Challenges to Tom Szaky’s My Top 10 Sales Tips

By John Aberle | Small Business Management

Jan 23

The interesting thing about sales and marketing is that there is always another way to see things, another insight that might improve your performance.  As a professional salesperson, hopefully you recognize that sales is more art than science so you must always be learning. After all, selling, first and foremost, is developing accurate communication with people.Title added to Image from screen shot of Tom Szaky’s My Top 10 Sales Tips on NY Times online

That is why this article by Tom Szaky, the chief executive of TerraCycle, is of value. Although Szaky’s list is generally excellent, at the end you will find some challenges to as well as expansions on some of Szaky’s points, especially for small business salespeople:

My Top 10 Sales Tips

My biggest sales lesson came from a good friend who is now our head of Canadian business development (a fancy term for sales), Robin Tator. Robin taught me that sales is not about what you are selling, but about making friends and about getting someone to see the world the way you do. If you do that, everything else will take care of itself.

Sales can be a melancholy job. On one hand, many people (especially nonsales people) feel that it’s sleazy and lowbrow. On the other hand, it can be the most important function of a business. Until there’s a sale, there is no business. Personally, I’ve gone from thinking the former to believing the latter and honing my skills over a decade to where today I am effectively the chief sales officer of TerraCycle. I don’t know exactly when this transition happened, but it took me a few years to embrace the power of sales the way I do today.

I recently wrote a friend who is starting a nonprofit and suggested that the role of a company leader is to become the chief convincing officer. In the end these two titles are synonymous, because selling is really the art of convincing someone to believe and buy into your concept, whether by buying your product or service or by investing in your company or by working for your company.

Here are my top 10 sales tips, all of which have served me and our staff — including Jo Opot, pictured above — for years:

1.            You can sell only if you yourself are convinced:If you are not sold on the product or service, it will be an uphill battle to sell someone on else. Your lack of conviction will scream through.

2.         Be clear and direct: When pitching do not use complicated diction. Pride yourself instead on being able to explain the concept as quickly, clearly and simply as possible. This is important because the biggest problem in sales is client confusion. Confusion does not lead to a Yes.

3.         Pressure is an art: Creating FUD (Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt) in your client’s mind can be a good thing because it will lead to serious consideration of your concept. In the TerraCycle world, we award brand exclusivity by country and by category. I often need to tell potential clients that their competition is also talking with us. The trick is to mention this once and to NOT rub it in, which is likely to anger them. No one who is angered into saying Yes.

4.         Know your client: Make sure to research your potential clients, know their challenges and their needs. One size hardly ever fits all, and you look much stronger if you care about the business enough to invest in the research. I can’t tell you how many times I get cold calls from sales people who don’t even know what TerraCycle does.

5.         It’s all about the presentation: Building an amazing deck is critical to the sales process. Practice it, memorize it and be prepared to shift your emphasis based on how the energy changes when you give the presentation. Internally, we always ask ourselves: “Is the flow of this deck right? Will it convince?”

6.         Be passionate and exciting: Most presentations are BORING! So create a show and make it exciting. Excitement is contagious – just like a yawn.

7.         If you don’t know the answer, do not guess: People will ask you tough questions, and you may not always know the answer. The person asking you may be testing you, knowing the answer full well. And if you fumble, it’s very hard to rebuild credibility. Do not guess.

8.         Answer questions directly and clearly: If you are asked a question and you give a “politician’s answer” – in other words, if you don’t answer the question – your credibility will decline, and you will hurt your chances of making the sale.

9.         Humor is a great lubricator: Funny stories always break the ice. Instead of using business cards, everyone in our company uses stamps (see right) to leave our contact info. It’s eco-friendly, it never runs out and it makes for a nice ice-breaker at the beginning of every meeting.

10.      You can always be better: Sales is an art, not a science. Which means it’s never perfect and can always improve. TerraCycle has a standard sales deck most of our associates use. We’ve gone through 94 versions in the last three years and version 95 is around the corner.

Bottom line: sales is a critical function that is more art than science, so hone your art. And please share any of the sales tips you’ve learned.

Read the Tom Szaky’s original article, “My Top 10 Sales Tips,” in the NY Times “You’re the Boss” Section

As promised above, here are some challenges and some elaborations to Tom Szaky’s “My Top 10 Sales Tips.”

3.         Pressure is an art:

This is a technique IBM used effectively for decades. I have never used it that I can recall. It’s manipulative. Find a positive way to get attention without needing to appeal to fear tactics.

5.         It’s all about the presentation:

I think that presentations are important in corporate sales. However, in small business sales, talking about what they are concerned with is the most important thing. Whether business-to-business or business-to-consumer, people want someone who cares about them more than about how great the salesperson’s company and products are or how fancy a presentation he can make. Yes, demos are convincing provided you built the relationship.

By the way, I’ve read numerous top corporate salespeople who point out that with major corporations too, it is critical to show that you listen, you understand their concerns, and you care about serving them, not just about your wallet. Until you do that, presentations are unimportant. You may entertain them at the same time they shut off and look for someone else who cares more than you do. (See point 6.)

8.         Answer questions directly and clearly:

I couldn’t agree more. If someone asks a question, don’t think you can tap dance around it enough to make them forget. If they cared enough to ask, anticipate that it is important to them. Be honest. Most people today over twenty, maybe over fifteen, have heard the sales pitches, what Szaky calls “politician’s answer,” and can recognize one within seconds.

Few things are a bigger turn off. Moreover, it immediately destroys or severely damages whatever trust you have built up. The only way to use such an answer is to make a joke of it, make it clear that you are joking, then answer honestly. I have, however, asked for clarification of what they meant or heard because I have made incorrect assumptions about what the prospect was really asking.

9.         Humor is a great lubricator:

I love humor and think it can break down barriers faster than anything. It can also offend faster than anything. Avoid anything having to do with race, creed, color, sexual orientation or sex in general.  Many people, myself included, will laugh despite being embarrassed or feeling something is really inappropriate for a business setting.

The problem is that we will often do our best to avoid the one who used in appropriate humor. If you have a funny story about yourself that doesn’t make you look stupid, use it. For example, I tell the story about my first experience with tamales as a young teenager. I grew up in Wisconsin and had never seen tamales before. I hated them because they were so tough and fibrous. No one told me I was supposed to peel that husk off them.

While sales is a lifelong learning experience, find confidence in your own opinions and stick to your values. It took me many personal successes in sales to reach the point where I would dare to write Challenges to Tom Szaky’s My Top 10 Sales Tips. After all, he’s CEO of an Inc. 500 company. If you want to really excel at sales and marketing and love what you do, then pick techniques that you can use in harmony with your values.

Building your profits through strong relationships,


John R. Aberle

P.S. Would you like to attract people to your business? Would you

like to find it easier and more fun to make sales?

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About the Author

My first Kindle eBook, How Relationship Selling Rewards Small Businesses, went live on April 24, 2012. I've lived a lifetime of service and spiritual search so it's natural for me to incorporate these attitudes into my work. I believe that selling and marketing are spiritual service when done with a heart-centered, relationship selling approach. All of business success comes down to building strong relationships.