Beware of the Sales Advice You Read Online

in Random Rants

I imagine there are some new sales reps out there who might get their information from just one source, take it as gospel, and as a result get stuck in the molasses of mediocrity.

They might be attempting unsound methods, while avoiding others they have been warned do not work, obediently drinking the Kool-Aid because they read it online from their guru.

Sales is part art (no pun intended) and part science. And it of course relies mostly on the individual performing the activity.

I don’t have all the answers.

I don’t suggest my way is the only way, and I don’t claim to have invented sales.

But what I do know is that I present a tremendous amount of common sense, which I find is the best way to minimize our chance for resistance and maximize our chance of success.

I didn’t originally plan on writing this as part of the weekly Tip that went out today (see it below), but TWO other sales newsletters that came in this morning within minutes of each other set me off.

One, from an anti-cold calling guy selling a program on how to do direct marketing and social media instead of picking up the phone—catering to the call avoidance crowd—said that one of the dumbest sales tips ever is calling business owners before and after hours and during lunch hours, when supposedly they tend to be alone in the office.

His feeling was that the only owners disorganized and inefficient enough to be in the office during those times couldn’t likely pay their bills or have the means to buy from you.

Huh? I had to re-read it to be sure it wasn’t a misprint. Nope, that’s what it said.

Of course, in reality, THAT is the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard, and an insult to every hard-working business owner, or anyone for that matter who actually is not just a 9-5 office worker. In other words, most of the people who are actually successful.

Not only an insult, but it’s just wrong.

Just like his claim that prospecting doesn’t work (OK, cold calling, and at least I will agree with the “cold” part not working).  Any successful sales rep has plenty of examples of reaching decision makers at odd hours, and selling to them.


And then, ironically enough, another email came in from one of the most widely-followed sales personalities about asking for referrals. Ironic from my perspective, because I already had the tip below all teed up and ready to go—on asking for referrals.

The other newsletter’s advice was to NOT ask for referrals, since if you try the advice of most referral experts, you’ll fail, and lose relationships and customers.

He referred to one of the “experts” as an “idiot” for suggesting you ask. Wow.

I guess that is news to people who have become quite wealthy by having a systematized referral program in place. (They probably worked odd hours at one point, but don’t need to now.)

The article goes on to present some solid material about earning referrals, which is true. If we do a great job, some people will be proactive advocates.

Most, however, do not have us at the top of their mind every waking moment, nor do they make it a daily top priority to send business our way. Yeah, as much as I’d like everyone to naturally bring me up in every conversation they have, it’s not happening.

Therefore we need to ask. It’s just like asking for the business; some will volunteer the sale because we did such a great job and the need is urgent, others need to be asked in order to move.

I just get exhausted when I see outrageous, definitive claims that contradict what has worked, and is working for people this very moment. It’s like saying,

“Despite your actual experience, jets do not really fly. There’s no way that much weight could defy gravity, be in the air and move.”

Ok, got that off my chest.

What are your thoughts? Please comment below.

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{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Jason McCants August 20, 2013 at 9:07 pm

Hey Art, I got that same email from that very same, well-known, Sales Guru this morning. Instead of angry, what it did for me was provide a good reason to pause and reflect on my current and past behaviors as a salesman and to weigh-in on what I do and don’t believe about this.

A little background first, I am an independent consultant who, by necessity, has been in sales for over twenty years and, for the last 7 or so, I have made referral marketing the heart of how I get new business.

Like the Sales Guru wrote, I do believe you have to bring value to the relationship first, before asking who the prospect or customer knows, and I personally do this by first, getting to know my customer’s pain (we all have some, don’t we?), listening for problems I can help them solve, and second, I provide one or more solutions on the spot for free. (Yeah, I know, you can go broke doing this. Just ask my wife, she’ll tell you all about it. But it always leads to more business.)

I do believe that, like the Sales Guru also wrote, this sort of behavior is what gets them talking to their friends about you and wanting to help you and your business to succeed. Its the fact that you are actively helping their business first that drives them to help yours.

Whether or not I make the sale (I sell custom software and tech services), I nearly always ask in that very first meeting who they may know with similar problems, and believe it or not, they usually tell me. Why? Because, by that point in the process, I have already been there conversing long enough to learn what their needs are and to provide value based on that conversation, which in turn demonstrates by my action a genuine desire to help them and to make things better for them. In effect, they feel they know me and I them. By this time I have learned where they live, where they came from, who the members of their family are, what made them start their business, what they like about it, what they hate about it, and what they would change if they could. I also know if they are succeeding or struggling, marketing or hoping, problem-solving or just burying their head in the sand, you name it, if it is important, I usually find out.

And contrary to Sales Guru’s article, I don’t believe this behavior amounts to manipulation and, inevitably a burned bridge and cancelled relationship. In my case, I know it is a genuine attempt on my part to help a fellow business owner to succeed in business. Over the years, I have found that sales is all about relationships and heartfelt service. I know this because I, more often than not, walk away from these meetings feeling enriched by the encounter, and happy that I was able to make a new friend’s day brighter simply by offering free information and service. They are happy and so am I, and what could be better than that? And what seems at first to be a friendly conversation with no opportunity later turns into a sale.

