Sales Failure: How Selling Systems are Failing Salespeople

by Bhavesh

Failure in sales can happen not because salespeople don't use selling systems, as commonly accepted, but because of them. Presented is an alternative: a Non-System.

"A consistent thinker is a thoughtless person, because he conforms to a pattern and thinks in a groove." ~ J. Krishnamurti

Anatomy of a Sales Failure

Evolution of a Selling Non-System

This article follows the rationale of a selling system, often known as a selling process or a methodology, from its early stages of formation to its present-day form. It illustrates that while selling systems contribute to many successes of salespeople, they can also lead to their failure. It also presents an alternative non-system - Selling by the Way of Awareness - that allows salespeople to preserve the best elements of selling systems and compensate for their weaknesses.  

Sales Failure and Success
Sales Failure and Success

Who Would You Rather Buy From?

Please Take a Moment to Reflect Before Answering!
  Display results
If you answered b) you are not alone, many people like to buy from people who have not yet learned to be a killer salesperson!

To Have or Not To Have a Selling System

Two Modes of Selling

My 8-year old is a Girl Scout. Recently, she brought home some cookies to sell. It's a delight to watch her speak with people, our neighbors mostly, as she tries to get them to buy cookies. "What do you do to get people to buy cookies from you?" I asked. "You ask them if they want to buy the cookies," she explained, "and they either say, 'yes' or 'no.'" Simple enough.

As I watch her do her routine, something interesting happens. There are some who clearly do not want to buy the cookies from her. But they do not dare say "no" to a little girl. What do they do, instead? They say that they would think it over. My daughter is let down easily, without her feelings being hurt and they get to exit an uncomfortable situation gracefully. Occasionally, someone would turn her down flat and it would hurt, as rejections always do.

Birth_Of_A_Selling_SystemAs time passes, she will begin to figure out that there are rewards to selling more cookies. If she wants those rewards, she would begin to think about how she can sell more cookies. She may simply talk to more people or get some of her previous clients to buy more cookies. But she may also realize that she has to work less, and face less rejections, if she can get more people to say "yes" instead of "no." If she is really good, she may also catch up to the fact that a "think-it-over" is typically a "no," and when she hears it, would try to turn it into a "yes."

Further, she may get some help from her troop counselors who might also put her through a professional training program that would teach her how to approach people, bond with them better, present her cookies in more compelling ways, close more sales and get more orders. If the troop leaders want to go overboard, they may even teach her the exact script that they know works best in selling cookies. (You know exactly what I am talking about if you live in the United States and have been visited by a middle-school student selling children's encyclopedia door-to-door.)

A selling system is thus born which, in its most fundamental form, is identical to a professional system implemented by a typical selling organization.

The Ideal Way of Selling Is...

Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login

Traditional Selling System

Innocence Lost, System Gained

Most professional salespeople's world is not that different from my daughter's. When they enter the profession, they "wing it." But as they get some experience, they begin to spot some patterns and ultimately devise a process, a system or a method to optimize their activities so that they can reap maximum reward for the minimum amount of effort. Often, their management aids the process by providing training - formal or informal - in systems, processes and methods that have worked well for them.

As a person goes from having an ad-hoc or "wing it" approach to a systematic approach in selling, much is gained, but so much is also lost. There is more predictability and control over many unpredictable variables in the sales world. Also, the salesperson gets more efficient, gets more done in less amount of time and has a much better command and control over her work-day. But she also loses the innocence, the spontaneity and Traditional_Selling_Systemauthenticity that on one hand would build deeper, more trusting relationships with her prospects and on the other hand give her fulfillment in her work, which would further enhance her effectiveness in the field.

Perhaps the most important element in any buying and selling system is the trust that a prospect or a client would have in a salesperson. In most buying-selling situations, the salesperson is viewed with a bit of skepticism as prospects know that the salesperson is trying to "sell them something." So the two parties are already starting from a position of distrust. When a salesperson chooses to sell systematically, this feeling of distrust is magnified further.

