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Sometimes You Must Lead Your Client, Sell, and Push

One of the iron laws of selling well is to diagnose before you prescribe a solution. It’s like gravity; you don’t have to like the law, but you do have to obey it. It is wrong to simply view your client’s needs through your solutions; it’s better to work to make certain that what you do is going to work for them.

That said, there is a lot written about not pushing what we perceive to be value-creating solutions on our clients. The behavior to be prevented is coming in as an old school pitchman and hurling lightning bolts of features and benefits at your unsuspecting prospective client. Fine, I accept that as an iron law.

But we go too far when we decide that this means that we serve our clients by passively waiting for them to decide what they find valuable and what will serve them. It’s too much to suggest that you can never lead, sell, or push your clients to do what is right for them.

We are salespeople. Professional salespeople must be able to lead.

Leading Your Client

You will find that some of your dream clients don’t understand that what you propose will create value for them. Because they don’t understand—or believe—that what you propose will help them to move from their current state to their desired state doesn’t mean that it won’t be beneficial to them. It doesn’t mean that you don’t have to work on changing what they believe about your solution.

Some of your dream clients will believe that what you propose is a value-creating solution that will help them to bridge the gap in their performance, but will resist taking action because of the massive amount of pain that will accompany the change. Because they don’t want to make the change doesn’t mean that it isn’t right for them to make the change. It doesn’t mean that you are to forego moving them to take action.

There are times when you have to lead your dream client.

You have to lead them to making the changes that they need to make in order to reach their desired state. When you have done your diagnosis and discovered their ground truth and their constraints, you have to lead your client to take action—even when they resist.

This is why trust and relationships are so important. This is also why your clients have to know that you are going to be standing in the foxhole with them and that you will own the outcome.

They fear failing. They fear being abandoned. They fear being lied to. Your leadership can change all of that.

Selling Your Client

A couple recent comments I have read on blog posts suggest that if your client doesn’t already see the value in your solution, or if they don’t come up with the idea on their own and recognize in your solution what they already want, that you shouldn’t “push” your solution on your client. Nonsense. Nothing could be further from the truth.

This is where selling has gotten too soft. This is where people with sales titles have become “salespeople in name only.

If you are in sales, you sell. If you want to be a trusted advisor, you sometimes have to make things painful for your clients—just like someone on their management team. You have to sell the truth. You have to enter the fray.

Your client may not recognize the value in your solution right away. You may have to spend time pitching and making your case. You may have to push your solution, and you may have to pitch like crazy to get them to both recognize how your proposal is right for them as well as how dedicated you are to ensuring that they get the result that you promise and sell.

You have to sell your initiative just like you would if you were part of their company. If you want to be treated like part of their management team, like a strategic partner, you have to first behave like one. That doesn’t mean you are a dispassionate spectator.

Pushing Your Client

There are some subtleties to be observed here. You have to have done the work: the trust building, the relationship building, and the diagnosing. You also have to have the right solution.

More still your intentions have to be right. You have to be leading, pushing, and selling because you care deeply about helping your dream client to get the result that they need—even when they resist. Intentions are everything.

Selfish intentions: you are a self-interested pitchman.

Caring deeply and committing to going the distance: you are a professional salesperson, and perhaps even someone worthy of being called a trusted advisor.

Doing what is right for your clients doesn’t mean that they buy from you because you need to make the sale. But it also doesn’t mean that you can’t lead your clients to a better result—even a result that they resist—just because you will also benefit from their doing so. You can lead, sell, and push your value creating ideas because they are right, even before your client recognizes their need or recognizes the value.


When is it right to lead your client and push them forward against their resistance?

What does this ability require of your first in the way of trust and relationships?

Why is it necessary that your intentions be right in order for you to push against your client’s resistance?

Would a trusted advisor give up on doing what is really right, what is really necessary? Or would they be better served by you continuing to push?

Is it right to not sell what is right? When and why?

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  • Raul Colon

    Very interesting post. My head was spinning with thoughts on my past experiences with clients. I would never use the title Salesperson since I know I clearly need to get better at it. 

    I make the mistake of passively waiting for my client to decide to many times. 