I do believe that timing is important. I ask for referrals while that person is still smiling about whatever improvement I was able to help them with. I call attention to their smile and the way they are feeling in that very moment, and I cite our new relationship as the valuable thing that provided that feeling and smile, and I point out that their business-owning friends will, no doubt, appreciate a similar experience as well. I ask at this point for the referral, and I usually get a name and a number, sometimes more than one, and occasionally I’ll even get a list!

Art, I have found that this behavior of asking for referrals early on and often sets up a precedent that let’s my customers and prospects know that my business lives and breathes on referrals and to expect that I will be asking for them. I am never surprised to drop in after some time has passed (I try to drop in about once a month or so) to find the owner has been thinking about who they know and gives me the information first thing.

Reflecting on both yours and Sales Guru’s blog posts, I have found that referral marketing works for me provided I am: 1. Genuine in my desire to help and to serve my customers and prospects alike with more value than they pay for, and 2. I demonstrate this desire immediately and frequently by my actions, and not just my words.

To succeed in referral marketing, it’s give and take, and I believe you have to give first, frequently, and far more than you take. You also have to like people, a wide variety of them, listen more than you talk, and get out to see and help them in person when you can.

Last thing, and this relates to what you wrote, Art. I believe you must ask for referrals to receive them from most people. Most of us, especially crazy-busy business owners, just don’t think that way, and I am certain that I would get far less referrals than I now receive if I didn’t ask early in the relationship for them.


Art Sobczak August 21, 2013 at 2:01 pm

Jason, thanks for the on-target reply. I agree. Of course we need to provide value in order to even consider getting a referral, just as we need to provide value to get the first sale.
(For anyone else that wants to implement the process that Jason detailed, do get Bill Cates’ book, Beyond Referrals )


Jeff August 21, 2013 at 7:37 pm

Art –

I know EXACTLY which guru shared the “tip” about not asking for referrals, and when I saw it I shook my head in disbelief.

What is further ironic is that several years I was a ‘fan’ of his, but after watching his latest series of videos I find him to be much more concerned with being sarcastic and demeaning than giving well-thought-out advice.

For that matter, it always humors me to hear people talk about the death of cold calling.
I have written more business contacting people ‘cold’ than I can count…and we are not talking about magazine subscriptions thru boiler room operations. I’ve always sold some sort of Business System and I have NEVER been hesitant to call someone and ask if I can get their opinion on potentially working together this year. (I’m paraphrasing for the sake of brevity).

It’s certainly ok to share differing opinions, but nothing is EVER going to convince be that cold calling is dead or asking for referrals is bad. In fact, it seems that those pieces of advice are coming more and more from folks who cater to salespeople who just don’t want to “do the work”.

Thank you, Art, for once again being the voice of reason.


Art Sobczak August 21, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Thanks Jeff. Great points… if someone is afraid of an activity, or too lazy to do it, they will buy into the nonsense … and the products being pitched by the person spouting it.


LennyD October 16, 2013 at 9:12 pm

” I don’t have all the answers.

I don’t suggest my way is the only way, and I don’t claim to have invented sales.

But what I do know is that I present a tremendous amount of common sense, which I find is the best way to minimize our chance for resistance and maximize our chance of success. ”

This is why I like your newsletters and tips more than all the others!

Those are things that I do not remember seeing or hearing from the various self proclaimed “experts” I have come across.

Plus I am pretty sure your one of the first I have seen in years actually put the words “success” and “common sense” in the same paragraph 🙂

Guess it is hard for people to make money selling a system unless they somehow remove all common sense.

That said I totally agree with the two previous posters, and when you get right down to it any initial contact no matter made in person, via phone or email, and yes even social medial still starts out with cold when your information is first viewed.

It all comes back to first impressions, preparation, and various other things that can make the initial contact or cold call as warm as a hot cup of coffee on a cold morning.

Study and train in your field, be as knowledgeable on your product and competition as you can, learn your individual customers needs and general info, take most all of Art’s advice 🙂 and then forget about all the elaborate schemes and gimmicks, and invest that time into learning how to employ some true empathy for your customers needs so that you can become a positive addition to their business.

Sad thing is that these guru’s and experts are creating future problems for the impressionable less seasoned sales people, and with the changes in our economy there are more like that everyday.

On the other hand if you ended up with one of the countless companies that do not offer any real value (and judging by the sales calls I get not offering any functional training either) and are working a numbers only based sales technique from the top down etc it’s going to be tough either way.

I’m still stuck on the whole “common sense” and “success” thing. I wonder if that could catch on.


Art Sobczak October 17, 2013 at 10:30 am

Lenny, lots of common sense in your post 🙂

Thanks for sharing!



Ian Adams November 27, 2013 at 7:17 pm

This made me laugh Art. No question it’s true. Though, I always found them easy to identify. All it takes is two quick tests 1) what have they accomplished using their own strategies 2) and who has validated it.



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