This is an excerpt from my second book, Managing the Sales Process, available on You can find a series of these excerpts in a dedicated blog category to get a broad overview, post-by-post, of the book (they are listed in reverse order in the category, so start with the oldest).

From Chapter 1 – The Core Attributes of Sales Failure

Failure in sales is easy to see. A salesperson either hits his or her numbers or not. But the number is the end of the story, and a lot happens on the way to getting there. Later chapters focus on what must happen within the process of getting to a sale and how a well-established sales process can help salespeople and sales managers stay focused on the steps needed to eventually convert prospective business into sales numbers. But what causes sales failure?

Simply put, people don’t follow the sales process, or more accurately, they avoid doing part of the sales process as diligently and thoroughly as they should.

But why?

I don’t claim to be a psychologist, a psychic, or any kind of expert on the internal workings of the human mind. However, I have seen some consistent attributes among salespeople who consistently under-perform. Just like the core attributes of sales success are consistently seen among sales winners, those who struggle with sales often have one or more of the following attributes. You should learn to spot them in your candidates and your salespeople. They can be hard to overcome, and if they are not overcome, their presence makes it much harder to succeed in selling.

Needs to be liked
Intuitively, one would imagine that a person with a disproportionately high need to be liked by others would be a better salesperson rather than a poor performer. It makes sense to assume that a salesperson who wants to be liked by people will go out of his or her way to please them. That is in fact true, and ─ counterintuitively ─ the source of a significant problem.

To be successful, a salesperson needs to do many things that take a bit of a thick skin. These may include getting rejected when cold calling, moving past gatekeepers, asking hard questions when qualifying or conducting needs analysis, and defending a proposal or addressing pointed objections and negotiation attempts. And then there is closing.

Each of these cases requires strong delivery in asking questions or responding to them to keep the process moving ahead. The salesperson can’t really afford to think about whether a prospect will like him or her more based on the questions that need to be asked.

A salesperson who is preoccupied with being liked will tend to back off from the necessary questions or tough responses that a situation may require.

This is not to imply that salespeople need to be rude, or mean, or unlikable. Not in the least. The point here is that there needs to be a balance between being pleasant and being a respected professional.

For example, during qualification, a salesperson needs to understand the decision making process and the people involved in it. A salesperson who is very concerned about being liked may not ask the tough questions needed to uncover the true situation. Instead, hard questions may be avoided, or unclear answers may be accepted rather than clarified, and the salesperson risks wasting a lot of time with an unqualified prospect.

To help identify the need to be liked, observe your salespeople in action on sales calls. For prospective salespeople you might hire, ask questions such as:

  • Do your clients like you (you are hoping for “yes, but respect is more important”)?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to be tough with a client?
  • Tell me about a time you had to deliver bad news to a client?
  • Tell me about a time when you had to resolve a conflict between the client’s demands and production capabilities?
  • Tell me about your relationship with your fellow salespeople?
  • Tell me about a time that a client was wrong and what you did about it?

If you sense a high need to be liked in the answers to these or similar questions, be very careful about hiring that person. If you notice this trait in your existing salespeople, they need coaching to help them get past this or they will never reach their potential. That will cost a lot of potential business for themselves and the company.


Authors note (AKA shameless plugs)

So, this 7-step sales process and associated topics…. Yup, I write about that a lot. I’ve been working with it since I developed it about 25 years ago – in my own diverse work experiences, with my teams when I had them, and with clients ever since.

If you would like to develop you own personalized and customized, highly effective and efficient B2B selling system, here are some further steps you can take:

The Salesman’s Guide to Dating is a free or very cheap (depending on Amazon) Kindle book that walks you through the sales process using the familiar analogy of dating. It’s a good, fun and quick way to get your mind around the whole process and how the pieces fit together.

Building Your Sales Process (BYSP) is a free and very thorough exploration of the same 7-step process that will walk you through the development of your own customized, personal B2B selling system. When you are done, you will know exactly what to do to get new business.

The Momentum Selling System® is an inexpensive but very robust online sales training course that is similar to BYSP, but goes deeper into the concepts behind each of the steps, and also helps you develop a plan not only for the 7-step process but also addresses mindset, repeat business and client base management.

If none of that sounds right, I do personal coaching and offer a free 30-minute intake session so that we can both learn if it makes sense to work together 1-on-1. If this sounds interesting, click over to the coaching page on this site and sign up for the free session.

Here’s to your success!