    For the last few months I have gotten a lot more aggressive but on the other side I am also exhausted with clients that are becoming non-profitable or where already because they are always trying to make me prove myself before they actually pay for what they want me to prove myself for. 

    Not sure if you understand but I believe in standing behind your knowledge and the truth but some of these clients act like they don’t understand so you can continue doing stuff that will benefit them at no cost. 

    I do see all the great points I can apply from this post in my business life. But what recommendations do you have when a client clearly is trying to have you satisfy his needs and playing as if they don’t understand so you can continue demonstrating your the person. 

    I have already implemented initial assessments fees and other consulting fees but this is clearly not working completely. 

  • Charles H. Green


    This is a very important you’re making. 

     As author of Trust-based Selling, I spend a lot of time (and airtime) trying to tell salespeople to stop pushing, stop closing, stop trying to get their clients to do something–because that is the more common error, I believe.

    But you are completely, and critically, right to stress that there are times when the opposite is true, when you must push and prod.  There is nothing wrong with hard-sell per se; what’s wrong is wrong-sell.  There are times when you need to get in and make yourself unpopular by pushing for something the client needs.

    And you’re right–passive, flabby, conflict avoidance doesn’t do any good. It’s no more virtuous than misplaced hard sell.  A good salesperson has to know which arrow to pull out of the quiver at what time, and if you haven’t got a good push-prod arrow in the quiver, you’re not worthy of the profession. 

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks for adding your thoughts here at the end of this post, Charlie. It will ward off those who believe that selling now means avoiding the uncomfortable conversations that sometimes need to be had in order to do right by your client. 

      The more common error is clearly to pitch and close (especially when you have the killer offering). But there are times when helping your client means that you have to dig in, lead, push, and sell your case. I like your idea of the wrong-sell. If it’s wrong, then it’s wrong to push. But there are occasions when helping means pushing. 

      The trick is, of course, to when you need each arrow, isn’t it?


      • The Responsive Edge

        In your view, Anthony, how can we clearly know when it’s appropriate to “push” a client into a decision? Conversely, how can we clearly know when it’s NOT appropriate to “push” a client?

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  • Deborah Nixon

    Thanks Anthony for a great post and I completely agree.  In response to Raul’s challenge of client’s having him seemingly work for free, what you propose can only happen with clients whom you have taken the time to form a trusted relationship with.  It requires mutual respect and both you and the client coming from a place of complete integrity.  What you are asking is for the client so stay with you while you explore together. To trust you enough to allow you to lead them and stay with the conversation.

    Part of this requires a high degree of social intelligence; being able to read the situation and the client. And to assess where you trust level is.  In Raul’s situation, it appears that the key ingredient of mutual respect is missing and what we have is a relationship lacking in reciprocity- a key component to trust building.

    So thank you for posting these thoughts.  Very valuable

    • S. Anthony Iannarino

      Thanks, Deborah. As to Raul’s challenges, I believe that a probably need to write a whole post about not doing free consulting work. Without knowing what he sells, it’s tough to know what might lie at the root of his problem. But, to your point, there needs to be mutual respect.

  • Ryan Biddulph

    Intentions play a massive role in this process Anthony, because it makes the difference between using power and force. Sure you might push a little bit but if your intent is to help your client toward a high energy solution which benefits both parties, you will come from a place of power, and your pushing or coaxing can be interpreted as coming from a high energy place. If your intentions are focused inward, guaranteed the client heads for the hills, or the relationship ends up in a low energy place, since force negates.

    Thanks for sharing your insight!


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  • The Responsive Edge

    As always, great post, Anthony.

    May I add a word of caution?

    In the box (self-deception), we believe our intentions are one thing when in reality they are another, but since *seller* resistance (the box) blinds us to the truth, we literally can’t see it (although to the detriment of both parties, the customer intuits it).

    With that said, many of the “uncomfortable conversations that sometimes need to be had in order to do right by your client” are, in reality, merely ruses to do right by *ourselves* (which, ironically, in the end, as noted by Charles H. Green in Trust-based Selling, leads to *fewer* profits).

    Takeaway: As with any sales behavior, there are two ways–two paradigms–from which to execute it: “in the box” and “out of the box,” one resistant, one responsive. The key is to learn how to know from which paradigm we are “pushing” from.