There Are Only 3 Kinds of Salespeople.

Which one are you?

Which one are you?

As I’ve spent the last decade or so watching and studying dozens of salespeople ply their trade, I’ve observed a VERY wide variety of selling styles.  Variances in everything from tactical methods, speech patterns, organizational habits, mindset strength and on and on.

Every salesperson brings their own unique personal touch into this game, but within all the millions of possible combinations of styles and personalities, I have seen (over and over and over) only 3 distinct types of salespeople emerge.

The truth is we are all a blend of these 3 characters. We all have SOME of the tendencies of all 3 latent within us, and who we end up “being” in any given moment is heavily influenced by many factors: Income level on the rise or decline, recent wins or setbacks, etc. There are no absolutes here.

The goal, of course, is to strive for excellence no matter what the outside influence, but depending on all the other circumstances at play, it can be a struggle!

So which one(s) are you being?  Let’s get into it.

Slick Rick

Terrible Salespeople Slick Rick

My apologies to the high value Ricks of the world.  This guy is giving you a bad name.    Slick Rick is the guy MOST people think of when they think “salesperson.”  He’s the guy that’s primarily responsible for giving the rest of us a bad rap.

Here are 5 typical Slick Rick attributes:

1.) He sounds…fake.

Slick Rick’s speech patterns include cheesy lines that the customer can just TELL he says all the time, leaving them with a sick or disturbed feeling because of his lack of authenticity.

He uses flowery words and salesy jargon that just comes across as trying too hard.  He speaks “above” the necessary level for the audience…and that audience usually includes the company president. He hasn’t picked up on the value of using simple, conversational language.

Don’t misunderstand.  There is nothing wrong with carefully designing what you plan to say based on the conversations you anticipate having…but your prospects should never “feel” that, or you’re doing it wrong.

2.) He bad mouths competitors.

No good can ever come of this.  He doesn’t realize that to tell the customer how much better he is than everyone makes him look like an A-hole.  He also doesn’t realize that to tell them how much better he is than their current vendor makes it sound like he’s calling the prospect stupid if they don’t make the switch.

Great salespeople win on merit.  They create value* and forge a better relationship with the buyer than anyone else.  They don’t need to tear others down.

3.) He leads with price.

He asks to quote the customer on the first sales call, and promises people he can beat any price.   He thinks that the promised “savings” justify giving him the business, but doesn’t realize customers are happy to PAY MORE for the simple reason that they will be able to avoid dealing with him.

4.) He can be perceived as somewhat pushy or rude.

To be fair, there’s a range of aggressiveness that could be displayed here.  In his own mind he may not be brazenly aggressive, but the crux of the issue is that he tends to ask for commitments or concessions he hasn’t earned.   He doesn’t realize that to do so is a different, but equally off putting kind of unwelcome advance.  Still pushy.

5.) He’s always looking for the next tip or trick.

He wants to make sales “easier.”  Lots of times these tricks have an air of impropriety to them.  It may be something as simple as telling a white lie to the customer about his experience or capabilities.  I’ve heard stories of salespeople telling a buyer that their companies “used to do business together” (I suppose as a means to gain some level of credibility) without knowing if it was true or not.  It’s hard to verify the truth of the statement, so it must be ok to say right?

Slick Rick never realizes sales actually becomes “easier” by choosing a higher value course of action that takes a little more effort, but yields far greater results.   #irony

I think readers of this blog and buyers the world over would agree, this guy needs to leave sales immediately.  No one wants to work with him.  He’s ruining it for the rest of us.

Tentative Tom

Terrible Salespeople Tentative Tom

A lot of newer salespeople start out as Tom and they don’t even know it.  An unfortunate amount of veteran salespeople struggle through their early days as Tom, but never make the transition to the next level.  Tom could very likely be a great guy and a hard worker, but his profits will always be depressed and he will never achieve his full potential because he is gripped by fear.

What is he afraid of?

He’s afraid of just about everything.

He is afraid of what is going to go wrong next.  He’s afraid of competitors.  He’s afraid of the changing market.  He’s afraid he’s going to lose business for any number of reasons.  But the thing a newer salesman tends to be most afraid of (which is why he will start down the “Path of Tom” never to recover), is that he will be painted as another Slick Rick salesperson, so he commits an error that is just as damaging:  He inadvertently becomes a timid, tentative, doormat.

Here are 3 typical Tentative Tom tactics: (alliteration for the win)

1.) He grovels and downplays his value constantly.

He thanks people “so much for taking the time.

“Alright, I know how busy you are so I’ll get out of your hair.

“I know how busy you are, so I won’t take up too much of your time.

He truly thinks HE IS NOT WORTH THE TIME the buyer is spending with him.  His own self talk likely mirrors his outward dialogue.

