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The inverse relationship between price and selling skill

selling skill

by Troy Harrison

Sometimes I get concerned about the state of the great profession of selling. Specifically, I worry that the average salesperson is less invested in their profession and less skilled than the average salesperson of a couple of decades ago.

Let me tell you why. More and more, I see “cheap price” substituted for “selling skills.”

I started my sales career selling new cars in Topeka, Kansas, in 1990. At first, I wasn’t very good, as you would expect. But, although the environment was pretty cutthroat, I worked hard at developing my skills. I listened to a set of tapes that the dealership had (lousy). I went to a car sales training school (not much better). But then I started reading sales books. Some of those were car oriented (Customers For Life, by Carl Sewell, is still on my bookshelf and one of the best sales books I’ve ever read), and some were not. What was interesting was this – I was surrounded by salespeople who did the same. We bought sales books. We read sales books. We traded sales books around. And we worked hard at getting better at our profession.

I’ve been interviewing candidates for a client of mine. This position is a highly paid position and is attracting mid- and senior-level candidates. A question I often ask is, “What’s the last sales book you read?” Normally, the answer I get is either a blank stare, or an honest, “I don’t read sales books.”

“Okay,” I ask, “How do you develop your skills?” Again, I get blank stares. I find this both concerning and disappointing, and it ties to the most frequent question I get when I speak at conventions. The most commonly asked questions I get are how to deal with price. More specifically, it’s along these lines:

“Troy, I constantly have a problem with customers taking my (lower) price and using it to get their current supplier to drop my price. Then I don’t get the sale. How can I protect myself from that?”

Pardon me while I sigh and roll my eyes for a minute. Okay, I’m back; here’s my answer. There’s a dirty little secret in sales, and it’s this: Customers buy from who they want to buy from. If that’s not you, your price doesn’t matter. If it is you, your price might matter, but it’s far from the only thing that does. If low prices are your only sales tactic, you aren’t a salesperson. Period.

“But, Troy, all my customers care about is a low price,” salespeople wail. Utter nonsense. If everyone was paying the absolute lowest price possible for everything, there would only be one provider of any given service in any given market. Before you think about allowing your salespeople to offer “the cheapest price,” ask yourself these questions:

  • Has your salesperson asked and understood the customer’s definition of success for the purchase?
  • Has your salesperson shown them how you can solve their needs and achieve this success?
  • Has the customer agreed that you can achieve their success?
  • Has your salesperson gotten the customer to explain how they see an advantage in buying from you?

If your salespeople aren’t doing these things, they aren’t positioning themselves to truly “win” the sale. They’re cranking out a quote and hoping that it’s good enough. And then they’re probably complaining that they took your price to the supplier that they wanted to buy from all along, since you didn’t persuade them that they would achieve a better result by buying from you instead.

Entirely too many salespeople ask a few rote questions trying to find a common problem in their industry, then fire off a proposal in hopes of making the sale. Most of the time it doesn’t. It’s lazy and unskilled selling.

So, how does this tie back to my original point about sales books? Simple. The salespeople who take the time to reinvest in themselves, their skills, and their careers are seldom the ones who ask me price-based questions. That’s because they understand how to ask great questions, how to make great presentations, and position themselves to truly win sales. If your people are getting wrapped around the axle about price all the time (or even if they aren’t), maybe it’s time for them to get serious about this great profession of ours.

From their learning, try one new skill per week. Maybe it’s coming up with a new question. Maybe it’s presenting in a different way. Your customers will tell you – quickly – what works and what doesn’t.

Here are some easy ways for you to drive this as a manager:

  1. Assign reading and reporting. Or better yet, assign training. Pick a salesperson every week, and have them find a sales article that speaks to an issue they are dealing with. Then have them present it to the team and train on the key concept in the article. This can be even better than you driving their training.
  2. Have salespeople come up with one new question to ask customers each meeting. Try them out in actual sales calls and report on the results the following week. You’ll end up with a great master list of questions.
  3. When salespeople come to you asking for a price discount, make them give you – SPECIFICALLY – two reasons that the customer said they would prefer to buy from you. If they can’t do that – no discount.
  4. This might be the most important. Say NO to bad deals. Period. Even if the salesperson comes in with a signed contract, if the deal is bad, make them go back and get more money. This is a painful experience for a salesperson, and they don’t like to repeat it. If you say no to a bad deal twice, that salesperson will train themselves to get better pricing.

As I stated in the beginning, if your team isn’t skilled, you’ll have to use giveaway pricing to get business. Why not build their skills instead? Create a culture of sales skill improvement and your job will be more profitable and more fun.

Troy HarrisonTroy Harrison is the author of “Sell Like You Mean It!” and “The Pocket Sales Manager.” A speaker, consultant and sales navigator, he helps companies build more profitable and productive sales forces with his cutting-edge sales training and methodologies. For information on booking speaking/training engagements, consulting, or to sign up for his weekly E-zine, call (913) 645-3603, email, or visit

This article originally appeared in the Nov./Dec. 2022 issue of Industrial Supply magazine. Copyright 2022, Direct Business Media.


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