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In the Psychology For Sales Success section of our A-Z Elite Salesperson Workshop, we dive deep into a number of traits that salespeople can improve upon for greater success. But having traveled the country for years, working with companies across virtually all industries, I have found that almost all elite salespeople share this one important trait.

Virtually all elite salespeople are self-starters and can succeed with little support. They in effect support themselves and never blame the company or those in charge for their sales numbers. The mindset is that regardless of what others are or are not doing, they are going to succeed.

Salespeople sometimes complain about not getting enough support. And sometimes, they might be right. More strategy and support from the company can certainly increase sales company-wide. However, I believe that one of the most important questions to the complaint is, “Are there currently salespeople in the company that are performing at a high level?” There almost always are. And if so, the next question is, “What is unique about that individual(s) that is performing at a high level with the same amount of support?” The level of support is always subjective and opinions often vary. But, if there are salespeople succeeding, there is at least enough support and infrastructure for individual sales success to occur.

Don’t get me wrong. As someone who has sold for other companies prior to starting my own, I understand the feeling that more can often be done to help a sales team. As a sales team trainer/coach/consultant I have seen firsthand how the added support can help salespeople get to that next level of success. But most elite salespeople have figured out that focusing on what they can do differently or improve upon, is the biggest key to their success. Management is focused on many things and a bigger picture, and hoping and waiting for them to do what one believes that they should do, is not a good recipe for success.

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Two of the currently most debated sales methods pits relationship sales vs challenging the prospect. The good news is, they both have some merit. The bad news is, big picture, both are highly flawed and there is a much better method.

The biggest issue with most sales methods is that they live and breathe in the extremes. For instance, arming salespeople with the idea that they need to challenge their prospects, can go very bad. Also, telling salespeople that they need to take the time to build a strong relationship before closing, can push them in another extreme direction. One can come off as adversarial and the other can move much slower than it needs to. Since I regularly get asked my opinion on this subject, here it is.

1. The good and the bad of relationship building as a sales method. Building strong relationships with our prospects and clients is certainly always the right idea. That’s what is most likely to keep them as clients over the long-term. But that doesn’t mean that we have to get extremely close, before creating some commitments and starting a business relationship. Our pre and post close processes should include continually fostering and growing the relationship. But our approach shouldn’t slow buyer momentum or lengthen our sales cycle. If the goal is more sales, the goal should also be to shorten our sales cycle. If we take twice as long to develop initial relationships before closing, we will meet with half as many prospects. And although we may believe that meeting with someone more times will increase our chances of closing, it can also get us ghosted before we get to asking for the sale. Prospects no longer have time (or want) for extra relationship building conversations. There is a very fine line here.

2. The good and the bad of challenging a prospect. As someone who provides sales training/coaching for a living, when someone sells to me, I often think to myself, “They are using the x method.” For the record, the Challenger Method is the worst experience for me (and many others) as a buyer. Especially as a B2B buyer. And although one might argue that the salespeople are doing it wrong, I would argue that the title and the message tell them to do exactly what many buyers take issue with.

Let’s start with what’s good. The idea of learning about your prospect’s business and being an advisor and consultant is dead on. All good sales methods should do that. And providing new ideas and ways for people to think about utilizing our product or service, also good. The problem lies with “challenging” a buyer about their buying decisions for their company. First, as salespeople, we are the expert on our product or service. That is our job. But no matter how much we try to learn about a prospect’s organization, the prospect will remain the (big picture) expert on it. Period. Speaking to or acting otherwise, is a very bad look. So, when a salesperson advises me on their product/service (their expertise), I listen intently and then frame it into how it will affect my company (my expertise) if I purchase it. Challenging me on making the right decision for my company is a really bad idea and only means that they will never have the opportunity to sell to me again. I am not alone in my feelings. This is one of the major flaws with this method. A strong argument for instituting this method is based on the idea that it will help a salesperson “take control” of sales conversations and stop being so passive. Right idea, wrong approach. There is a better way.

3. The Harney Method. What’s a better method in reference to the above?

A. Build relationships and trust quickly, without slowing any buyer momentum toward close. Some prospects might need more relationship development time and some won’t. Learn each individual prospect and deliver. It’s not about how much time WE feel they need to be comfortable enough to move forward.

B. Create equal relationships with prospects. People connect with and trust people that they see as their equal. Coming in too soft makes us look like we aren’t their equal. Challenging prospects comes off as arrogant and unequal in the other direction. Enter the relationship with the prospect as partners, each with expertise and both focused on a great end result for the team.

C. Understand that each prospect is unique. Ask the right questions to identify their unique wants, needs and problems to solve. This is how you properly guide and control the conversation as their partner. Listen! Advise in line with what the PROSPECT has identified as to how you can help them, based on your expertise. Listen again. Deliver on THEIR needs in YOUR expert way. We can and should be strongly engaged and assertive without coming off as arrogant or adversarial.

Happy Holidays!

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If you’re like many organizations, the sales team tends to slow or “wind down” this time of year. But should they? For those of us that don’t sell Christmas presents, sales activity can start to slow just before Thanksgiving and not get going strong again until January. But think about it… That accounts for about 10% of our year. Should we as organizations or salespeople accept strongly diminished productivity for that amount of time? There are certainly challenges to selling during the holiday season, but there are many things that we can still do to be productive.

This week I’m providing training/coaching/consulting for organizations in the areas of Boston, Chicago and Los Angeles. It’s not common for me to work in-person with three different organizations, in three different cities, in the same week. But many organizations requested this specific week. What’s going on? It’s the holiday season. Many companies look to schedule their programs for the first week of December before they wind things down until after the holidays. Actually, five or six organizations asked about this week and then literally zero for the following week and until after the first of the year. Now should this mentality carry over for salespeople? Should sales productivity wind down too until after the holidays? Many salespeople believe that it has to. It certainly can be more challenging to get in contact with prospects during this time, with them often responding by asking us to touch base again after the holidays. But does that mean that we can’t still be sales productive? Well, Christmas isn’t for another three weeks and New Year’s is only one or two days in the week after that. That leaves a lot of time to be productive if we want to be, while still celebrating the holidays.

How can we stay in the holiday spirit, respect our prospects and still be productive?

Follow Up: Continue to follow up with your current prospects. Don’t push your follow ups to after the first of the year. Follow your same (hopefully) strong follow-up cadence, and find out what communication level that your individual prospects want right now. If they want to halt communication until after the holidays, great. “Absolutely, I will follow up with you again after the first of the year.” Momentum continued. Some might not want to slow things down and we can get closer to a positive result for them. The key is continuing the positive sales momentum when and where we can. I’m not suggesting to call them on Christmas, but what’s wrong with December 10th, 15th, 28th and so on? So many salespeople don’t follow up on these normal working days of the year and kill the relationship building momentum, resulting in fewer sales. We want to avoid being in the situation of trying to reignite relationships after the first of the year. Keep fostering them as much as we can.

Prospecting: Understanding that there is a reality to some people’s availability over the holidays, let’s also understand that they will be over soon enough. As a career salesperson (and CEO), I have found this time period to be the best in developing and creating new prospecting and marketing campaigns for the next year. If we can’t talk to as many people, we can use this time to create opportunities to more than make up for it when the next year begins. Hit the ground running. Now is a great time to do prospect and marketing work to help us succeed in the new year. If we don’t, we may lose even more time as we try to get things revved back up in January.

The holiday season has a number of great sales productivity opportunities, but if we can at least focus on the two above, we will be much further ahead than the majority of salespeople and organizations that “wind down” from late November to early January. Happy Holidays!

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