Often creativity, spontaneity and authenticity are forever lost in selling organizations that choose to graduate from the ad-hoc approach to selling and install heavy systems and processes. In such organizations, many salespeople go from being their natural, genuine selves to being mechanical-sounding salespeople that prospects avoid. Many fail to make their sales-quota. Some lose their passion for their work, burn out and change professions. Ultimately, the selling system that was supposed to help them become successful in sales becomes one of the primary causes for their failure.

Non-Traditional Selling Systems

Can They Fix the Problems of Traditional Selling?

Modern sales training industry has been well-aware of this phenomenon. They know that salespeople are seen with skepticism and prospects don't trust them to do what's best for the prospects. When a salesperson sells in a systematic way, especially when she plays out the stereo-typical role of a pushy salesperson, a prospect can "see her coming" from miles away. 

That's why, the sales training industry created a series of non-traditional selling systems. The fundamental idea behind non-traditional selling systems is that after decades of being manipulated, lied-to and "sold," prospects have caught up with all the traditional moves that a salesperson makes. Non-traditional systems are meant to implement an alternative system where the salesperson sells in a way that's the opposite of what's expected of salesy behavior. For example, a traditional salesperson is expected to always expect and get a "yes" in a selling situation. So they have many Non_Traditional_Selling_System"closing techniques" that allows them to build on successive "yeses." A non-traditional salesperson would often expect and go for a "no," knowing that she would more often get a "no" than a "yes," making it look like that she has the prospects' best interest at heart, all the while maneuvering to get the sale.

Even with a non-traditional system, just as in a traditional system, a prospect is played and manipulated, expected to respond as a static, predictable machine. What's forgotten is that prospects are human beings with extraordinary capacity to sense danger signals coming from a killer salesperson and adapt instantly and on-the-spot, whether they are being sold with a traditional system or a non-traditional system. In the end, both systems retain their shortcomings, all of which culminate into one simple fact: They magnify an already existing cynicism that a prospect has for a salesperson and further drives a wedge between them, making it difficult, if not impossible, to create a mutually trusting business relationships.

In many ways, a non-traditional selling system is more dangerous, especially when applied without the intention to do what's best for the prospect. I have seen too many salespeople abuse their psychological advantage with non-traditional selling systems - because they are quite powerful - and use it as a tool for psychological and emotional manipulation, similar to what a psychiatrist would do with his "power" with a client. This can, and often does, backfire on salespeople, causing many unintended negative consequences, often leading to failure in their jobs or even in their careers. 

Comparison of Selling Systems

Traditional vs Non-Traditional Selling Systems
Traditional Non-Traditional
Examples Dale Carnegie®, Tommy Hopkins®, Zig Zigler®, Jeffrey Gitomer®, Anthony Robbins®

SPIN Selling®, Solution Selling®, Sandler Selling®


"®" - These are registered trademarks and properties of their respective owners.

Motivational Aspect The motivational approach is more of old-school with positive thinking where "being enthusiastic" is encouraged. The motivational aspect goes deeper than traditional positive mental attitude as it requires deeper psychological strength to go against the grain of what's thought of as "normal selling."
Closing Techniques and Handling Stalls and Objections It's often believed that a sale starts with a "no." Closing techniques are used generously along with ways to handle stalls and objections to keep the sales cycle moving. Closing techniques are discouraged as they create a distance between the buyer and seller and make the salesperson appear pushy. In some approaches, closing techniques are seen as entirely unnecessary because many of the sales objections would be handled proactively before a product or a solution is presented.
Presentation A sale often starts with a presentation and any opportunity to present to a prospective client is seen as progress forward.  Presentations are not made so readily and freely as it is recognized that the prospect will often use information gained from one presenter to shop the competition. A presentation is made only to "qualified" prospects who meet certain criteria such as strong emotional needs, clear decision making process and budget set-aside. 
Talking Versus Listening A salesperson is expected to be great at presenting features and benefits of her products. Talking is encouraged as long as it's relevant and helps close the sale.  Non-traditional systems emphasize and encourage listening and understanding over talking and presenting. Some of the best salespeople in non-traditional selling systems are patient listeners, almost to a fault, who will often say next to nothing and keep the prospects talking. 
Asking Questions  Questions are used but often to gain intellectual responses so that a solution could be presented as quickly as possible. 

