Two Sales Approaches: Salt the Oats vs Provide a Salt Lick

By John R. Aberle | Heart Centered Sales and Marketing

Feb 03
Heart-Centered Selling Meme “Provide a Salt Lick”

Of the two major approaches to sales and selling, which do you prefer? Are you someone who enjoys controlling a prospect until you win the sale? Or are you someone who loves helping the customer buy, i.e. leaving the customer free to choose to buy or not? As most people want to have their right to choose, give your prospects the freedom to choose too. Which is how the “Salt the Oats vs Provide a Salt Lick” issue came up.

Ancient Proverb’s Wisdom Applied to Sales

Americans have long had a proverb that “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.” Then some sales trainer came up with the addendum, “But you can salt the oats.”

Sadly, it took a long time to realize that this not a clever solution. It was manipulation. Anytime you do something to get the result you want, whether you believe it is in their best interest or not, you are manipulating. You are removing the prospect’s freedom to choose.

On the other hand, you might put a salt lick out there for the horse to choose to lick the salt which will make it thirsty and then it will drink on its own. But it is free to forego the salt lick too.

Heart-Centered Selling Gives Prospect Freedom to Choose

The key element here is freedom, the freedom to choose. If you are truly a heart-centered sales person, you will opt to give your prospect the right and ability to choose. That’s what “Help Customers Buy” is all about.

Find out what your prospects want and believe they need. What is the most important issue that you can solve for them? Then, if it is in your ability, you help them buy it.

How Service First Built Trust and Customer Loyalty

One sales training client, “Harry,” shared with me an experience he had when he was a chemical engineer. He has a favorite sales representative, “Joe,” from whom they bought their supplies for manufacturing. On this one occasion, though, they needed a product he did not carry. Joe told my client where to go to obtain that product.

Harry was so impressed that he and his team tried to use one of Joe’s products, but it wouldn’t work for the application they had. While Joe lost that one sale, he earned a loyal customer because he demonstrated that he really cared about helping Harry and his team out.

Customer Focus of Serving First Builds Trust

One of the constant issues you have as a salesperson or just as a small business owner who sells products or services to your customers is trust. People today are justifiably skeptical about salespeople and businesses caring more about making their sales numbers than about serving them first. Thus, earning their trust is one thing. Keeping that trust is another.

Use manipulation techniques like that sales trainer I described to “salt their oats,” and you will lose their trust. Provide the help they need to obtain what they want and believe they need, you will keep that trust.

Obviously, life is not always that easy. Because of your expertise, you may realize that what they feel they need won’t work or won’t be the complete solution they need. At times like that, you will have to warn them about what your experience tells you. However, approach it like the rancher who provides his horses a salt lick.

Present the additional information they need. Paint a mental picture of the benefit they will receive from your suggestion. But avoid pushing them. Provide the salt lick and let them choose.


Heart-centered selling means you help customers buy. You avoid manipulation like “salting their oats” if they don’t want to buy. However, you can advise them and present a better or more complete solution, like the rancher who provides the salt lick. Then give them their freedom to choose.


Heart-centered sales is still selling. However, it respects the customer’s freedom to choose and avoids manipulation. You listen then advise. You help the customer buy. You may even present a salt lick by describing the benefits of a different or better solution based on what she told you. But the choice is hers to lick the salt and drink, i.e. buy.

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About the Author

I have a strong love for small businesses, especially brick and mortar companies. After an 18-year career in sales and marketing, I started my own service company, which I grew in both sales and profits for the first five years. In my sixth year, the bottom dropped out of the printer market such that it made more sense to sell my assets and return to Southern California. There I went to work for an international small business consulting company. I spent over three years on the road with them helping small businesses to become more profitable and better managed. I then started my own company specializing in sales and marketing consulting, coaching and training. My emphasis is on heart-centered, relationship selling that empowers prospects to make their own choices.