Dont Get Caught in the Two Deadliest Sales Traps

I’m delighted that the ClickZ folks have asked me to do a monthly sales column for its time-strapped media sales visitors. Since meaningful sales training often takes a backseat to product and technology training in the Internet world, I hope these columns will fill that gap and give you tips and strategies to rev up your current selling power. All feedback is welcome.

Woody Allen once said that showing up is half the grade. Until recently, when it came to selling advertising online, it was almost the whole grade, since everyone wanted to advertise. Whether you sell basic banners, sophisticated streaming media, or network buys, just showing up no longer works. (Think emphasis on profits and accountability, anxiety over privacy, the failure of several prominent web sites, and smarter, more demanding buyers.)

In my various sales seminars, it is always amazing to see how often reps kill potential business by falling into some very basic, easily avoidable sales traps of their own making. See if you are guilty of two of the deadliest traps described below and then try the suggestions for escaping them.

The “I” Strain Trap

You present a monologue of self-serving statements about your product. You assume – at your peril – that the buyer shares your viewpoints. And you move on to the next point, not realizing you’ve lost your buyer. Here is an example:

    Rep: I think this web site is perfect for your needs. It has… unique visitors, who buy… worth of… Not only that, but it’s a top branded site. We’re really proud of that. In addition, it has…

Why is the buyer not surprised that you (we) think your web site is perfect? The buyer knows you get a commission if you make the sale. If tomorrow you were working for a competitor’s web site, you’d be singing similar praises about your new employer!

A string of self-endorsing statements has zero credibility with buyers. Buyers believe only what other buyers say, and they believe what they hear themselves saying.


Take yourself out of the endorsing business. Every time you feel the urge to voice your own view, restrain yourself. Use third-party endorsements, or use a declarative statement, followed by a checking question. If you can’t shake the “I (we) think” habit, at least include a checking question. Examples:

  • Other advertisers really like the demographics of our users. What do you think?

  • You’ll find the demographics are great… Do you agree?
  • We think the demographics are terrific. How do they fit your target?

If the client agrees or gives another positive response, you have succeeded in bringing the client into your unfolding sales story, and he or she is one selling point closer to yes. If the client disagrees or gives a negative response, you get the chance to deal with his or her objection or concern in real time, which is always to your advantage. Either way, the sales dialogue continues.

The “War” Trap

In this trap you lose buyers by labeling them wrong for their objections. You disagree with the objection, and you set up an “I think”/”Yes, but” contest of wills with them. They stop listening and just search for more reasons to defend their right to their own opinions.


    Buyer: I don’t think your web site is right for my advertising because of X.

    Rep: Well, I think it is. It has…

    Buyer: OK, but it doesn’t have…

    Rep: Yes, but I can show you…

    Buyer: But, I think…

    Rep: But, I think…

    The bottom line: no sale!

Your “Well, I think” triggers the reaction, “Oh, yeah?” and buyers dig in their heels for a fight. Even if they were just expressing a casual doubt about the features of your web site, your argumentative “I think” will kick off a verbal tug of war that you can only lose. The “Yes, but” only aggravates the poisoned atmosphere.


Build a psychological bridge for buyers to walk over so that they will be open to hearing your response. Keep the “I think”/”Yes, but” reactions out of it.


    Buyer: I don’t think your web site is right for my advertising because of X.

Possible “bridging” responses:

  • Let’s take a closer look at that. The web site has…

  • Sometimes that seems to be so, only it isn’t. Here’s why…
  • Advertiser ABC said the same thing, but when he took a closer look at X, he realized how it could really improve his bottom line. Look at this…
  • In fact, you’ll find that X works well because of… Let me show you…
  • X is actually one of its best points. Look at this…

Then, you give your answer to the objection or concern.

After your answers, check back for buyers’ thoughts and reactions. For example, Does that make sense? Did you realize that? Are we on track now? What do you think?

Bridges lead to dialogue. Bridges allow you to stay agreeable with buyers, which is not the same thing as agreeing with the buyers’ objections. Remaining agreeable rewards you with the opportunity to change buyers’ thinking. Becoming adversarial kills that chance.


Marketing guru Ted Levitt, Harvard professor and author of the classic “The Marketing Imagination,” said “The purpose of a business is to create and keep a customer.” Deceptively small traps, particularly those that are self-created, can trip that process up. Avoid them at all costs. However, when caught, make sure you know how to escape.

Successful selling!

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