Why Your Idea Isn’t Spreading (The Salesman’s Problem)

This one’s inspired by you, Mr. Pushy Salesman who tried to sell me a home security system by coercing and shaming me (instead of wooing and charming me):

What? You don’t want your family to be safe?

Yeah, buddy. This list’s for you and all those like you who try to convince the customer to do what you want instead of empowering him to make the right decision.

Salesman's Briefcase Photo
Photo credit: Kelly B. (Creative Commons)

Please stop this

Here’s why your idea isn’t spreading, why your product isn’t selling, and/or why people generally don’t want to listen to you:

  • You’re too pushy.
  • You’re impatient.
  • You don’t solve a real problem.
  • You insulted me.
  • You’re rude.
  • You put your needs before my own.
  • You lie.
  • You don’t listen.
  • You’re intrusive.
  • You don’t understand permission.
  • You think your job is to push people. (It’s not; it’s to help people.)
  • You can’t control your temper.
  • You maintain objectivity when I have a subjective problem.
  • You can’t take constructive criticism.
  • You try convincing instead of conversing.
  • You pretend to care.
  • You have a prepackaged, formulaic approach (instead of one that involves an equal exchange of ideas and information).
  • You think you’re right and everyone else is wrong.
  • You invent problems to solve.
  • You’re inflexible.
  • You resist alternative solutions.
  • You told me I was wrong.
  • You don’t listen!
  • You have a script that you never deviate from.
  • You’re insecure.
  • You didn’t ask, “Is this a good time?”
  • You didn’t tell the truth.

Can you relate?

Are you guilty of these crimes? (I admit that I sometimes struggle with cutting a few corners to get a message out there.) If so, it may be time to reinvent what you do. I’m talking to myself here, as well.

Selling is serving. Not pushing or forcing people to do things they don’t want to do. It’s caring enough to listen, paying attention to what people say, and having the humility to admit you’re not what they need right now.

It’s disciplining yourself to wait another day, believing that trust and permission are worth your time.

Thoughts? Share your own pushy salesman stories in the comments.

*Photo credit: Kelly B. (Creative Commons)

89 thoughts on “Why Your Idea Isn’t Spreading (The Salesman’s Problem)

  1. Jeff, 

    I’m teach a sales process to hundreds of salespeople yearly and this post is music to my ears. It encapsulates all that is ugly about a disingenuous sales approach.

    In fact, I think I’d like to share portions of this with them in our weekly newsletter. Would that be ok with you (of course, I’ll give credit to you and link back to you).

  2. Great list.  I LOVE when sales people ask “is this a good time?”  I tend to be more patient and willing to listen because they’ve shown in interest in how valuable my time is.  

  3. You had me at pushy security alarm guy. We must have had the same salesman in Nashville. Young guy, totally blew it…. told me how terrible the system was, I had just purchased and how superior his was.  He lost me by bashing the other product and company. I looked at my 20 something kids and said, “don’t ever do what we just witnessed.”
    They already knew this.
    Being transparent is number one… and then you picture your mom and sister reading your blog and you wish you had never told them about it, and you pray they won’t comment. Lol
    Thanks Jeff.

  4. I have the opposite problem. I do not like to sell or think I am pushing anything on anyone. I personally tend not to like when it is done to me either. There actually was an incident recently with a family member who joined some thing and needed people to sign on board so he could build his business by earning a commission. He did everything you listed above to my husband. I was overhearing the conversation and my heart began to race with anxiety. I knew what this guy was doing and he thought by being a family member he had leverage or permission to manipulate and not take No thank you or we’re not interested as an answer. I have never like sales and this guy epitomized why. If I like you and believe in what you are doing I will naturally support you, but if someone, anyone is going to manipulate me then the lose my trust and respect.

  5. I work for a content generation firm, and we are always reminding clients that sales come after conversations.  You have to give your potential customer information that is valuable to them whether or not they ever decide to buy.  Stop being pushy, and people will recognize your value, and choose to do business with you.

  6. Jeff,

    I love this man.  I actually am a sales manager in my day job, and I completely agree with the entire list… The problem is that some of my superiors in the company very much have the old-school 1970’s pushy sales mentality that hasn’t worked for 4 decades.

