There Are Exceptions to Every Rule

In law school, I was taught that there are rules. You look at a fact pattern and apply the rule to that fact pattern. The rule is always right and you always follow the rule.

Except when you don’t.

For every rule, there is an exception. So you always follow the rule, except when there is an exception, in which case you follow a new rule based on that exception. Following this pattern always guarantees that you come to the right decision.

Except when it doesn’t.

There are exceptions to every exception. So the rule is always right, unless there is an exception to that rule, in which case you take the course of action prescribed by the exception, unless there is an exception to that exception, in which case, you follow the course of action prescribed by the exception to the exception.

This is how the law works. You look at the fact patterns to discover the rules. Then you look for exceptions, things that would make it so the rule doesn’t apply and where some other rule might produce a better result.

It is illegal to kill another human being, unless it is in self-defense, unless you had a duty to retreat . . . and on and on it goes.

It’s easy to write about sales if there was a single set of rules that could be taught and universally applied. There isn’t a single set of rules that are universally applicable to every sales situation. Much like the countless legal issues we humans can create, there are countless sales situations. There are also some big broad principles, rules if you will, like “you diagnose before you prescribe,” or “you always start as high up in the organization as possible.”

But each of these big broad principles is generally true. They’re worth knowing. But it’s also worth knowing that there are exceptions to the big broad rules, there are subtleties.

It is always right to diagnose before you prescribe, unless your client doesn’t know how to help you understand their needs, unless they have already purchased what you sell enough to know what they need, unless they don’t enough to know that what they believe they need isn’t what’s going to get them the outcome they want . . . This isn’t say that you should always make sure understand your client’s needs before prescribing, but rather, sometimes you may have to help them by prescribing. We take our clients as we find them.

If you want to improve your ability to sell well, then you need to study the big principles, the big rules. Then you have to understand where and when the rules don’t apply and what the most effective course of action is based on that exception (or the exception to that exception).

Big principles first, exceptions and subtleties second.


What are some of the big rules, the big principles that apply to sales?

How many of these rules are subject to an exception? What are those exceptions?

Are there exceptions to those exceptions?

Have you ever seen a salesperson mistake the exception for the rule?

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Filed under: Sales

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