Questions are perhaps the most important tool of the non-traditional system as they help maintain control of the selling situation and allow salespeople to help prospects make buying decisions without getting in the way of their thought-process. Questions are intended to go beneath intellectual responses and get to the emotions of a prospect. Questions are often asked in a systematic sequence to induce intended emotional response, often referred to as "pain."

Presence or Posture of the Salesperson
The salesperson appears eager, enthusiastic and wanting to impress and please the prospect.  Salesperson appears as a professional or an adviser who is neutral and presents herself in ways that command respect. Salesperson behaves in the opposite manner of what's expected of her so as to produce a "pattern interrupt" to induce trust.

Further Reading on Selling Systems

Top Selling Systems

Top 20 Sales Training Companies
This list of the top providers of training systems is compiled by The list is based on their review of sales training companies on factors that are considered important in choosing the right training company for businesses to work with.

Selling Technique

Selling technique is the body of methods used in the profession of sales, also often called personal selling. Techniques in use in selling interviews vary from the highly customer centric consultative selling to the heavily pressured ...

What is a Sale?

A sale is the act of selling a product or service in return for money or other compensation. It is an act of completion of a commercial activity. The seller or salesperson – the provider of the goods or services – completes a ...

Sales Process

A sales process, also known as a sales tunnel or a sales funnel, is a systematic approach to selling a product or service. A growing body of published literature approaches the sales process from the point of view of an engineering ...

Alternative to Selling Systems: A Non-System

From Selling Failure to Selling Success

While they are useful, selling systems, whether traditional or non-traditional, fall short of delivering on their promise for a very simple reason: They enhance and magnify the already existing sense of distrust and cynicism that a buyer has for the salesperson. A system is mechanical, static and lifeless. The prospect is organic, dynamic and alive. A system is built on the assumption of making things predictable, controllable and changeless. A human being thrives on the notions of spontaneity, creativity and change. 

Sure, there are some predictable elements about human beings, their personality traits, for example. But even those predictable elements are not static, they are dynamic, as every individual shows up differently in a given situation or at a given time.

A selling system helps. But not entirely. A spontaneous approach is also good. But only up to a point. In my experience, the best approach to selling is one which encompasses the best of both approaches - systematic and spontaneous - but adds an additional dimension that's lacking in both approaches.


This third dimension is the salesperson's ability to be aware or present so that she can tap into her innate abilities and act in ways that are congruent with the demands of the selling situation. She can draw from either a systematic approach or a spontaneous approach. She can choose components of either a traditional selling system or a non-traditional one. Or she can do something entirely different that does not fit the mold of any conventional ways of doing things. This way, she keeps her training, her skills and her expertise but also has access to her inherent creativity and her inner guidance system, which allow her to make the right choices, given the presented situation. 

This non-system, called Selling by the Way of Awareness or Awayre Selling, adds one dimension back to selling that was "removed" in systematic selling: Human Awareness. The fact is, it's impossible to remove human awareness from any activity because our awareness is an integral part of who we are. It's pretending that it does not exist and relying on a "system" to do our thinking for us that's the cause of the sales problems that lead to so many failures in sales. The only way to have a long term success for a salesperson is to make her awareness her most important asset in a selling situation and letting it guide her in making important decisions along the way. 

System (Traditional or Non-Traditional) Non-System (Awayre Selling)
Prospect Prospect is viewed as a mechanistic entity who conforms to an expected set of behaviors.  Prospect is viewed as a dynamic, living entity who is unpredictable and ever-changing. 
Selling Process Selling process is seen as static which is fixed and must be followed step-by-step.  Selling process is seen as fluid and flexible. It can take as unique a form as required by the selling situation. 
Salesperson Salesperson is seen as a mechanistic entity who must mindlessly think and act in a certain way. Salesperson is seen as a unique entity who is capable of using her unique gifts, talents and creativity to succeed in selling and enjoy the process. 