    Thanks for the excellent reminder.  I’ll take it with me back to my site, and also to my day job.  Thanks!


  7. I laughed when I read your list.  I can’t STAND a pushy salesman or one who is only concerned with making the sale, even if they KNOW what their selling is not what I need or want.  I’ve been subjected to salespeople that I can tell continue to read right from the script regardless of what my answers are!  

    1. Haha, it’s always laughable when they continue on script even when your answers should tell them to deviate. When that happens, I like to make up zany answers and see how they recover.

      1. I do that! Over the phone, to phone service salesmen, I say, “I did not order phone service to this address, and I do not like having a phone. All it ever does is ring.”

        They stop.
        After that, they listen.

        Once a guy visited for about 20 minutes about life in Kansas City, where he was working the phone sales job, and where I was born and grew up. It was a great conversation with no sales, but we both had a fun visit.

        After he listened. 😉

        1. That’s great Katharine! Would love to see the look on their face when something like this comes up. 

          I remember growing up and one of my parents received a sales call about home repair. They started to cry and tell them how mean the person was, saying “Don’t you know my house caught fire yesterday?” Stunned silence. 

          Any other fun stories?

  8. Every time I make a computer purchase from Best Buy… The upsell to their Black Tie service or the “pre-configured” computer setup. They try to sell it on fear. “What? Don’t you know this could get a virus and you could lose everything?” or “This could break. You need to protect it!”

    1. The appropriate response to this is, “Are you selling me a bad product? Why are you certain this is going to break? Maybe I should go somewhere else where they sell stuff that won’t break.”

  9. I was thinking of switching my gym membership and I wanted to see what was offered at the gym I was “eyeing. Well, the person who gave me a tour of the gym was so assuming, he never asked if I wanted to join, he created a workout plan for me and told me “he expected me to follow the plan, that he would be watching, and that he was going to make sure I reached my goals”. When he finished talking, I told him that, a hard sell is always a turn off, and left. A pushy salesperson always pushes me out the door!

  10. That guy’s been to my house a few times. Right behind the Jehovah Witnesses. I was patient the first time, southern courtesy, but now I look them in the eye to see if anybody’s home. I think the best salesmen are sociopaths. It’s so easy to push is the fear button.

    BTW, Studies show that the best home protection system is a dog.

    I studies sales. I really, really tried. I absolutely failed. Until I learned that life’s all about story. And story is at the heart of every writer. A good story sells itself. I want to listen to a good story.

    I think the best salesmen are the best listeners who truly CARE about the person they’re talking to. They care and want the best for that person. They are there to help, not sell. Oh, yea, you’ve been teaching this. Um….

  11. I’m a salesperson and although I know all this points should be avoid, I can catch myself running into my customers with one of the items on your list. From now on, I will carry this post in my briefcase. I will force myself to read it before any presentation. 
    I want to think that “You don’t listen” is twice on the list on purpose. That’s just right. If every salesperson would dare to listen what his/her customer is about, you would be writing a different post today.Thanks Jeff. Great post.

  12. I learned a couple of things during my three short years of sales.  One is to never assume a customer can or can’t afford a particular thing.  Treat each one with the same respect and kindness.  Help them see what they need, which is not always what they want.  Sometimes  customers come in wanting a product that is more than they really need to do the job.  My goal was to never sell something to someone without first assessing what the true need was.  Once that was complete, if they still wanted to purchase the more expensive no big deal.  I gained more repeat customers and positive attention because I didn’t just sell them something and push them out the door.  Showing them that I truly had their best interests in mind regardless of how it effected my paycheck helps a bunch.  A sales transaction is nothing more than a trust building exercise.  You might get them with fear but they will never recommend you to a friend.  If you gain their trust the customer will be your personal billboard.

  13. What a convicting list. Do you KNOW me, or something!?

    Thank you for a great list of character traits to pray through, though. Thankfully, Jesus is none of these things, and I can ask his help to change!

  14. Great list. I think it all boils down to all push and no pull. 

    It’s also kind of funny because  thinking back to school and some of the standard stereo types. If someone was a “talker” many people would say “you should be a salesperson” instead of saying it to the kid that didn’t say much.

