“Sometimes you have to choose between being right and being successful”

I heard that expression years ago, and have referred to it many times since then. It made a lot of sense for me early in my sales career.  At the time, I took it to mean that it makes more sense to win a sale rather than to win an argument that might come up with a prospect. Better to steer a conversation away from a confrontation, and towards a collaboration about a pending sale.

Later, when my career took a more entrepreneurial turn, the same expression took on a different meaning for me. One of the lessons of life in the dot com boom (and ensuing bust) of the late 1990’s was that sometimes you had to make decisions with inadequate information. No-one really knew how business on the Internet was going to work, but we all wanted to move forwards anyways. Accordingly, you couldn’t always wait for enough information to ensure a perfect decision – and you had to push forwards towards the hope of success in spite of the uncertainty about the relative “rightness” of the decision you had to make.

In the last several years, the focus of my career has been on what can be called consultative selling. Consultative selling is known for – among other things – being performed by a salesperson with a high level of subject matter expertise, and who uses this expertise to help a prospective client discern the best complex solution to a well analyzed business problem.

From the perspective of consultative selling, the idea of choosing between being successful and being right gets completely turned around.  In other words, my original interpretation of this idea, that it is better to win a sale than an argument, became completely backwards.

Imagine this:

If a subject matter expert, consultative salesperson is engaged in a sales interview, and agrees with everything the prospect says, where is the value?  “Yes, you are exactly right” is a good way to make someone else feel very smart about what they are talking about, but if the goal of the consultative salesperson is to sell their expertise, then it must be demonstrated that the consultative salesperson has has some original, and perhaps contradictory ideas about how to approach a business problem than the prospective client.

In fact, the best approach of the consultative salesperson is to stress the point that the prospective client is doing or thinking about something incorrectly, and that the expertise and input of the consultative salesperson is needed in order to move forward most effectively.  This may take the form of:

“Actually, back up a minute – I don’t agree with the assumption that is behind your suggestion…”


“You know, a client of mine in a similar situation tried that same approach that you are suggesting, and was quite unpleasantly surprised by the results.”


“There are three fundamental problems with the approach you are suggesting….”

Now embracing the “you are wrong and you need my help” approach is not a license to be rude, condescending or aggressive.  It is never right to behave this way.  The idea is one thing, but you must deliver the message in a professional manner.

That said, if you are a consultative salesperson, and you convince the client that they are a bit lost and that they need your help to get found again, well, you have been both right and successful, in both your quest to acquire a new piece of business, and perhaps to helping the client as well.


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!