‘Stop Selling!’—A Trendy Idea, But Bad Strategy

Andrew Rudin Managing Principal, Outside Technologies, Inc.

Posted on April 16th 2012

‘Stop Selling!’—A Trendy Idea, But Bad Strategy

“You shut your mouth when you’re talking to me.” Image

This line from the movie Wedding Crashers is just plain funny. Analysis would only diminish the effect. But just for grins, let’s beam this comedic irony to a sales context. Let’s hire salespeople to sell our products, and assign them a quota. We’ll put some of their compensation at risk by paying revenue commissions. Even offer a bonus carrot for outstanding performance. Then, we’ll castigate them for selling.

Stop selling! No belly laughs, though. For some reason the irony fails to raise even a halfhearted chuckle. Stop selling, experts urge salespeople. They do it through blogs, training sessions, and “motivational” speeches. Here’s a sampling:

Want to Sell More? Stop Selling, Start Engaging.

Stop Selling—Innovate the Sales Experience

Stop Selling (and start listening, helping and connecting)

Stop Selling, Start Listening

I’ll stop at four because there’s not enough space. If you wanted to express slightly more disdain, you’d only need to substitute the word stealing for selling. How did Selling become something to get rid of, like an old smelly rug? Clearly, many people who write about selling are conflicted, or self-loathing. There’s rationale. “Customers don’t want to be sold,” more than one person has told me. We’ve all heard that popular sentiment, but it’s illogical. The marketing equivalent of attempting to prove that the angles in a triangle don’t total to 180 degrees. I’ll get to the reasons in a moment.

To be fair, there’s nothing wrong with engaging, innovating, listening, helping and connecting. But these activities are the fabric of selling, not oppositional forces. Effective selling consists of all the activities associated with acquiring and retaining customers. Stop selling? No wonder salespeople are confused. Management, too, for that matter.

What’s happened is that an innocent present participle got hijacked, and stained with the image of the stereotypical aggressive salesperson, along with his nonstop, jargon-filled product prattle, bad breath, cheap suit, Timex watch, and transparent drive to make a buck. That’s wrong. The better message is stop selling the wrong way. Stop selling only means quit, which is fine, if that’s what you intend to do.

I would be less irritated by Stop Selling confusion if I didn’t see it lead to bad strategy. Great listening skills are fantastic. Who shouldn’t do more listening? But salespeople also have to articulate messages—by talking and writing—that tie customer need to potential value delivered. Call that essential skill making a sales pitch. Call it persuasion. I don’t mind. And in today’s collaboration-fueled business environment, building and engaging communities would make the top of anyone’s sales strategy list. But if there are no mechanisms to close the deal, to get a signed order, to execute a contract, or to swipe a credit card, there’s no buying. And there’s no selling. Sure, we have empowered customers, but nothing gets bought without a vendor’s facilitation.

If you’re reading this blog on an iPad, it was likely one that you bought—and Apple sold—through a complex orchestration of product development and support, distribution, retail savvy, staffing, supply chain logistics, application development, pricing strategy, point-of-sale technology, and social media. If you liked the experience of buying it, chances are that the selling processes worked synchronously. You appreciated the delighted feeling you had when you walked out of the Apple store. It was no mere accident. For Apple, Selling is not only desirable, but deliberate and fine tuned with more precision and attention to detail than most customers will ever know. No bad breath. Selling—embraced, not expunged. “My new iPad. I can’t wait to start using it!” Ka-ching!

Buying and selling are reciprocal for customers and vendors. That’s the logical fallacy of the admonition to stop selling. One doesn’t exist without the other. So the notion that customers don’t want to be sold means logically that they don’t want to buy. In that sense, even the term customer is misapplied. You get the point.

Stop selling the wrong way. I buy that. But not stop selling. No commercial enterprise has been successful long term without being really, really good at it.

Image: Olaf Speier /Shutterstock



Andrew Rudin

Managing Principal, Outside Technologies, Inc.