Sometimes he’s so afraid of the Slick Rick stigma, he forgets to even smile and be friendly.  In his desperation to appear “professional” and “courteous,” he loses the fun and engagement.  It’s not a pretty picture.

2.) First sign of pressure he gives away the farm.

Whats that?  A competitor offered a lower price?  I’LL BEAT IT!

He fails to explore, to ask questions, and determine what brought this conversation on.  He doesn’t even ask the buyer what they WANT from him!

He just gives it away at the drop of a hat because he lacks the stones to have a relatively harmless conversation to determine what level of value the buyer places on him.  By doing this he places a level of value on himself:  LOW.

3.) He asks for permission to do everything.

“Would it be ok if…”

“Would you possibly have time…”

“Do you think we could…”

I’ve seen a Tentative Tom ask a receptionist if it would be ok…TO LEAVE A NOTE!

Good God Man!  How dare you suggest something so brazen!

No one respects a doormat salesperson.  They aren’t an attractive entity.  People are busy.  They need a person that has an agenda.  If you aren’t confident in your abilities…there is no reason for them to gamble any of their precious time by spending it with you.

Its a shame when you find a Tentative Tom that actually does have a lot to offer.  It makes you wonder what happened that caused him to lose all his fire.

Confident Carl

Terrible Salespeople Confident Carl

We’ve reached the top of the mountain.

Usually, Carl is the type of salesperson you find filling the top ranks of a salesforce.  He’s typically been doing it for years and he’s shaken off the bad habits and the low value tendencies of our first two types of salespeople.

It’s important to realize there really is a higher ground in sales.  It’s located on a separate, higher value plane above the aggressive and timid sides of the lower value plane.   This upper level might be difficult for you to find, but it is THERE…and it is worth looking for.

Come to think of it, I think I read somewhere that you can’t find it if you aren’t wearing a tie ;p

Here are 4 Confident Carl attributes:

1.) He is confident, yet completely friendly.

He tells a receptionist. “John’s not available?  That’s no problem.  I’m going to leave him a note.  Will you make sure that it gets to him?”

Carl’s approach is 1000x more valuable than “would it be ok to leave a note?”  And its NOT PUSHY!   Hooray!

Have your manager critique you here.  Or if you can’t find one soon enough,  put your phone in your shirt pocket and record yourself the next time you make a cold call or a prospect call.  Ask yourself if you sound polite…or timid.

2.) He qualifies well, and tends to work A LOT.

This allows him to live by the mantra: “If you generate, you don’t have to tolerate.”

You see, Carl is not walking into each sales call, just HOPING something good will happen.  He comes prepared to BE the good thing that happens.

He comes to each call armed with all of his product knowledge, experience, and good humour.  Because he sees lots of people, and offers up a certain brand of value, he doesn’t have to deal with price grinding, rude, or otherwise difficult buyers.  He realizes that there are thousands of qualified, friendly people that will MATCH his selling style nestled amongst the tens of thousands of unqualified, unfriendly people that will NOT MATCH his style.

Carl simply works each day looking for the people that are the right fit for him.   He doesn’t beat his head against the wall like Rick and Tom might because they never learned this.

3.) He has a strong backbone.

Didn’t we cover this in confidence?  Well, yes…but the difference here is that when it comes to an actual moment of truth in the life cycle of the account, Carl performs beautifully.    It’s easy to learn to be confident and friendly in early stage conversations.  It’s a little bit harder when your wallet is actually on the line.

If a competitor tries to cut Carl off at the knees with lower prices, he doesn’t immediately panic and overreact.  He asks good questions. He uncovers the buyer’s motivation and looks for the win/win and earns HUGE respect from the buyer for being able to do so.  Also, he retains far more margin by asking simple questions and finding out what needs to be done, rather than volunteering it away unnecessarily.

4.) He knows what he is talking about.

To be sure, a huge portion of confidence comes from knowing what you’re talking about.  In Carl’s case, he makes the process of selling a careful study.

He has also studied his industry.  He knows the products, their applications, their alternatives, and he can give the customer all the options, letting them be in control of their destiny, even while influencing them along the way.

There comes a point in the process of working with a Confident Carl that a customer will not be able to remember how they ever got by without Carl.

Carl works so well with people that he can render himself nearly irreplaceable.  What would happen to your income if no one ever wanted to leave you for a competitor ever?


So as you read through this post, did you find anything to go to work on?

I guarantee the Carls did.  🙂

Good selling!



*We can talk about “creating value” or “adding value” here in this safe “Terrible Salespeople free” zone…but you need to remember these phrases have been destroyed by the Slick Ricks of the world.  They’ve come to mean nothing.

You shouldn’t really ever tell a prospect anything about how you plan to “add/create value.”  Just create the value.  Don’t try to label it.

Like Margaret Thatcher once said, “Power is like being a lady…if you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.”

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.