Yes. You Have to Sound Like a Salesperson.

“I don’t want to come across as selling.”

“I don’t want to be perceived as being a salesperson.”

“I don’t want to sound sales-y.”

These three comments trouble me. Deeply. They are all real, and I encountered all of them in the last week. They represent three major problems in sales today: poor hiring, poor language choices, and self-loathing.

But before we tackle these, a little setup. Whenever I hear these comments, they are always in regard to asking the prospect excellent (but difficult) questions or asking for a commitment to advance the sale.

Asking Difficult Questions

It is irresponsible not to ask the prospect the difficult questions that allow you to create value for them. People do not buy unless they are in some way dissatisfied, and it is critical that we as salespeople understand the implications of their problems and their needs. It is also important that they also understand the implications.

Discussing the implications does create a motivation to change them. Yes, that is, in part, why we ask them.

Do you sound like a salesperson when you ask the question: “How much does this problem cost you and your company?” Perhaps. But it may be an essential question in building a case and an ROI analysis.

Asking for Commitments

It is irresponsible to both the prospect and your company not to ask for commitments. This one came up in a discussion on cold calling last week, and surprisingly, it came from a very high level salesperson.

This VP of Sales suggested that cold calling would make the prospect perceive her as a salesperson and not as a trusted adviser (even though I am pretty sure that game was lost when she printed the title Vice President of Sales on her business card).

She suggested that instead of picking up the phone and calling her best prospects, she waits for a signal from the prospect (something I hope she doesn’t recommend to her staff).

Waiting is not a sales activity.

These three comments at the beginning of this post can be boiled down to these three problems.

Poor Hiring

In some cases, the inability to ask the tough, value-creating questions and to ask for commitments is simply caused by poor hiring decisions. Some people find these activities very difficult because of their own personal temperaments. Even with a great product or service and great training, they simply lack the confidence.

Simply put, they don’t belong in sales. You always know this is true when their next job is not in sales.

Poor Language Choices

Sometimes this problem is simply a training issue. Sometimes the salesperson has the confidence, they just don’t have a range of language choices that allow them feel confident asking tough questions or obtaining commitments. There are countless choices one can make when it comes to language.

You will not only sound like a salesperson, you will sound like an awful salesperson from 40 years ago if your commitment obtaining repertoire consists of things like the either/or close (“Which would work better, Tuesday afternoon or Wednesday morning?”) or the T close (“Let’s draw a line down the middle of page and put advantages of buying on one side and disadvantages on the other. This is how Ben Franklin . . . .”)

My VP of Sales above falls into this category. She knows how to help her customers, but she simply lacks the right language choices for someone with her title. She doesn’t want her language choices to come from a yellow-covered “For Dummies” book.


For a long time, sales did very little to create value for prospects and customers. Their role was to sell their product or services without regard for whether or not it was the best choice for the customer.

This stopped being true decades ago, and most salespeople today wouldn’t dream of using the tactics of yesterday. Why then the self-loathing? Why not be proud to work in sales? I would suggest that if sales has a negative connotation to you, then you lack the ability to create value for your clients. You have a perceptions of sales that no longer matches reality. Are their a few shameless people in sales left in a few industries? Sure. But those behaviors are mostly a thing of the past.


It is time to stop paying for the sins of our fathers. There are very few salespeople today who behave like salespeople behaved in the past. Today, salespeople are smart, business-savvy professionals who have every bit as much professionalism as someone who works in any other business role, and in some cases far more.

Yes, you have to sound like a salesperson. But you don’t have to sound like a salesperson from the early 1960’s.

What does a salesperson sound like? Great salespeople sound like great leaders of teams, great business strategists, great financial officers, and great managers.

The role of sales has changed so dramatically in the past 40 years that salespeople are now the chief value creators for their companies and their client’s companies. There is no longer any reason for salespeople to pretend otherwise.

Let’s let the financial markets carry the negative stigma for awhile.


1. What do your language choices say about you as a professional salesperson?

2. If you are uncomfortable asking for commitments, is it because you lack the right language choices? Or is it something else?

3. What does being a professional salesperson mean to you?

4. Can you think of an industry whose salespeople have not changed with the times? How much are your sales tactics and language choices really like theirs? Do you believe that either you could cross over to their world or they to yours?

