In Sales, There Are No Rules and You Have to Know Them All

Say their locking him up, they got him on the run,
Might as well sue all the doctors when they don’t get it done,
Not everything everybody does, works all the time, son.

–Preacher in the Ring, Part II by Bruce Hornsby

Yesterday’s post on win-loss reviews sparked an interesting conversation. The object of studying your wins and your losses is so that you can do more of what works and less of what doesn’t work. This conversation, however, turned certainties.

The salesperson that challenged me on my post suggested that sometimes he has won deals even when he didn’t follow the rules, and he has lost deal when he did everything he was “supposed” to do. He suggested that because there were no certainties, it didn’t rally matter that he work to capture the lessons from prior deals, since they weren’t necessarily going to help on future deals. Why study the rules if you weren’t certain they were going to work?

Someone once said: There are no rules in acting, and you have to know them all. I would say the same: There are no rules in sales, and you have to know them all.

Here is the simple truth of the matter: in sales, there is nothing that is certain. There are iron laws of sales, like diagnosing before prescribing, that absolutely increase the likelihood of winning a deal. Violating this law will cause you problems later. But following this iron law doesn’t guarantee that you will win; it simply improves the quality of the job you do as a salesperson, and more often that not, it helps position you to win. Breaking this law automatically means you have done poorer work than you might have otherwise.

The danger for those who believe there are no rules (or who refuse to study the iron laws of sales) is that they become the “what-I-do-is-special” kind of salesperson. They say things like: “Every deal is different, and “I just have to find my way through each deal,” and “there is no reason to follow any rules or process, you have to make it up as you go along.” These salespeople say things like “Sales is an art.” But even art has rules—only the masters know how, when, and why they are breaking the rules and then they break them intentionally—not unwittingly.

Only those with the deepest understanding of the iron laws of sales know when and why they are breaking the rules. Knowing the rules allows you to be flexible in your approach. Being a thoughtful, professional salesperson requires that you be sensitive to what you see, what you hear, and what you feel. Over time, you begin to discern what you need to do to move some deals, and what you don’t need to do. This growth and sensitivity only comes after much time and much study.

By studying your wins and losses, you increase your odds of winning by doing more of what works and by doing less of what doesn’t work. You learn to observe the iron laws of sales and the rule-sets that lead to success. But even then, when you have what the Germans call fingerspitzengefühl (fingertip feel), not everything that works will work every time, and not everything that doesn’t work should be abandoned because you lost a deal. By studying and reflecting over a long period of time, you learn all of the rules—and you learn when, why and how to break them.


Not everything you try in sales will work the first time, nor will it work every time. And not everything that fails should be abandoned. It takes years of studying and learning the rules to know when and how to break them. And that only works sometimes.


    1. How do you feel when something doesn’t work? How many times do you try before you abandon and idea? How long do you believe you should try to gain competency at any new activity before you simply quit trying?
    1. What tactics and ideas do you stick with even then they are not working? What can you do to study and discern the differences between opportunities, deals, and situations when the tactics you adhere to work and when they don’t work?
  1. How could you learn to notice what is working and what isn’t working in time to change your approach? What do you have to do to develop the additional ideas, skills, tactics, and attributes to have other ideas you can pursue?

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 interview with Tom Peters (Part One and Part Two).

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

Read my monthly post on Sales Bloggers Union.

Get The Sales Blog iPhone App to read The Sales Blog and Twitter Feed on your iPhone.

Want more great articles, insights, and discussions?

Join my weekly Newsletter, sign up for Sales Accelerator and follow me on social.

Facebook | Twitter | Instagram | LinkedIn | YouTube

Filed under: Sales

Tagged with:

[if lte IE 8]
[if lte IE 8]

Share this page with your network