Selling by the Way of Awareness

Anatomy of Awayre Selling

Perhaps the best way to look at this non-systematic approach, Awayre Selling, is as flowing water. How does water respond to the forces it encounters? In the manner that's perfectly appropriate to the situation. The flow of water can be flexible yet powerful, spontaneous yet restrained, playful yet purposeful. A body of water can be deep or shallow and flow as fast or as slow as required by the circumstances. Water can refresh and replenish, relax and rejuvenate, inspire and exhilarate to all who come in contact with it. 

No two streams of water are alike. You might argue that a stream of water is quite chaotic. Yet, every stream has some elements that give it a structure: banks, river-bed and the flowing water. A stream, just like many of nature's forces, is a perfect combination of chaos and order. A stream of water also has underlying governing intelligence that directs its movement and its existence. This Selling_by_the_Way_of_Awarenessgoverning intelligence - you may call it laws of physics - determines such factors as the water's tendency to move from a higher plane to a lower plane, its speed and its strength. 

A good way to look at Awayre Selling is to look at the cross-section of the flow of water. The two banks represent the seemingly opposing principles in all of nature's creation. Chaos and Order. Strategy and Technique. Practices and Principles. The bedrock represents the unifying but transcendent principle in all of nature's creation which could be referred to as Presence, Intelligence or Life Force. It could be observed that in human beings, the source of this intelligence is awareness or consciousness. 

Chaos >> Intelligence << Order

Practices >> Presence << Principles

System >> Awareness << "Wing It" 

Strategies >> Inherent Talent << Techniques

This is why Awaye Selling includes systematic selling but also allows the chaotic nature of spontaneity, creativity and freedom. It allows a salesperson to do what she needs to do in any given situation even if the system does not call for it or it may seem to go against the system. The element that allows her to choose the right action in every given moment is her awareness. 

Awayre Selling is not another selling system. A better way to look at it is a Way of Selling. It's designed to preserve the predictability and consistency of a selling system while allowing the spontaneity and in-the-moment responsiveness of an ad-hoc approach. But most importantly, it's built on the bedrock of being in the moment and acutely aware of the dynamics of a selling situation.

The key to making this non-system work is not in the Way itself but in the person who will use it, namely, the salesperson. Just like there are barriers that prospects put up to a salesperson, there are barriers she needs to deal with within herself. The extent to which she will be able to help her prospect deal with his barriers is governed by the number of barriers she has broken within herself.

Seven Locks to Sales Success

Awayre Selling: A Selling Non-System for the Self-Aware

In the world of water travel, "locks" are often used for vessels to cross between differing levels of water. In such situations, a section of water temporarily holds the vessel where it's brought to the required level by raising or lowering the water level. The analogy applies quite well to a prospect and a salesperson. A selling situation is like the section of water between locks where the prospect and the salesperson resolve their differences and come to a level of understanding about doing business. 

Over the years, I have come to identify 7 distinct barriers or blocks that prospects put up in most selling situations. These blocks are instinctive and often sub-conscious. But they are powerful as Seven-Locks-To-Sales-Successthey draw from the prospects' survival instincts honed through centuries of evolution and passed down from generation to generation.

The good news is that these blocks can also be turned to "locks" which are a series of mutual agreements or understandings. These locks cement an increasingly more trusting relationship between the two parties, resulting in a conclusion that's best for both parties, which may or may not be a sale. (In the latter case, it may be found that it does not make sense for the two parties to do business with each other.)

Presented below are 7 such blocks and what they look like when they turned into locks or mutual agreements.

