Cynicism Is a Recipe for Mediocrity

Cynicism Is a Recipe for Mediocrity

Some salespeople resist buying the company line. They resist buying the hype. They are too cool for school, pointing out that nothing is as good as it is made out to be. They question motives. These salespeople are cynical and are typically smartasses.

Their cynicism is a recipe for mediocrity. And it’s contagious.

If You Don’t Believe

We humans work very hard to act in ways consistent with our public statements. If you don’t believe me, read Cialdini.

To be exceptionally effective in sales, you have to believe. You have to believe that you have a greater ability to help your dream client than your competitors. You have to believe that your company is the better choice for your dream client.

You have to believe that what you do is good, it is important, it is remarkable, and it is special.

Cynicism undermines your ability to believe. By undermining your belief, you can go through the motions of selling, but you won’t sell much. Because you don’t believe, you won’t convince others to believe. You won’t be able to bring others to buy what you yourself won’t buy. Your results will be mediocre (at best).

You may believe you are too cool to drink the Kool-Aid, but by not drinking it you are cheating yourself, you are cheating your company, and you are cheating their dream clients. Either drink the Kool-Aid or go find some Kool-Aid that you will drink.

But, if there is nothing you can believe in, then you may want to take some time to be a little more introspective; it isn’t only your sales results that will be mediocre because you lack belief and because you lack passion.

Cynicism: It’s Contagious

Cynicism is a dangerous form of negativity. It is usually expressed through sarcasm or funny, smart-ass comments designed to elevate the person making the comments at someone else’s expense. They use the cynicism to demean others, to demean their efforts, and to show their superiority by not buying the hype.

When the cynics talks down their own company, their management, their initiatives, and their products or services, it can destroy the ability and the willingness of others to believe. It kills their passion to be something more, to do something more, to be exceptional.

Cynicism is negativity, and negativity is the only cancer that spreads by contact.

Instead of being only mediocre themselves, cynics create a toxic environment where no one believes and where passionless mediocrity can flourish. If everyone is mediocre, then they don’t have to feel so bad about themselves.

Kill the cynicism. Drink the Kool-Aid. Believe. Sell it.


What is the difference between cynicism and someone who points out the company’s shortcomings? How much of it has to do with intentions, and how much of it has to do with their willingness to change things for the better?

Why is it critical that you believe in your company, your product, your service, your solutions, and yourself to succeed in sales?

How do immunize yourself from virulent disease that is cynicism? What do you say when the cynics works on you to commiserate?

Have you drunk the Kool-Aid?



  • Slots

    I would assume that it is the usual pride that keeps them out..

  • Juan

    The question – How Do I feel about selling?
    Most people have the second thoughts or feel bad about charging to their customers for their services.
    If you bring value and you know your value and the benefits your bring to your customers you feel great about what you do.

  • Scott Sylvan Bell

    Many times sales people think it is their tactics or abilities that are the problem when it comes to sales. Many times its the internal thoughts that are keeping salespeople from moveing forward more than anything else.

  • Jim Fiorini

    Unbelievable kumbaya crap!  I have been a top producer for thirty years and have never, ever taken anything other than a realistic view of my situation. Drinking kool-ade will provide you with the same results as Jim Jones’ crew.  Suicide.  If you are in a consultative situation and your competition legitimately has you beaten you are a fool to hope that your attitude will carry the day.  Your company’s marketing department will always overstate it’s products scope and capability leaving you flapping in the breez.  Pray you’re not up against me because I know every weakness of every competitior and I will choke you with it.  Instead of Cialdini read Sun Tzu and Machiavelli! 

    • Gary S. Hart

      Jim, I read your “About” page and would like to share a little about me ahead of my reply.

      I grew up in Brooklyn during the 60’s, sold global accounts in Manhattan during the 70s, and was a top producer in the machine tool industry (one of the toughest selling environments) during the 80’s and 90’s, yet I never subscribed to the philosophies of “Thick Face Black Heart” and Sun Tzu’s “Art of War.”

      Entitlement mentality will not make it to the top of sales and neither will a kill-the-competition attitude.

      Your opinion challenges Frank Bettger, Dale Carnegie, and Zig Ziglar, three of the greatest salespeople of the twentieth century. Without equivalent credentials, your comment is ludicrous and meaningless.

      You can take your “I know every weakness of every ‘competitior’ and I will choke you with it” to the little boys room and measure your genitals. By the way, you misspelled competitor; not the sign of a win at any expense, never make mistakes, sales warrior.

      I find it difficult to believe that anyone as cynical as you was a top producer, and, if all of my competition had your viewpoint, I could have retired ten years earlier.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jim. 

      You and I will have to agree to disagree. 

      I can’t really imagine any thoughtful person suggesting that a poor, negative attitude is useful or helpful to producing sales results. And I can’t imagine that you are really defending cynicism as a way to generate greater sales results. I am pretty sure your not (but I could be wrong). 

