All Generalizations Are Lies. Even This One (A Word on Sales Advice)

There are countless websites and blogs that provide advice and ideas to improve your sales results.

Sometimes, the ideas you find will be in conflict. I write that cold calling is necessary; others believe that cold calling is dead and that social media is the only way to succeed in sales. Sometimes the ideas you find appear to be in conflict when there is no real conflict; sometimes the conversation needs more discussion or more clarity.

How do you determine which ideas are worth your time? How do you know what is true, and what isn’t exactly true? Here are a few ideas.

All Generalizations Are Lies

It doesn’t make for compelling reading when the writer isn’t confident in what they are writing. It is one thing for me to write, “You have a moral obligation to cold call,” and quite another to write, “Your sales might be improved by cold calling.”

Confident writing leads to broad generalizations. It gives you a black and a white, a right and a wrong, a good and an evil. It leaves no room for all the subtle shades of gray that exist in the middle.

All generalizations are necessarily lies. Even the one I just wrote (and especially any great truth that can be crammed into 140 characters).

A long time ago, I studied law. The law gives you a concrete rule based on some principle, and you study case after case to understand the rule. But sometimes the rules don’t apply. There are laws, and then there are exceptions to those laws. And then there are exceptions to the exceptions.

It is a crime to kill someone. Unless you do so in self-defense. Unless you didn’t try to retreat. Unless you were in your own home.

This is how you should look at sales advice on the Internet. There are rules. There are exceptions to those rules. There are exceptions to the exceptions. The principles underlying these rules are what make them useful, and understanding the exceptions is what mastery is made of. The exceptions are based on principles, too.

Ask yourself some questions. Does the idea make sense to you? Is it helpful in the situation in which you are applying it? Are there exceptions to the rule? Are there other ideas that might benefit you and your sales results more?

Your obligation to discern for yourself doesn’t end there.

Discover Your Own Truth

You shouldn’t go through your sales life without making observations and distinctions about your own sales practice. You have to discover your own truths.

If what you read conflicts with what you know to be true, maybe it isn’t the truth for you and your sales practice. (And, maybe it is and you have some unlearning to do. Maybe you need to empty your cup to make room for new ideas and new behaviors).

I believe you should cold call. I believe it is right and good and necessary. You’re at 150% of your quota at the halfway mark of your sales year using only emailed invitations from your calendar program? Your truth is your truth.

It’s easy to believe that there is a right or wrong answer, and sometimes there is one answer that is far superior to others. But in something as complex as sales (and the human beings and relationships of which it is made), there is more often effective and ineffective. Some choices are effective; other choices are ineffective under that same set of circumstances.

That said, some general principles have been proven true time and time again. If you read advice suggesting that the longest held principles are no longer true, it is worth thinking deeply before acting—especially if the idea is appealing because it means you can sell without prospecting, get rich without working hard, or lose weight without changing your dietary habits.

What’s true for you?


How do you determine where to get sales advice on the Internet?

How do you determine which ideas make sense for you?

How do you approach taking advice when it is an idea that makes you uncomfortable?

What are the truths that you have discovered about sales?

Do you find ideas that are too good to be true appealing? Why?



  • Marsha

    As is true for salespeople, no two sales calls are alike.  The best we can (should) do is to continue to educate ourselves on styles/ideas unlike our own. Outside of our comfort zone. Case in point- we’ve all had a well planned call that just plain missed the mark and hung up the phone thinking “what went wrong?” While many times our “comfortable” style would work, there are plenty of times when a new idea would be good to have in our arsenal. “Do something that makes you uncomfortable everyday”

  • Leanne HoaglandSmith

    Possibly, what is the question behind the question is emotional intelligence.  In the example about morale obligation versus sales might be improved.  The first has very little emotional intelligence while the second has far more. Generalizations from my experience or blanket statements in many cases include the words you, must, and even need.  This is very much parental behavior (refer to transactional analysis) instead of adult behavior. Great thought again,

    Leanne Hoagland-Smith
    Author of Be the Red jacket

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Leanne. 

      I don’t agree that generalizations are paternalistic or even necessarily negative. I know how to open doors because, generally, all the door knobs work the same way. I never have to try to learn to open a door because this is true. (But I have on occasion pushed a door with a pull sign sitting at eye level!)When we write things like “you must diagnose before you prescribe,” it’s because the generalization is true often enough in B2B sales. But, there are of course exceptions! The principle-based exceptions are worth knowing. The “moral obligation” statement may be hyperbolic, but I don’t believe it is paternalistic or lacking in emotional intelligence (it isn’t lacking in the ability to assess or control the emotions of this writer or others). It is designed to breathe life into a mission, to inspire those who would postpone their cold calling–or, perish thought, those who would not do any cold calling at all. The second line, the “might be improved line” is boring, uninspiring, and vapid. It makes for dreadful reading and does nothing to motivate those who read it. But, of course, this is only my truth! Your mileage may vary!Thanks!Anthony

  • Anonymous

    I’ve been involved in a few discussions recently in Paul Castain’s Linked-In group, revolving around cold-calling. From the many conversations, I’ve come to believe that much of the disagreement surrounding best practices in sales are debates over semantics. What is a cold call? People tend to avoid this question and go straight to hating it or singing its praises. The reason, therefore, why generalizations are false, is that the language within any statement is subject to interpretations. In engaging in discussions, I think it would benefit all of us to define terms before taking positions.

