The Ten Sales Commandments


   I.     Thou shalt believe in thy company and its products, that others may believe.

 This is #1 for a reason:  It is absolutely critical.  If you intend to be a top sales professional you’d better select something in which you truly believe.  In your heart of hearts you want to know that when you persuade your customers to do business with you,  you have done them a favor.  That they will be substantially better off by virtue of having decided to use your product or service.  When you believe, your customer will be moved. 

 If you are currently selling something in which you don’t believe, do yourself, your customers and your company a favor:  Resign.  Go find what you do believe in.

Yes, I know, there are those who “sell ice to Eskimos.”  You find them peddling penny stocks to widows, shoddy home improvements to the elderly, charity scams, defective used cars, get-rich-quick schemes and the like.  They can be very smooth, persuasive, insistent and compelling.  But we don’t call them professional salespeople.  We call them thieves. 

 II.  Thou shalt study not only thine own company and its products, but also thy competitors and their products, that thou mayest be knowledgeable in thy field.

 Learn to be an expert.  Winners have the best notes.  Know everything there is to know about your company, its products and how this can benefit your customers.  Now do the same thing with your competitors and their products.  Know it better than they do. 

 It takes a lot of work and time to develop this base of knowledge.  Nobody said it would be easy. 

This is the great irony of sales.  It is one of the easiest professions to enter, but one of the most difficult in which to excel.  Becoming a top flight sales professional requires every bit as much discipline, training and work as does becoming a top flight lawyer, accountant or executive.  It’s a lifelong task.

  III.     Thou shalt put thy client’s needs before thine own.

 OK, now you believe in your company and its products, you know it and them inside out and you know your competitors better than they know themselves.  You’re ready to go to work for your customers, and the first step is your attitude.  Simple, but not easy.  In fact it is the most difficult commandment of all, and it is positively unnatural.

 Astronomers may argue about the center of the universe, but from a human perspective the answer is a bit clearer.  We are each the center of our own universe.  It is created when we are born and dissolves when we die.  Wherever we are, that is the center. 

 We see this most clearly in very young children.  As far as every three-year-old is concerned, there is no question where the center of the universe lies.  At age three, that is perfectly  appropriate.  Even desirable.  But part of becoming a fully mature and effective human being is learning to set our personal needs aside to focus on the needs of others.

 This is what the truly top sales performers routinely do.  They’ve learned that when they genuinely put their clients’ needs first, their own needs get taken care of automatically.  They also realize that without a conscious, active effort it won’t happen.  The natural thing is to think first of ourselves.  We must actively pursue the unnatural, and more effective, course.

  IV.     Thou shalt know thy client’s business.

     The first step in putting our clients’ needs before our own is getting to know them.  We can’t focus on what they need without knowing their business.  Only then can we match what we can provide with solving their problems and meeting their expectations.

     The most common recommendation is to do copious amounts of research into their company before setting foot in their door.  Sounds good, but if you’ve ever covered a major sales territory, you know how impractical this advice is.  If you spend this much time doing research you are no longer selling.  You are doing research.

     Here’s another downside.  Take your typical outgoing sales type, fill him with information on the customer, her company and it’s products, and he will be fairly bursting with all this great knowledge he just can’t wait to unload.  On the customer, leading to one of the great sales sins:  Talking, instead of listening.

     Here’s a better, more efficient way.  Do a little bit of homework on each of your customers.  Enough so that you can ask intelligent questions, and then do so.  Ask them about their business.  People love to talk about themselves and their work.  Let them. 

You’ll come away with a thorough grounding in the business from their perspective, not the perspective you developed in your research.  All together now, which perspective is more important?  And because you listened, they’ll come away with a great impression of how astute a business person you are.  After all, you asked them their opinion.  The very definition of astuteness.

   V.     Thou shalt learn thy client’s concerns and possible objections that thou wilt not be caught off guard.

     If we are going to focus on our clients’ needs we need to know their concerns.  Objections are one of the best tools available for this.  We should learn to expect and welcome them.  Customers present them as part of the process of becoming comfortable with doing business with us.  Our responses can move this process along, or stop it dead in its tracks.  A lot depends on our preparation.

 Most businesses have a fairly common set of objections you are likely to hear over and over again.  After a while even the slowest salespeople learn how to respond adequately, but at the very high price of having practiced on their customers.  There is a simpler, and better, way:  Ask your associates.

