The Death of Tired Sales Assumptions

Black and white photo of Lee J. Cobb and Mildred Dunnock with arrows to facial expressions and their emotions expressed via facial coding, in the play "Death of a Salesman".
Lee J. Cobb and Mildred Dunnock on stage in Henry Miller’s Death of a Salesman

Two plays have most defined how we see salespeople. One is shown here, from the original staging on Broadway of Henry Miller’s classic Death of a Salesman. There’s rage, but most of all there’s sadness in a drama in which Lee J. Cobb (playing the broken-down salesman Willy Lowman) moans: “The only thing you’ve got in this world is what you can sell.” In vain his wife, played by Mildred Dunnock, tries to comfort him.  

“The only thing you’ve got in this world is what you can sell.”

Lee J. Cobb in Death of a Salesman

What’s the other play? It’s David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross. Again, rage plays a role but really the key emotion is the fear that gets instilled in a crew of salesmen. From the film adaptation that added the character of Blake, played by Alec Baldwin, here is the movie’s most famous moment: “We’re adding a little something to this month’s sales contest. As you all know, first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado. Anybody wanna see the second prize? Second prize is a set of steak knives. Third prize is, you’re fired.”

“We’re adding… to this month’s sales contest…first prize is a Cadillac Eldorado…Third prize is, you’re fired.”

Alec Baldwin in Glengarry Glen Ross

Let’s broaden and update the picture. As Daniel H. Pink pointed out in To Sell is Human, we’re all salespeople. Something like 40% of our time on the job is devoted to cajoling—persuading—selling others on what we would like to see happen.

What’s the real key emotion of effective sales nowadays? It’s surprise: eyes-wide-open curiosity. As Colleen Stanley points out in this week’s podcast, a salesperson who’s constantly learning about prospects, their needs, their hopes, their fears, and how to better connect with them, including online during Covid-19, is who you actually want to hire. Yes, steak knives are for losers but not in the way Blake meant. Serving up spoonfuls of comfort and hope would be more like it.

A Few Sales Tips

Using EQ to Build a Great Sales Team

Released today: episode 19 of “Dan Hill’s EQ Spotlight,” featuring Colleen Stanley, the author of Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership. Listen to the clip below and click on the image to get to the new episode. 

What does it take to connect successfully with somebody you’re trying to “win over”? 

Stanley is the president of SalesLeadership, a sales development firm. She’s been named by Salesforce as one of the top sales influencers of the 21stcentury and also a Top 30 Global Sales guru.

Topics covered in this episode include:

  • In hiring, what should you be on against in both yourself and the job candidate? An eye for the “something” missing that you may or may not be able to resolve is one key.
  • Exploring a variety of buyer personas, including specifically: The Poker Face prospect, The Nitpicker, and The Glad-Hander. How best to dislodge an incumbent vendor so you can make the sale?
  • What is mean by helping a person on your sales team “untell” a story that is hindering that person’s effectiveness.

Dan Hill, Ph.D., is the president of Sensory Logic, Inc.