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Are you speaking of “warm calls,” Doug? That kind of stuff makes me believe that we are really trying to convince the salesperson that it is right to make their calls. I believe there are a lot better ways to achieve that outcome (like scripts, real value creation, confidence in the ability to make a difference, etc.). 

  • Tim Mushey

    Great post Anthony! You mentioned your studying of law back in the day. I will add to that thought by addressing all the rules in professions like accounting, production/operations management etc. If you are not sure about something, there are tried and tested rules to refer back to. There is very little grey area for sure.

    Sales is different. There are of course tried and tested systems in place that have been successful for many many years, but it is an ever evolving profession. That is the exciting part of it. If there was only one set of rules to follow in sales, it would probably be pretty boring. Making quick decisions on your feet with little or no guidance sometimes can be nerve racking, but fun at the same time.

    We all know that anyone can say whatever they want on the internet, but if a group of people have similar beliefs on a particular topic, there is a pretty good chance that their theory is pretty solid (especially if they have been successful at it). It may not be for you, but it has worked for others. I had a Sales Manager once say that if a rep did not follow the guidelines that the company set out for them, but succeeded,  you were to still be congratulated. But their may be questions about why you “went on your own path”. But if a rep does not follow the guidelines that were set out for them and failed, that is when the hard questions are asked. Thanks!

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Agree with paragraph 1. Agree with paragraph 2. Violently disagree with paragraph 3. If winning the deal means that we have to color outside of the lines, then it should be praised when it is done. If winning the deal means we try to color outside the lines and fail, that should also be cause for praise–as long as we learned something in the bargain. 

      I don’t believe failure should be punished. I would more quickly punish the failure to take initiative and try. Winning sales is built on initiative and resourcefulness. Even when what a rep tries doesn’t work, I wouldn’t kill those two attributes.

    • Tim Mushey

      Hi Anthony.. Thanks for the response. I love the fact that you used the phrase “violently disagree”! That was awesome. Maybe I was not as clear as I should have been in paragraph 3. I was actually speaking in a broader scope, moreso to a rep making an annual sales goal vs not. But perhaps it came across as getting or not getting a specific deal.

      I have worked for organizations that had pretty detailed planning and processes to follow to acheiving annual goals. And there were expectations to follow their plans to acheive those goals. Of course you did not have to follow it to a “T”, but the plan was there to be used. Now on a deal by deal basis, of course creativity is a must, and you will probably have to use different techniques to close the deal each time. Better to try different things than not try at all. If I dug myself a deeper hole, I will try to clarify again! Have a great day!

      • S. Anthony Iannarino

        No hole to dig out of, Tim. I read it as pertaining to “an opportunity,” not an overall plan. Like your past company, much of the time we know what we need to do to succeed. Sometimes we as salespeople want to do things are own way because we are more comfortable–even if it doesn’t produce results. That’s where the real trouble begins. Most salespeople who can be resourceful and creative and produce results get a long leash. 

      • Tim Mushey

        I know there was “no hole to dig out of”, just having fun! Your last comment is perfect. I believe that new reps to the industry will need more structure when they first get started, then they find what works and does not work for them over time. As they grow and develop their own processes, that is where the results really come in.

        Long leashes and trust from management have been huge for me in my career! When I felt stifled and somebody was looking over my shoulder every day… not so much!

  • J. Paul

    I am a cold call master, exceeding sales goals for over a decade, leading the sales efforts and attending the Circle of Excellence for a major hotel chain, you have to spend MORE time creating/sustaining/selling your social media site than you do closing deals.

    I work in a Top 30 city by population. I checked out the Renaissance downtown, googled their facebook page (these guys are the most popular hotel in the city) and it didn’t come up until page 3. Really? Take another John Q Hammons hotel, south of there in a very popular college town, a newer Embassy Suites (this is a gorgeous hotel, but bad location, they cut rates like crazy to get more business) their results, page 1 top-of-the-page on Google, results of their facebook is “847 likes · 65 talking about this · 13425 were here.” The proportion of “likes” to “were here” viewers is 6.3%, and “talking about this” even more dismal at less than half a percent! By the way, this is a struggling hotel. Then looking at my direct competitors, the best was a brand new hotel right behind my property, comparing with likes being whopping 75.4% of viewers, but there was only 159 viewers! They vacilate as 2nd/3rd hotel out of 9, and they manipulate these numbers with employees and corporate peeps contributing, as they do on Trip Advisor.

    My hotel vacilates as 3rd/4th out of 9 in my competitive set and have far less to offer than my competitors, and I’m the oldest hotel on the block. Everyone around me is either brand new or newly renovated. I have 5 likes out of 35 views of my Facebook page, which I don’t do posts, and, btw, the number 1 hotel has about the same actual numbers, and they have a 4-star hotel attached to it! btw, btw, that is 14.3% success rate! Woo-hoo!

    Conclusion, nothing replaces face-to-face sales and effective communications. Yes, my corporation expects me to “do the social media,” and I play that game, but I don’t work at it. I just don’t tell corporate the “secret” to my success as one of their top sales associates: effective face-to-face selling.

    • J. Paul

      Talk about ineffective communication, lol, I meant to say you DON’T have to spend more time doing the social media garbage to be effective.