Blog on sales pitfaWe've all been there… the oh-so-eager sales person on the other end of the line, across the table, or on screen, is too busy selling to start listening. Here are a few words on why some pitches succeed and others… don't.

Sales. How hard can it be?

When I started out in sales, I quickly realized the importance of having two ears and one mouth. You are supposed to listen. If you listen, you learn. If you learn, you might propose something the person in front of you actually wants. So why is that so hard?

In my previous gig as CEO of Nordic Media Lab/Smart Simulation, I received a lot of requests for meetings, calls (very cold indeed) from keen sales people and the occasional pile of ads and magazines in the mail.

Let me say first that not one single piece of advertising mail made it to my desk. On my way from the mail box I walked past the paper bin. Done. Deal. Move on.

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Company-start-up-period: You are a target

Especially during the first period of a newly started company, you are a living target for eager people who want to sell you something. Your company is new in the cold caller lists, and because there are lots of things a start-up needs, you’re considered easy prey and ready to receive sales pitches, right?

Well. That might be. For some.

With almost 20 years of experience from sales and marketing roles, I think I can be quite a challenge for any cold callers. And especially the cold callers who follow the oldest trick in the book – to sound like they have known me for years when they call… I hate that passionately. Please, cold caller, do not pretend to know me. Introduce yourself in a professional way, tell me who you work for and what you offer QUICKLY so I can say NO if I am not interested and YES, tell me more if I am interested.

Some of the calls ended up in meetings. I don’t remember exactly why, but I logged quite a lot of the initial meetings/phone calls. Here are a few examples.

Phone call 1 – The human resources software company

If you run a company in Norway, there are numerous rules and regulations you need to think of when you have employees. However, if your company consists of you and no-one else, you don’t need all that. This caller was a friendly guy, introduced himself and his company well. I said straightaway that I did not need his services as the start-up only had one employee. Unfortunately, he never seemed to grasp that and kept force-feeding me info. Finally, I had to stop him and tell him that I was just not interested. No questions asked for later follow up. No sale!

Phone call 2 – Another human resources software company

I think this call came the same day, but I am not sure. This time, the caller was a bit more interested in listening, and it was a short and good conversation. In addition to hearing me out, he was also a smarter sales person than the previous one. He asked: “When do you plan to hire more people?” to make sure he would be able to call me again when it was a better time. I gave him a ball-park date, he did make the call, and he got a customer. Sold!

Meeting 1 – the traditional AV company

Not sure if this was a coincidence but one of my first meetings was with an AV integrator (a small company). During the meeting in which they presented themselves well and pitched their products well, they never asked ONE single question about what we, as a new company, wanted to achieve, nor our goals and ambitions within the field of visualization and simulation.

Even worse, they did not ask how we could capitalize on their knowledge. Pure monologue. No follow-up after the meeting. Result? No sale.

Meeting 2 – the Construction company

Another company in the building had a visit from a construction company, and the sales guy did a smart thing initially. He checked the names of the other companies in the building and booked a couple of meetings. I accepted the meeting. Quite early in the meeting I told him that we were renting, at which point his interest chilled to freezing point and he cut the meeting short.

Two months later, we did some construction work. He was not on my shortlist. No sale!

Meeting 3 – the Hospitality Company

Great meeting. It was a brief encounter, just 15 minutes, where his entire focus was on the business he could bring to me, and how they could meet our needs. By far the best sales pitch I have ever been served and he was marvellous.

We ended up being a good customer, ordered a lot of food and catering, and sent them numerous hotel guests.

He won. Sold!

Meeting 4 – the Marketing company

This one was a meeting that I requested. We had defined that we needed services from a marketing company related to inbound marketing. We contacted three companies and met all of them. Prior to the meetings, I had made our requirements very clear, and, we expected them to present a very concrete solution.

One of the companies scheduled the meeting with their inbound marketing specialist and CEO (founder). During the two-hour meeting, the CEO more or less held a monologue, with an incredible amount of name-dropping, bragging about their incredible results and why his passion to help others succeed was the reason to start this ever-so-great-great-great company.

Two hours later, we left the meeting feeling lost. Not once during the meeting did the CEO give the inbound specialist an opportunity to tell us her strategy for working with us and how she could help us. They had the hottest lead in front of them, and his ego killed it.

No sale!


In sales training, I have always told sales teams that there is a reason we have two ears and one mouth. As a professional you need to listen to the customer requirements before you can provide any solution or offer. If you do not understand the customer’s needs, you will inevitably fail because you won’t be proposing something they really need.

In an earlier blog post I claimed it was important to fail fast, but that doesn’t apply to sales. If you lose a sale because you failed to listen – that is bad salesmanship. Don’t blame the market. Don’t blame the competition. Don’t blame the customer. Start practicing the noble art of listening. 

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