By the way, would you like this blog in blue? Or would red be better?

For more on increasing your sales effectiveness, subscribe to the RSS Feed for The Sales Blog and my Email Newsletter. Follow me on Twitter, connect to me on LinkedIn, or friend me on Facebook. If I can help you or your sales organization, check out my coaching and consulting firm, B2B Sales Coach & Consultancy, email me, or call me at (614) 212-4279.

Read my featured guest post on the Top Ten Sales blogs.

Read my interview on business relationships by Joe Sperry at S4 Consulting.



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  • Tibor Shanto

    Excellent post Anthony!

    I sometimes wonder why some of these people expect “the buyer” to “buy” from them if they are not “selling?”


    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for the comment, Tibor. I often wonder myself. I also wonder why change the titles from things like sales rep to business development. Sales will continue to have a stigma, unless we wear the title proudly and behave accordingly.

  • Chris Snell

    Good stuff Anthony!

    I love it when you say, “Waiting is not a sales activity.” How true! I’ll go a step farther regarding the self-loathing Anthony, and say that If you’re not proud of being a sales person, maybe you’re in the wrong line of work.

    Also, I prefer this blog in black – not red or blue.



    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      It stays black then, Chris. Thanks for the comment!

  • Don F Perkins


    I can understand where these sentiments come from. I am among those who have learned to distrust sales people. Like it or not, the stigma is there and it’s a challenge for those in sales to change the image that most people have in their minds about “the stink of sales.”

    You have done a great job of suggesting ways to overcome this stigma. I’m interested in what others have done to change the negative perception through their actions.

    Don F Perkins

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  • J. Scott

    Anthony, Knocked it out of the park! I’m sharing w/my network.

  • Jim Powell

    Great post. Some of the problems stems from what one needs to be sales person in the modern times, your comments are spot on about hirings. It is too easy to become as sales person – a business card is sometimes the only qualification a sales person has. Sales needs to be seen as a profession again that requires training and skills.

    It is because of people’s bad experience with other sales people they dont like to be labelled as a sales person either. So if the sales person does not like the label what must they think about themselves, well thay may seem themsleves as a nusiance or pushy.

    if you were to be play word asscociation with some one what would they say if you listed these

    Sales person

    How many people would say helpful, curious, patient, trusted advisors, talented, well trained.

    To answer one of your questions retail is still very bad in my opinon as is mobile phone newtorks.

    colours, red to remember, blue to forget.

  • Toni Parsons

    Great Post, with some great points.

    I personally believe the negative attitudes to sales people dont come from mistrust but more from the fact that people believe they know what they want and how best to get it(even if this may not be the case).
    Especially with technology theses days like the internet research for a certain product or service can be easily looked into and sourced if needed. A call from a sales person could be percieved as someone trying to sell them something they dont need or doesnt provide them with better vaule because they have already sourced what they need at the bst value.

    This is of course just my opinion.

    Hope my comments make some kind of sense.

  • Jim Powell

    Hi Tony – that makes sense, Lets say one holds this belief (or more accuratly this belief holds one) – then if a sales person holds this belief that a potential customer will be able to find what they want on the internet, then they feel that making a cold call for example is a waste of time or slip into buyer empathy, “why bother someone, they probably already have what they want and will have no need for my service, I will just seem like a pest.”

    The enemy of a sale person is the belief they hold about suspects / prospects – why would they need me?, if they wanted my services they could or would find them on-line.? Of course it helps if companies have an on-line presence to aid visibility, nothing wrong with that at all. But on-line presence eduactes and does not sell aswell as a conversation bewteen buyer and seller.

    Do you worry what the prospect may think of you calling them? Does it stop you calling? Would you rather find out if the prospect has really got what they need or will you assume they have. CAn you sell through the No? You say you are fairly happy with what you have already? What does fairly happy mean?

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  • Blaž


    great articles! Just “disovered” you and am spreading links. We implement various sales systems in companies that provide technology based solutions to other businesses and we are quite experienced – and can competently comment that all of your articles are #1 content.

    Regards, Blaž

  • Conrad Barnett

    Excellent article. Selling is the discovery of need based on clients fears. And if we can uncover that then we will be most successful.