4 Surprising Things Great Sales People Say

A lot of people in the sales business seem to think that there is a standard expectation of what a “good sales person” is supposed to sound like.  We’ve built up this idea that a “good sales person” is supposed to be relentless, energetic, good at building relationships, always eager to close the deal, and unwilling to take “no” for an answer.

confused conversation

Some of these traits are true, while some can be counter-productive if left unchecked. But one surprising lesson I’ve learned from my years of experience in the appointment setting industry is that some of the best sales people don’t act at all like the stereotypical “good sales person.”

If you want to boost the performance of your sales team, you might want to consider taking a new approach and training your sales people to say some of these surprising things that you wouldn’t expect a sales person to say:

“I don’t know the answer to that question.”

Sales people often pride themselves on knowing all the answers. They want to quickly be able to solve a client’s problem and put a prospect’s mind at ease. The problem is, if your sales people are too quick to provide “the answer,” they are missing opportunities to dive deeper into the prospect’s problem and identify the root cause of the prospect’s pain. There are often bigger sales to be made through a longer-term consultative approach, rather than simply giving “the answer” upfront.

There’s usually no single ideal solution, especially for the most lucrative B2B sales opportunities. Instead of claiming to always have the answer, the best sales people know how to say “I don’t know…let’s talk further about this.” That’s where you can build deeper sales relationships and uncover bigger sales opportunities.

“I’m not going to sell you what you don’t need.”

The biggest fear of most B2B buyers is that they’ll get sold on some solution/system or service that they don’t really need. Buyers can’t expect to know all the details of what you’re selling – that’s why they’re in the market for the product or service that you sell. The challenge is, some sales people try to upsell a client even when it’s not appropriate. Instead of taking a long-term approach that accounts for the client’s needs, these sales people try to maximize their immediate commission by selling a bigger package of solutions today.

The best sales people are willing to help their customers save money, even if it means making a smaller sale. Great sales people focus on building long-term business relationships, not short-term transactions.

“I’m sorry but I can’t deliver what you need.”

The stereotypical “good sales person” is always agreeable and always wanting to say “yes” to a customer request. Their instincts are good – they want to provide solid customer service – but unfortunately sometimes the best sales people have to say “no.” If a sales person can’t deliver what the customer needs – whether it’s a certain package of solutions, a certain price or a certain delivery date – the sales person needs to notify the customer up front.

Great sales people know that it’s always better to underpromise and overdeliver – so if a sales person knows that their customers aren’t going to be able to get exactly what they’ve asked for, the sales person needs to let them know.

“Please tell me more about your requirements.”

Stereotypical sales people are often reluctant to ask too many questions or drag out the requirements-gathering process. Instead they want to shift focus to closing the deal. This is a mistake.

The best sales people will invest time upfront in asking questions, getting details, and digging into the underlying problems. By learning more about the requirements, the sales person gets better informed about the client’s problem, identify the scope, and recommend better solutions.

The best sales people aren’t afraid to say no, ask questions and give up short-term revenue in exchange for a longer-term relationship. Don’t get dazzled by sales people who seem to have the stereotypical traits of a “good sales person.” Instead, hire (and promote) sales people who surprise you.

Ultimately, the surprising secrets of great sales people are all about building credibility. If a sales person shows humility (by admitting when he/she doesn’t know the answer), builds trust (by not pushing hard for an unnecessary add-on purchase and by not making false promises) and shows sincerity (by asking questions and digging deep to identify the customer’s requirements) then customers are more likely to believe that the sales person is looking out for their best interests.

Credibility and building trust can have a massive impact on closing sales. If customers trust you, they will reward you with long-term business relationships that are far more valuable than a single transaction.

Surprise Photo via Shutterstock


Al Davidson Al Davidson founded Strategic Sales & Marketing, Inc. in 1989, where he helps deliver B2B lead generation and appointment setting solutions for clients around the world. Under his leadership, the company has generated over 7 million sales leads, resulting in millions of dollars to his clients.