  15. I work part-time at a Hallmark to fill in the financial cracks in our family budget.  First ever sales job (hopefully the last in retail).  Their corporate training focuses on exactly what you are sharing.  The focus is on making meaningful connections and enriching people’s lives.  A little scary, Jeff, that you think like Hallmark. 

    The best sales experience was also a best writing experience.  A woman stood in the wedding section and read nearly every card, picking out none.  Later, she bought some wedding wrapping paper and asked me if we had a book of inspirational sayings about love which wasn’t too ‘mushy’.   I asked her what she was looking for and why.  Turns out the woman was helping her grandson do a small toast at his mother’s upcoming wedding.  I asked her about the soon to be husband.  “They ride four wheelers and are a great family.  They really love him.”  I commented I was sorry we didn’t have just the right card for him to read to her.  Then it hit me.  I’m a writer.  They need words.  I’m a writer who writes heart first.  They need this little boy’s heart to be in the words.

    Taking a deep breath, and looking around to make sure my crunchy manager was not around, I told her I was a writer and if she was comfortable exchanging email addresses, I would write up a couple toasts that might work.  Tears were in her eyes as she said yes. and agreed.  Tears were in my eyes, later that night, when I wrote the two toasts.

    Got an email yesterday.  He read the second one.  She thanked me over and over, saying there wasn’t a dry eye in the place.  She closed by saying she would thank me in person…at the shop.  You think I, and by extension the shop, has a customer for life?  Yep.

    Thanks for this and all your posts. 

  16. At the first sign of mental manipulation, I immediately turn them off. I have never bought something after I start being guilted into the need. So why do so many salesmen do it?

  17. A salesman did this very thing while trying to seel my parents funeral plots. It ended with my dad telling him he would be buried in the back yard before his cemetery. They almost came to blows.

  18. Yep! I feel the same way about yoga teachers. The pushy ones, the ones who dont let me go slow, the ones who say “you’ll thank me later even if you hate me now”. NO! I don’t want to feel negative at all, I am overcoming obstacles here… not trying to create more. 

  19. Totally don’t like being manipulated or feeling like I’m being ‘sold’. So true Jeff that selling is serving!  I actually have a good salesman story to tell:) He came last week to talk about switching our phone/internet service provider. He wasn’t pushy, he kept saying ‘if you don’t mind, I could share some areas where I could save you money…he was honest and yet very ‘low-key’ if that makes sense. We ended up switching 1st because of his honesty and Non-pushiness and 2nd because we actually will end up saving more than $100/month. So I’ve met the pushy and the serving kind of salespeople. I want to be more of the serving/loving/giving kind of person…with whatever I write/blog and just in my ‘everyday.’  Great post Jeff!

  20. I started doing a lot of my own car maintenance years ago when I caught on to the the way the quick lube places and tire shops try to push additional maintenance on you while you were in the shop.   And you only make the ‘5 quarts of oil spilled in the driveway mistake’ once before you always check to make sure the rubber gasket is still on the old oil filter and not attached to the engine.  So I’ve heard…

  21. Uncanny! I just yesterday collected three lists of signs of dangrous psychopathy and, wow, the lists really conincide with yours. Scary.
    I have a question, though, and had it yesterday, too. Are there no absolutes? I’m tempted to say, “What is truth?”
    So, if we know we are right, if we are experts, professionals, authorities, is there leeway for expressing fact, however unpleasant? Jesus got pretty adamant at times, and don’t we love Him for it? Or are you basically saying His blog would not sell well and if we line up with Him, we should expect the treatment He got?
    Or am I missing the point . . .

  22. Oh, yeah.  This sounds like the people on any cable phone support line, or the people on the cell phone support line.  They all must have this “UPSELL” sign on their monitors.  Tell me my phone/cable service is cr*p, but that I can get better for just a few dollars a month, without revealing all the extra charges.  Or even better, tell me that I don’t understand what a great deal they are offering, when I have said I don’t want or need the services they are trying to sell me, I just want whatever problem I called about in the first place to be solved.

    I finally learned to say “no” like a two-year-old, over and over, until they quit.  If they don’t stop after a minute, I tell them I will drop their service if they continue to treat me like this.  Most don’t stop, so I hang up on them, drop the service, write the CEO a letter, and move on.

    Whew, you sure hit a nerve!  I had no idea all that venom was hiding in my brain.

