Complete Story


A Subtle but Deadly Killer of Sales

by John Chapin

If you’ve read past sales articles of mine, you know I talk a lot about the two major keys to sales success: lots of the right activity and great sales skills. That said, while a lack of activity is the biggest killer of sales success, a lack of great sales skills isn’t the second biggest killer. The second biggest killer is more subtle. In fact, it’s so subtle that most salespeople go through their whole sales careers and never figure this one out and, as a result, never become the salesperson they could be.

The Second Biggest Killer of Sales

I won’t make you read the whole article to find out what the second biggest killer of sales is, here it is: the second biggest killer of sales is not being direct. Coincidentally that’s also the second biggest issue I run into with salespeople I train. Number one is lacking the first key to sales success: lots of the right activity. Most of the salespeople that struggle simply are not making enough calls to get enough qualified prospects, to make the sales. While lacking the second key to sales success, great sales skills, definitely hurts sales results, it doesn’t hurt sales as much as an unwillingness to be direct in sales conversations. An unwillingness to be direct by not asking enough questions and/or tough questions, will lead to incorrect assumptions and an overall breakdown in communication and the sales process as a whole. Salespeople who aren’t direct will find themselves chasing people who aren’t interested, aren’t qualified, or both. Also, when they do talk to the right people, they’ll fail to uncover all the necessary issues and buying motives.

A perfect example of not being direct is the fact that more than 60% of salespeople don’t close at the end of a presentation. The average salesperson gets to the end of a presentation, asks the prospect what they think, and upon hearing a simple brush off like, “looks good, why don’t you follow up with me in a week”, simply agrees and leaves. I’ve even been on sales calls where the salesperson finished their presentation by telling the prospect they’d follow up in a few days after the prospect has had time to think about everything that was covered.

Of course, the end of a presentation is only one area where many salespeople fail to be direct. Other common areas include: qualifying on the initial call, the needs analysis during the first and subsequent appointments, and when dealing with objections.

Here are the most popular reasons salespeople fail to be direct:

  • They confuse being direct with being pushy.  When I talk about being direct, I’m referring to the words you use, not your tone of voice and demeanor. You want to ask questions that are worded directly, in a friendly and conversational manner as if you’re talking to a close friend or family member.
  • They don’t want to lose the lead. Many times a salesperson is so happy they have an interested prospect, that they don’t want to do anything to lose the prospect. They’re afraid that if they ask too many questions, the prospect will get irritated and they’ll lose them, so they don’t ask the necessary questions.
  • They don’t want to burst their own bubble. This one is related to the above, but this specifically applies to salespeople who employ the ‘hope’ method of selling.  When I ask someone how their sales calls went and I hear, “No sales but I got a lot of really good leads”, I know they’re using the ‘hope’ method. If you’ve been in sales for a while, you know there’s no such thing as a good lead. Unless it’s your first week in the business, you shouldn’t be excited about ‘good’ leads, only good sales. Salespeople who get excited about leads look for an ounce of interest and once they see it, remove themselves from the selling situation as quickly as possible ‘hoping’ those leads will translate to sales. They won’t.
  • They’re afraid or uncomfortable being direct. This is someone who has trouble being assertive coupled with a fear of rejection and having difficult conversations in general. They may also have some deep seeded, negative beliefs about asking strangers questions.  
  • They haven’t been trained properly. This is someone who wings every sales call and doesn’t have a sales process to follow.

Here are some solutions to the above:

  • Have a specific process along with a list of scripted, well-thought-out questions to ask on each call and in each situation.You may not ask all of the questions on every sales call but you have to ask enough of them to ensure the person you’re talking to has a need for your solution, and is in fact ready, willing, and able to invest in your product or service.
  • Close at the end of each client or prospect sales call.You may be closing the sale or you may simply be closing on the next appointment, or whatever your next step in the sales process is. Either way, close and get a commitment. That means either asking closing questions or getting a specific time and day for your next step. Do not accept, “call me next week”, or “call me on Tuesday”. You have to have a specific follow-up item scheduled on a specific day at a specific time. 
  • Get in the habit of being direct in all your conversations, even personal ones.How many times have you had a misunderstanding because something was assumed? Never walk away from a conversation with assumptions. Ask direct questions that uncover all the details you need.

 Err on the side of asking too many questions versus too few.

John Chapin is a motivational sales speaker, coach, and trainer. For his free eBook: 30 Ideas to Double Sales and monthly article, or to have him speak at your next event, go to John has over 33 years of sales experience as a number one sales rep and is the author of the 2010 sales book of the year: Sales Encyclopedia (Axiom Book Awards). You can reprint provided you keep contact information in place. E-mail:

Printer-Friendly Version