17 Reactions
  1. Excellent post, Al. Any sales person who approached a customer like this would have terrific success. A builder/contractor, now a friend, won my business when he said some of these same things. But then he added: “We live in a small town. Someday, when we meet each other in the grocery store I don’t want you to try to run me over with your cart… I try to treat my customers right.” Made me laugh and we’ve been friends ever since — I trust him.

    • Hi TJ
      Delighted! I own a construction company and I always use the line ‘we live in a small town and people talk, I want to keep my reputation clean’………good to see that’s its been effective for you in selecting a trusted builder.

  2. This is a very good article. Unfortunately very few salespeople have the courage to make these comments. This is truly how you build relationships.

  3. Its a very sad moments when a seller tells like these speeches. Because customers don’t expect to hear “NO” from sellers. So, i think the sellers should become more careful about it.

  4. Hello Al, I find this one very interesting and can really relate to this topic. I’ve been recieving a lot of calls form different agents and I can see it here in your post. There are some offers that re really great when dealing with this kind of business. Thanks for sharing this one!

  5. Great post. Probably because partnership selling has always been my style, (ok, nearly always… after I finished selling cigarettes shop to shop for cash… which embodied every opposite aspect of this post…and then some!)
    I still have difficulty with the third “delivery” section; my more difficult customers demand service that we find hard to deliver and you end up pushing your own organisation into working even harder to make short deadlines. Consequence: law of diminishing returns, which means sometimes you are pushing people to deliver on your smaller stuff. Oops.

  6. Something else people don’t expect to hear is “Take your time and think about it.” I’ve never been the hard-sell type trying to rush potential clients into making a quick decision to get the deal now while it lasts. My approach has always been to give the customer all the information up front – the good and the bad – and tell them to get back with me when they are ready. It’s completely opposite from aggressive sales tactics and it works in a low stress way.

  7. It’s true. People who’ve had and continue to have success in sales know that referrals and repeat customers are pure gold. Bad sales managers think cold calling, hard sell and artificial deadlines drive the numbers. Sometimes they do but not for long. So hopefully none of my competitors are reading this.

  8. I’ve followed Mr. Davidson’s column’s for many years with sucess. If a salesman is not developing value with their client then they are just pushing price. And fighting a “Price War” is a never ending value. These underlying values build trust & confidence for the customer. The end result is a happy, long term customer.

    Cheers Al.

  9. I’m 4 months into sales and it surprised me to read this because I’ve actually used those lines. I rather be upfront and honest then have a bad relationship with a customer because I couldn’t meet their expectations.

  10. Yes, it is critical to understand the customer and sell what the customer truly needs. It helps you focus on your best fit customers and leaves time to work with the other prospects that are better fit for your products. I like the idea of asking more questions..the more you understand what they are really looking for, the more you can help (or not.)

  11. It all comes back to truth and integrity. Sales people are considered in the outer circle of trust – still we need to trust Sales people or how else would we ever get a new car or clothes or anything else that we buy. We are all over it and a more honest approach is certainly the way to go and that starts with listening and asking questions. Quite simple, really.

  12. Now will the sales people listen? I’m betting that answer is also “no”.

    I am a potential customer. As an executive I get sales calls all the time. Know what, most of those sales people kill any possible deal in the first 2 minutes! They will not listen to me and will not take my “no” answer without going into high-gear.

    The ones who manage to get my business are the ones who acknowledge I said “no”, and ask if they can send me additional information and follow up in a few months. Or even better, the ones who listened first instead of selling first. These excellent sales people then knew where the selling points were.

    I also get tired of sales people who will not say “no, or solution is not a good fit”. I just got off an extended call with a sales person. I told them exactly what I need. They dragged me through their whole sales presentation, value proposition, etc — even wanting to set up a meeting — before I finally said “I understand what you do, that would not work for us”. I then restated my problem…sales person finally stopped selling and said I was right, they would not be a good fit.

    That sales person just wasted my time and his time! As soon as I presented my problem the sales person, had he engaged his brain, knew he had no solution for me! I will never seek out that company again because I now view them as worthless.