Block Lock
Physical Distance Prospects maintain a physical distance from salespeople by avoiding their phone calls, voice mails, in-person visits and other attempts at connecting. Salesperson provides, through her message in her marketing and prospecting efforts, one or more compelling reasons for the prospect to want to request a contact with her. 
Energy Mismatch Prospect and salesperson seem "out-of-tune" with each other in their communication.  Salesperson gets in tune with the prospect by being aware of the prospect's preferred ways of communicating and adjusting until there is a match.
Emotional Distance Prospect closely guards his emotions from the salesperson.  Salesperson provides a safe environment, through deep understanding and disarming presence, which allows the prospect to share his emotional motives and drivers.  
Intellectual Fog Prospect uses seemingly intellectual arguments, like a patient with a therapist, to sidestep important issues.  Intellectual rationale is used by both the salesperson and the prospect to deal with true and important issues such as money, decision makers and details of how exactly the salesperson will fix a problem or supply the needed solution.
Diverging Values Values, guidelines and boundaries for the success of the project or a solution are either not discussed or not agreed upon.  An agreement is reached about values, boundaries and guidelines that are important to both parties within which the salesperson and the prospect will work with each other.
Unappreciated Uniqueness Prospect does not see or appreciate the unique value that the salesperson brings to him, compared to competition.  An agreement is reached that provides a rationale for the prospect to choose the salesperson over her competition, and what it means to the prospect. 
"Me Against You" There is a feeling of "me against" you between the two parties.  A sense of togetherness is reached where instead of feeling like two opposing parties, the two people feel like they are on the same side of the table. A sale is often consummated at this stage. 


Just like there are blocks that prospects present to a salesperson, there are blocks that the salesperson puts up within herself. Ultimately, the salesperson's ability to break through the blocks with a prospect is determined by how successful she is at breaking the blocks within herself. Conversely, the selling profession can be seen as that which helps us break our internal blocks and achieve a sense of effortlessness within ourselves and with our surrounding. The two processes - building stronger relationships with prospects and deepening the internal relationship with ourselves - are symbiotic where each helps the other.

"To know oneself is to study oneself in action with another person." ~ Bruce Lee

Related Articles

On Business Management and Leadership
A high performing organization consists of highly productive people who are deeply engaged with their work. This article examines the importance of awareness in such organizations.
The TV series Star Trek, the Next Generation is used to demonstrate key lessons about what it means to be a leader vs manager vs coach (sometimes known as a teacher or a guide).
Most adults develop 7 beliefs about teaching and learning that become barriers to their professional growth and development. Presented are these beliefs and their corrections.
Leader vs Manager uses three movies - Batman, Jurassic Park and Wall Street - to dispel some of the most common myths about what it means to be a leader versus a manager.

What You Thought Your Sales Would Be

Awayre Business Coaching

Individual and Group Coaching with Sales Focus
Awayre Business Coaching with Sales Focus provides safe, supportive and interactive environment within which business and sales executives can build a selling non-system that's unique to their organizations, their products, and their markets.

A Little About Me

And Awayre, LLC

The non-system I present here is not just a theoretical, intellectual exercise. It was formulated piece-by-piece over the last 12 years through my work in training, coaching and counseling hundreds of salespeople, business executives and business owners. 

I am the Founder and Creative Director of Awayre, LLC, a pioneer in bringing human awareness to business management and human resource development in a fundamental and systemic way.

Most people who work with us have an idealistic bent, a romantic heart and an enlightened, open mind. They are also results-oriented, financially savvy and practical in business matters. Most people and organizations we work with have tried many selling approaches prior to working with us.

Water Flows Swiftly Between Two Rocks
Ad AllPosters
Sales Failure and Success Tag Cloud
Sales Failure and Success Tag Cloud
Updated: 10/14/2014, Bhavesh
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?

Please Share Your Take-Away On Sales and the World of Selling

Only logged-in users are allowed to comment. Login
katiem2 on 02/13/2012

Brilliant site page. When it comes to product knowledge and experience it's a deal breaker for me.

You might also like

Participative Management

Read this article to know what is Participative Management and how it can be ...

Improving Warehouse Operations with Barcode Printers

Own a warehouse? Want to improve operations? This handy guide will show you h...

Disclosure: This page generates income for authors based on affiliate relationships with our partners, including Amazon, Google and others.
Loading ...