     Within your company there are people who have heard literally every possible objection over the years, and probably some impossible ones as well.  So ask them what you can expect before you go out there.  While you’re at it, ask them how they respond to each objection.  You’ll spare yourself, and your customers, a lot of uncomfortable and unnecessary moments.

VI.     Thou shalt render assistance, advice and information to achieve thy client’s goals and solve thy client’s problems.

     Once we have established ourselves as professionals and credible experts in our field, our customers will begin to turn to us for help and solutions.  We have let the customer talk first.  We’ve heard and understood their concerns and interests.  Now, selecting carefully from the full range of options and information we have available, we can propose ideas, present information and craft programs to meet their goals.

     It is critical not to bury our customers with everything we know.  They don’t care and don’t have the time.  If we’ve listened carefully we can target what they need.  With each customer the solution will vary, but with our focus on their goals and their problems, our assistance, advice and information will be useful, beneficial and welcome.  This is the beginning of a long-term, successful customer relationship.

VII. Thou shalt maintain contact that thy client may know thee and rely upon thee, for this doth nurture thy accounts that they may grow.

     Great salespeople love the hunt.  Pursuing new accounts, developing new business, boldly going where no one has…etc, etc.  Few things are more satisfying than landing the big one after a long, hard, creative struggle that tests all your skills.  But building your business also requires that you hold on to each account for the long-term, even as you add new ones.  The process is akin to filling a bucket with water.  If your bucket has holes, it is a lot harder keep it filled.

     Once you land that new account, your goal should be to have their newly expressed confidence in you continue to grow and build over time.  As anxious as you may be to move on to your next victory, fully developing your current accounts is not only necessary, but highly profitable.

 Stay in consistent contact.  Let them know you are thinking of them and that you care.  It keeps you in tune with their ever changing needs and interests.  But as your customer list grows, this can be a daunting task.  Fortunately, we have more tools than ever at our disposal.  You should learn to use them all and to apply those that best fit each individual client.

Call.  Every day we collect all kinds of interesting bits of information that may be of interest or use to our clients.  Be continually on the lookout for these.  Evaluate each as to who might appreciate hearing about it.  We should always be attuned to any and all legitimate reasons to pick up the phone and call.

Send Clippings.  Make it a habit to read as widely as possible.  Trade magazines that serve your industry, and those of personal interest.  Newsletters.  Your daily papers.  Whatever captures your imagination.  As you read do so with an eye towards what might be of interest to your customers.  Copy these articles, features or cartoons and send them along with a brief note:  “Thought you’d enjoy this.”  Chances are that anything that catches your eye will be of interest to several of your customers.  Make extra copies and do a mini-mailing. 

E-mail.   It’s fast, easy and cheap.   This is most useful in quickly exchanging information on a project.  Be careful, though.  People are buried in them.  Short, useful and to the point.

Every personal sales call should be followed by a personal email.  It should recap the highlights of your meeting and outline any agreements or future plans you settled upon.  Unless there is some explicit urgency, time it to arrive a few days after your meeting.  By then a busy customer will have mostly forgotten what took place.  Your timely contact not only refreshes their memory, but reinforces it as well.

If you do this faithfully you will literally double you clients’ perception of how often you spend time with them.

 VIII.     Thou shalt always be honest that thy client may trust thee and lay faith in thy claims, opinions and suggestions.

     The key word here is “always.”  “Mostly,” “frequently” and “almost always” are not good enough.  One betrayal, no matter how minor, is enough to seriously damage a relationship you may have taken years to build.  You must be impeccably honest at all times and in all your dealings.

     In spite of our best intentions, this is surprisingly difficult.  Especially in the little things.

     Most people have a pretty good handle on the big picture, and most would describe themselves as basically honest.  And, basically, they are.  It’s with the little things we tend to give in and it’s in the little things we are constantly presented with temptations.  The extra change the clerk hands us by mistake.  The error on our restaurant bill in our favor.  The little white lie.

 Honesty, like most things, is a matter of habit.  Yield to temptation and those small dishonesties too easily become habit.  They become what you are.  Every time you indulge in them, you risk your reputation and your integrity:  The foundations upon which you build your business (and personal) relationships.  Indeed, every time you risk everything. 

 Impeccable honesty is the best and proper way for us to conduct ourselves and our lives.  It is also simply the most effective way to build long-term relationships and to increase our sales, our business and our prosperity. 