  23. Jeff, I could not agree with you more. Sadly many people who work in ‘sales’ are not properly trained or have the “it’s all about me attitude” and it seems to be getting worse. Companies (and retailers are guilty of this too) put such pressure to perform and push product to build a higher sale, in the end the customer experience is overlooked. 
    If you are working with a true sales consultant, this person will be trained properly, read every book/industry magazine about how to provide top notch customer service.
    Sorry you had a bad experience and thank goodness you had the good sense to see what was going on. Think about the people who get sucked into these bad selling situations every day. We had a sales nightmare with my 88 year old mother and she thought the salesperson was being “nice.” Needless to say, nice was not the word for this person.
    As always, enjoy your posts. Have a great day. 
    In Peace,

    1. LOVE the idea of a sales consultant! Someone you can ask and expect honest answers, who will tell you you do not need the bigger one, who will tell you upfront about hidden charges. When I walk into a store, I sometimes need help finding just the right thing, and a sales”man” can save me lots of time and even money. That is what we need. And if I’m just looking, what I need is to be LEFT ALONE!

  24. Great post- sure you stepped on a few toes today.
    I know I’m guilty of being impatient at times, but I’m usually impatient with myself. 

  25. Great post, Jeff. I am in sales and I get so irritated when people use these kinds of tactics. I have found that building relationships and being consultative is always far more effective in the long run. This is a great reminder for all of us.

  26. Jeff, great post. I have my share of salesman stories! But what jumped out at me from your post today was the sentence: “It’s disciplining yourself to wait another day, believing that trust and permission are worth your time.”I just experienced this. I wrote a post for my blog involving a little girl that my family and I met at a war re-enactment over a week ago. I wouldn’t post it until I received permission from her parents. I checked my email every day for ten days hoping that her father had finally answered my request. I held out from the advice of others to “just go ahead and post the piece.” I had to discipline myself to wait for an answer, and I do believe that trust and permission is not only worth my time, but shows good character. The father finally emailed me back last night with kind words, and much appreciation, granting me permission to use his daughter’s image and story. I’m glad I waited. I may have made a bunch of new friends too. 🙂

  27. I’m in transition from working in sales management and doing ministry bi-vocationally, to serving in a support raised role. Many of these negative sales ploys are unfortunately used by those in fundraising as well. As you said Jeff, “sales is serving”. 

    1. This is exactly the problem I have with charity sales people yes. They try to guilt you into giving and you end up resenting the charity. ‘oh you don’t care that kids are dying’. Yes I do but I don’t give money to someone supposedly about to use it to care for others when I’ve seen zero care or personal interest given to me. Simple. Be the culture you’re trying to create.

  28. Must have had same person in Nashville Dale had but the line he used with me was that my next door neighbor was getting the system and I told him my dogs barked if anything came even near our front yard. He said “Oh, so your neighbor is proactive and you’re reactive right? At that time I asked him to leave. 

  29. When I feel like you NEED me to do something (especially if it’s right now!) but you haven’t built a relationship in which I (a) would LOVE to do something for you or (b) OWE you a favor, it’s all over. 

  30. Its like the time we decided on a Toyota instead of a Honda.  The Honda rep kept repeating his mantra: “It’s a Honda! iTS A hONDA iTS A HONDA”  A response to any question he was asked.   So we bought a Toyota. 

  31. I once had a vaccuum salesman come to my home do his demostration and compared my NEW vaccuum to his and then told me I was stupid for not buying his. He actually used that word. Well, I didn’t.

    1. Oooh, I’ve had one get angry with me when I said no, and tell me he believed women should be kept barefoot so they’d stay home. No sale.

  32. I used to want to have my own business, and tried to sell everything from Avon, to supplements to Tupperware. But I just don’t have it in me to be like most of those people…which is pushy. One supervisor shoved it down our throats to upgrade, upgrade, upgrade. If the customer bought package A this month, convince them to buy B next month, and C the month after that.  I just can’t do that. I won’t put up with it being done to me, so I flatly refuse to do it to other people.