      That said, I am afraid your not exactly on point here. I haven’t suggested not to take a realistic view of your situation, but rather not to be so cynical about your company, your product, or your service that you destroy your ability to sell well. More still, people who are negative about their company tend to infect others with their negativity. 

      What I have suggested is that you embrace what you sell, you work to sell inside your own company to make it better, or you go find something you can embrace and that you will believe in. Not doing so leads to poor results, and a poorly lived life (of which, as far as I know, you are only given one). 

      In some cases, drinking the Kool-Aid may lead to suicide. In other cases, it leads to giving yourself over to something great and the accompanying experiences and results that are only gained through that kind of passionate engagement. It’s something you never forget being a part of, and something I hope everyone experiences. 
      I strongly disagree with the statement that a marketing department will always overstate a product’s scope and capability. Lots of times, things work exactly as advertised. 

      I do like your recommendation of Sun Tzu for salespeople.

      But where trust and relationships are important, duplicity isn’t a great long term strategy; Machiavelli isn’t quite as healthy a recommendation. I’d go with Charlie Green’s Trust-based Selling (this month’s pick in The Sales Blog Book Club). People buy from people they trust, and character matters now more than ever. Who you are counts for a lot more than what you do or what you know about your competitors or how to choke them. 

      I do commend you for being brave enough and transparent enough to attach your real name to your moniker: “sales predator.” I have always wondered how using something like that would be perceived by prospective clients and customers (do they believe they are being preyed upon?) I am sure there is a market for the tactical, non-character-based, non-trust-based, predator approach in the sales world, I just hope to God that my audience isn’t part of that market. 

      Thanks again for sharing your thoughts. 


  • Charles H. Green

     Interesting discussion, Jim and Anthony.  Thanks to both of you for putting out some real stuff, not pablum.  I like Real.

    JIm, you know of course that leading with “unbelievable kumbaya crap” is not likely to endear you to people; I have to wonder then, what purpose do you have for leading with that tone?  

    I happen to agree with you Jim (and I think Anthony does too) that no amount of happy-talk can make spoons bend, or overcome product defects.  And there’s a bunch of that stuff out there, look at everything coming out of The Secret, that comes dangerously close mind-over-matter delusional (and not much different from the Jim Jones stuff either).

    But I don’t take Anthony as saying that.  I I take him as saying that passion for product and passion for customer generally wins out over attacking negatives of competitors’ products.  My evidence for that?  Some great sales research over the years: really well done study by Bill Brooks and Tom Travisano called “you’re working too hard to make the sale.”  In turn, they suggest a much earlier book, which while more of the testimonial style, makes a ton of sense–if you get customers juiced up over what they want, you’ll beat the pants off someone selling merely what people need.

    Or, look at Rackham’s work; the biggest sales study ever done was what he did for SPIN selling, and his conclusion is that listening first beats talking–including trash-talking the competition.  Customer focus sells more than beat-the-competitor.  Look up the story of Miles Standish and Priscilla Mullens and John Alden; the guy who wins the girl is the one who woos the girl, not the one who beats up the other guy. 

    My experience, and my read of the sales literature out there, is that customers prefer to buy someone who taps into their own positives, rather than someone who taps into a competitor’s negatives. At the end of the day, people buy based on the salesperson, not the product; and they buy from a salesperson who connects with them, not a salesperson who bashes the competition.  It takes passion to do that; what Anthony, with a little bit of attitude, calls the Kool Aid.   I get it.  

    If you’ve been a top performer over the years, Jim, and I take you at face value that you have been, my guess is it’s that you did, as you say, take a realistic view of your product; and that you also did a superior job of focusing on customer needs and wants relative to the job your competitor did.

    If you were to insist to me that no, your success was due to successfully choking your competitors and playing Machiavelli, then I would probably conclude you have been up against some pretty piss-poor competitors, or you deal with some pretty low-esteem, beaten-up customers.  Pray you don’t come up against a good salesman or a customer with a brain. 

    What works in politics–fear power and threat of loss of life–doesn’t work as well in the business world where most customers actually have choice. 

  • Mike Kunkle

    “Interesting” is right. But like Charles, I prefer real. As I read through the original post and the subsequent interpretations of it in the comments, however, I have to agree with Anthony, Gary and Charles.

    I’ve studied top producers for a long time. There are success patterns, of course, but all sorts do creep into the top 4%. I’ve known my share of cut-throat operators who would lie to their mother to make sale, especially if it meant “crushing the competition.” By and large, though, optimism, resilience, and a generally positive outlook provide a foundation for most of the top producers I’ve studied.

    I also think it bears mentioning that most of them adopt the company line and possess a strong belief in what they were selling and the company that supported them. But they weren’t Pollyanna, by any means. In fact, when the company (including Marketing) solicited their feedback, they offered it transparently and respectfully. They let company leaders know what the short-comings were and what they were facing on the front lines. And because of who they were, the company listened. But again they did it respectfully, supportively, and when done, when right back to selling what they had at the moment, better than anyone else in the company.

    I think this is the emotionally intelligent, healthy make-up of a top producer. And cynical is not a word I would generally use to describe them.

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