If you’ve been less than impeccable in your behavior,  you have far more to gain by changing than by the meager advantages your dishonesty provides.  The way to change is to start small.  Make it your conscious policy to be unfailingly honest in the little stuff.  Return the extra change, point out the error in your favor and stand ready to tell the truth even when it’s uncomfortable.  We build our foundations on the details.

  IX.     Thou shalt demonstrate that thy client’s business is important to thee,  for all have a need to be appreciated.

     Think back to the last time you went shopping and the store’s sales staff chose to ignore you.  Perhaps they were busy on the phone or stocking shelves or on their way out or chatting with each other.  But, clearly, helping you was simply too much bother. 

 How eager were you to give them your business?  Your hard earned cash?  At that point they had better be selling something at a rock bottom price that you absolutely must have, right?  Now, do you want your customer base to consist of people who will only buy at rock bottom prices and then only what they can’t do without?  I didn’t think so.

One of the most powerful things we can say to a customer is:  “Your business is important to us.”  People need to feel important and valued.  The most successful businesses make this a science.  Learning to convey it in your words and actions will have dramatic results.

     Here’s a useful experiment.  Select an account where you are not getting the business.  Make sure it is an account that can genuinely use and benefit from what your company offers and that you are talking to the right person.  The next time you visit say something like this:

     “You know, Susan, our company, XYZ Corp. has spent a lot of time and money analyzing the market and we’ve invested heavily in the equipment needed to be the best possible widget manufacturer for a select group of client companies.  Your company, ABC Corp. is precisely the kind of customer we’ve targeted and for whom we think we can do the best possible job.  Your business is incredibly important to us.  In fact, it is critical to our vision of the future.  You can be sure, should you decide to do business with us, you will consistently receive our best possible effort, service and commitment to your success.  We very much want to do business with you.  You are a vitally important customer.  Can you tell me what it will take for us to do business together?” 

 Then, shut up.  Let her tell you.  In most cases she will.  Frequently it’s a surprisingly simple last few steps.  At the very least you will know exactly where you stand.  I’ve seen this result in business on the spot.

     A lot of sales training focuses on closing techniques.  As often as not these are manipulative and insulting to your customers.  Few techniques are more powerful than simply identifying those who can genuinely use your products or services, letting them know that their business is important and valued, and asking them to do business with you.

   X.     Thou shalt have enthusiasm for thy profession, for this is infectious.

     There are a select group of characteristics that people find compelling in others.  Key among these is enthusiasm.   We have each had the experience of being caught up in someone’s raw unbridled enthusiasm.  Such moments and people are exciting and create a powerful impact.  It is virtually impossible not to be affected.  If the enthusiasm is powerful enough we are drawn to it again and again.  It’s a wonderful experience and your customers deserve nothing less.

     As you build your enthusiasm you impact not only those around you but, perhaps even more importantly, yourself.  The birds sing sweeter, the sun shines brighter, your load seems lighter and the world genuinely and tangibly begins to go your way.

     Find what you believe in and build your enthusiasm around it.  In your work and in your life.

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Important Resources

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  1. Kurt Wessling says

    11) Thou Shalt Bring The Donuts for the nourishment of thy client and expansion of their waistline. Just kidding… great stuff — keep up the good work!

  2. Norm Wisler says

    And so the Commandments were written by the consummate master and leader of sales. Amen! I am proud to call you a friend under whose tutelage I have labored, learned and professionally grown. Thanks, Jim.

    • jlcollinsnh says


      great see you here! thanks for the very kind words. High praise indeed, especially coming from one of the best I’ve ever seen. the honor has been all mine.

  3. Tom Elmer says

    Great job Jim! Some quick thoughts:

    LISTEN more and write things down so you use their words and thoughts, ask better questions, continue to invest in your self through training, reading and networking.

    Become an expert in your business and approach the customer as a consultant ( if we can not improve your business with a plan using our product and service to help improve your business ( the big two: increase sales/profits/ and reduce costs)and demonstrate exactly how we will help your business so that you are more anxious to buy our product than we are to sell it).

    Remember MARKETING: looking at the company through the customer’s eyes and working together with those that support your efforts such as customer service and product management, follow through or your words mean nothing – the cliche under promise and over deliver is real, be accessible, respond to all communications within 24 hours.

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