    Consequently I probably go too far in the other direction, but that’s okay with me. At least I can live with myself. So I’m glad there are people like you who can help teach me to reach my goals without becoming an obnoxious salesperson.  🙂

    1. Kristy, I too have tried the Sales business. Four of them, one after another, to be exact. For awhile, I thought it was ME—I couldn’t stand the pushiness of the supervisors and of those who supposedly were Making It in a big way. The products were wonderful. I used them, advocated them to others, went broke trying to keep up. One by one I discarded each business. The only way not to go broke, was to push potential customers and to pressure the people who showed a little interest, into becoming recruits.

      I just don’t have it in me. People in Maine won’t put up with the treatment, anyway, except for the Yuppies who must prove a point constantly so they’ll push as hard as they have to, to be on top.  The vast majority of Mainers simply dig in their heels, very quietly, and do not comply. I knew better than to suggest my business(es) to them more than once. Kris Kristofferson says, in a song, that it’s a pretty long old life when you don’t treat people right. I see his point.

      The salesman who came here last year with, supposedly, a short survey he was doing—-and I never should have opened the porch door—was too much. When I declined the offer he finally got to, he put his FOOT in the DOOR so I couldn’t close it, but it’s a rather heavy door and I meant what I said, so he didn’t leave it there very long.  Later I told a rep of his company about him, and he was no longer working for them at that point. So they said.

  33. As a company, the state of the art burglar alarm always cost us more than any actual losses.  Due to the cleaning crew or some other person walking through our offices, the alarm would go off and the police would respond, resulting in big charges.  I am not even sure the police in LA even respond to burglar alarms any more (especially if there are 1 or 2 false ones.)    Those swanky ADT commercials seem to be saying  “Oh, your wife and kids will get messed up or even worse if you don’t sign up immediately!  How could you ever live with yourself if something happens?”  I think a giant lab would be a better investment.

    1. Its worth it if you have the right system and valuable things to protect. The system I have currently has two way voice (which is basically like On star) and moniters for fire as well. I’ve had it for almost 3 years and because of the 2 way voice I have never had an false alarm. Not to mention I got a little over $400 from my insurance company just for having this device set up in my house. Technology is advancing quite a bit guy. I had a burglar try to enter my detached garage last year in the middle of the night, the system then told me that my garage door had been breached. Cops were at my place with in minutes. Thanks to the built in 2 way voice 🙂

  34. Thank you for this.  The last time a pushy alarm salesman came by and was forcing his product upon us, I mentioned the research that dogs have been proven better deterrent than alarm systems (to try to get him to go away after 4 “No’s”

    His answer: “Your house can catch on fire and your dog will burn to death, what would you do then.”


    1. Yeh, and the dog could be shot by a burglar with a gun with a silencer, and still get in.
      But if the police are not even answer ADT alarms, it’s worth a try.

  35. For one of my clients, I get a large number of Google Adwords “specialists” calls thanks to the large amount of money they spend on CPC campaigns. Each time, the specialist tells me how awesome there service is and asks if they can set up a 20 minute review of the Adwords account. Great, I think. I don’t want to waste 20 minutes. So I ask very politely if they can send me an email with the highlights, as that is the best way to communicate with me. Each time, they tell me something along the lines of “it’s just 20 minutes” or “you’re missing out on customers” or something that otherwise insults my intelligence and tell me I need to schedule a 20 minute call. So I persist. All I ask for is an email! I’m very interested in awesome service, but if they can’t spend 2 minutes compiling and sending me an email, what makes them think I want to waste 20 on something I could have learned quicker (and easier for me than the phone). Ugh.

    /rant off

  36. Great stuff, Jeff.

    I’ve had a few pushy salesman before. I actually yelled at a guy to “give me my damn keys” at a car dealership so we could leave. Thanks for the gut check.

    Btw, I feel like I’m a terrible salesman and while sales might be a lucrative industry I could never sell a product I didn’t believe in or personally use. Maybe Dave Ramsey is hiring? 🙂

  37. This use to be me totally Jeff, I would list all the reasons why someone “needed” to buy my book. A good friend of mine unfriended me on Facebook because he said he was tired of it.

    I had to step back and get honest, now it’s all about helping people and trulying connecting with people through my story 🙂

  38. Every time a house alarm salesmen comes to the door I laugh. The first question always is about our current security devices. I laugh and stop them and get them to think…”Let’s just assume you were in my position.  You didn’t know me and didn’t know if I was with a reputable company or just casing the  joint. Would YOU tell ME how to break into your place?”

