long as you could connect to the real person on the other side of the table. Faking it did not work; self-obsession did not work; the answer didn’t lie in process, or in mastery of closing lines, or even of the collection of questions and needs. It lay in understanding the human being in front of you. Suddenly I liked selling.

Co-author and researcher Tom Travisano died a few weeks after the first edition; lead author and more famous sales consultant Bill Brooks carried on with The Brooks Group in North Carolina. Brooks himself passed on in 2007, but his company is aggressively continuing, even prospering, through the efforts of his sons Jeb and Will.

I spoke with Jeb recently.


CHG: This book was one of the top three sales books I ever read, and the one that had the most impact on me. How did your dad come to write it?

JB: First, we’re touched; thank you. Dad wrote over 20 books, but we always thought this one was the sleeper. He wrote them all longhand, on yellow pads, by the way. This was maybe the 6th or 7th book for him. It was released twice, first in 1995, then 2005.

I was young when I first read it. I thought, “What’s the big deal?” It seemed so commonsense, so obvious.

CHG: I had that feeling too just recently, re-reading it. But at the time, for me, I had to work at it to get it. It sounded simple—maybe I just couldn’t accept that it really was that simple.

JB: Dad said that back then, everyone was focused on needs, needs, needs. He made a lot of fun of “needs-based selling” in that book. He felt that Frank Bettger had it right years before—the idea that if you could show people what they really wanted, they’d move heaven and earth to get it. When dad got together with Tom Travisano, a skilled political researcher, they set out to prove it, and to prove that the dominant needs-based sales mantra missed the boat.

CHG: I still hear a lot of focus on needs; this book needs a rebirth. I always remember how they collapsed the key insight into one critical sentence: “Buyers are eager to buy what they need from salespeople who understand what they want.” Almost every word in that sentence is significant.

JB: Other insights included “People buy the salesperson, not the product,” and “the opening is where the sale is made, not the closing.”

CHG: And the research is solid; thousands of buying situations, blinded studies, both complex and simple B2B products and services. But let me ask you; in today’s sales 2.0 world, do you think his findings about buyer motivation are less relevant, or perhaps more?

JB: Without a doubt—even more relevant. In Sales 2.0, the buyer is supposed to be in control, and that’s true—but the buyer still doesn’t know what they want. If anything, they’re more confused by all the data, because they think they should know. So because it’s easier nowadays to find all your needs, that means it’s even more important to find someone you trust, who understands your wants.

I recently had to buy a health care plan for our business, and it was tough. I didn’t know much, and I didn’t want to do the wrong thing, I didn’t want to upset people, and so on. In fact, I had a lot of wants. And guess who I went with? The person who worked hard to find out what I wanted, without making me feel stupid. And you know what? That is just, plain, simple how it works. That’s what dad and Tom said so clearly. It sounded so obvious not because it was obvious—they had to uncover the truth to say it so plainly.

CHG: How do you and your brother think about that book these days, besides being proud of it?

JB: We live the values he talked about: Integrity and Intense Customer Focus. We’re a sales-driven company, meaning we deliver on buyer wants. And that’s what he talked about.