    I guess I’m just a pushy customer 🙂 

  39. yep. rings true for me after trying to convince korean teenagers that we have a responsibility to save the artic and stop persecuting gay people. just became a pushy salesman myself. lesson was delivered in an aggressive way that turned them against my opinions. I know better but lost the plot on this occasion. they’ll all be wanting to buy SUVs now to spite me.

  40. Ugh! I hate those pushy tactics. They infuriate me. We recently had a run-in with one that made me so mad, I ended up venting on my blog, even though it had nothing to do with my blog’s theme. But my readers were gracious and supportive. The comments helped me get over the incident. https://mommyjoys.com/2012/ranting-and-a-bit-of-vinegar/

  41. A few years ago me and my now ex-wife were living in
    California and having an absolute horrible time finding work. Our last shot
    before either becoming homeless or moving back to Wyoming was an add in the
    paper, offering door to door sales jobs. We spent a few days under the tutelage
    of a guy named Bill, who worked for Kirby…and taught us everything we ever
    needed to know about selling vacuums door to door. Here’s a small bit of
    context, I’m at heart a terrible person. I spent a lot of time doing lying and
    stealing and willfully committing crimes when I was younger, and to be
    perfectly honest feel bad about very little of it. The training we received
    from Kirby, disgusted me. I couldn’t bring myself to honestly treat people like

  42. A long time ago, a wise man said to me, “Telling isn’t selling — listening is. We have two ears, two eyes and one mouth: use them in that proportion.”

    The focus on pushy prospecting is completely wrong. Too many salespeople have been trained to believe that they are only as good as their next sale. The reality is that they are only as good as the relationships they have built with their customers who, if it’s done right, will come to trust and respect the salesperson and come back again and again for advice and to buy. As Jeff implies, the starting point is basic courtesy and genuine consideration.

  43. Great list, Jeff. I really like the idea that “selling is serving.” 

    As a fledgeling entrepreneur, I have struggled with the idea of advertising at all. I want to be completely straightforward and transparent with my customers, but I sometimes feel that in order to compete I might have to compromise those ideals. I just don’t want to “trick” anyone into buying what I’m selling.

    This also makes me think about politics. I’ve heard over and over again about politicians who get into politics because they want to make a difference, but they are forced to compromise their beliefs in order to defeat their less-ethical opponents and get elected.

    Thanks for the reminder that empowering customers is the best way to be successful (and feel good about it!)

  44. “Selling is serving.”

    A huge difference between organizations that seek to serve, and those that don’t.  Enjoyed the semi-rant with application 🙂

  45. I can relate to this. There are times when I have to promote like crazy and I would forget to ask permission. This would not result to a positive note and I would lost a possible follower because I did not ask first. Sometimes I would be carried away with excitement, and I would just barge in my prospects turf and would sell like it’s the end of the world and I have to reach my quota. Like I would have to sell my ware or else I’ll lose my job kind of attitude.   

  46. You hope the idea isn’t spreading, the product isn’t selling, and/or people don’t want to listen. However, the salesperson sales and the product moves. I am guilty of all… except lie, insecure, not telling the truth. If working the ‘insecure’ angle would work to make a sale, I would use it. Jeff, I really enjoy your writing, but on this one we will have to respectfully disagree. Selling is not serving… it is hunting. A wild, vicious hunt were the prey has the only real power in the play.

  47. I think about 99% of us are guilty of this at least once in our lives.  I think the church is the biggest offender of the list you made.  Most of the stories I could share stem from it.

  48. I’m in transition from working in sales management and doing ministry bi-vocationally, to serving in a support raised role. Many of these negative sales ploys are unfortunately used by those in fundraising as well. As you said Jeff, “sales is serving”. 

  49. One time a software salesman wanted to convince me that his accounting software is what I need, but he was unable because he don’t know his product himself, whenever you ask him in-depth question, he could not answer well.
    If you don’t know your product & you don’t believe in it, how could I do.

  50. Great post, Jeff. I know I often struggle with this, more from a mentality that thinks I just need to get my work out there. I’m trying to be really intentional in how I promote my work. And that’s required me to often restrain myself, sharing less often, in hopes of starting conversations with the few, rather than just glances from the many.

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