Andrew (Andy) Rudin is Managing Principal of Outside Technologies, Inc., a Virginia-based sales strategy consulting firm. Andy specializes in sales risk management, which in a nutshell means that he helps his clients improve their odds of achieving successful sales outcomes. Most of his client work involves information technology products and services. Prior to founding Outside Technologies in 2001, Andy worked over fifteen years in direct sales for several information technology hardware, software, and services providers, specializing in the industrial supply chain industry vertical. In these roles, Andy led collaborative teams to provide solutions for complex strategic business challenges. Andy writes articles on sales strategies and tactics for the CRM website CustomerThink, a leading global online community of thought leaders in customer-centric business, where he was selected a Best Author in 2008, and served as the Chair for the Founder's Council for SalesEdgeOne. Andy is a Certified Social Media Strategist, and has a master of science degree in information technology from the McIntire School of Commerce at the University of Virginia.
See Full Profile >


Posted on April 17th 2012 at 1:34AM

That is true, "Stop selling the wrong way". The problem with salespeople nowadays is that they are too focused on selling that they tend to get aggressive. The only thing that is on their mind is sell, sell, sell without even considering if the prospects need their product or service.

Thanks for sharing this Andrew, I hope that salespeople would learn how to stop selling the wrong way.

Posted on April 20th 2012 at 12:37AM


You got my attention on this one. I have argued both sides of the proposition at various times, and in your last paragraph, you hint at it too.

On one level, this is nothing more than semantics. Everyone agrees the world would fall apart without selling;it's a strawman that we should "stop selling." I don't know anyone who atually believcs that. At the same time, nearly everyone also agrees that "selling" has become a word tainted by many, and not without reason. 

On another level, it's a very important semantic point. I think we should all clarify the difference between "good" and "bad" selling, for lack of a better simple term. 

A hint of both the semantic issue and the solution can be found by reading the dictionary definition of "sell." This is from the online Merriam Webster version. (I have highlighted the "bad" aspects)


Sell. to deliver or give up in violation of duty, trust, or loyalty and especially for personal gain : betray —often used without <sell out their country>
(1) : to give up (property) to another for something of value (as money) (2) : to offer for saleb : to give up in return for something else especially foolishly or dishonorably <sold his birthright for a mess of pottage>c : to exact a price for <sold their lives dearly>
a : to deliver into slavery for moneyb : to give into the power of another <sold his soul to the devil>c : to deliver the personal services of for money
: to dispose of or manage for profit instead of in accordance with conscience, justice, or duty <sold their votes>
a : to develop a belief in the truth, value, or desirability of :gain acceptance for <trying to sell a program to the Congress>b : to persuade or influence to a course of action or to the acceptance of something <sell children on reading>
: to impose on : cheat
a : to cause or promote the sale of <using television advertising to sell cereal>b : to make or attempt to make sales toc : to influence or induce to make a purchase
: to achieve a sale of <sold a million copies>
intransitive verb
: to dispose of something by sale <thinks now is a good time to sell>
: to achieve a sale; also : to achieve satisfactory sales<hoped that the new line would sell>
: to have a specified price
— sell·able adjective
— sell down the river
: to betray the faith of
— sell short
: to make a short sale
: to fail to value properly : underestimate


Pretty negative connotations. And remember, a dictionary is simply a sociological snapshot in time of how real human beings use real words in the real world. The only "real" meaning is what people do. 

Is it any wonder, then, that many of us, from time to time, say "stop selling," meaning "stop doing all those bad versions of the word?"  

At the same time, I agree every bit as much as you that the world would fall apart without selling. It is potentially an honorable profession, and many people live up to that potential every day.  

So, I guess I'm saying, the important debate is not about whether anyone should "stop selling" as in the neutral or good sense of the word – of course not. It is about whether people should stop using all the negative things we associate with sales.  And pretty much, I'd say, of course. 



Posted on April 20th 2012 at 9:15AM

Sorry, Andrew!  I disagree.  Do not pinpoint me on a sector but for the past seven years I tell new sales people to Stop Selling.  Sure, it makes it more plausible and perhaps ethical to add "the wrong way" but let´s admit that is old school too.  I see nothing new here like in most sales related comments (for many years).

This said I do welcome your comments because it is important to share thoughts, to keep the dialog going and to learn from each other.  At the end we do not have to agree.  Disagreeing only has become a taboo in many discussions.  Especially in sales.  When you disagree you could become an outlaw and get ignored.

I also see often in social media that people agree very fast.  Perhaps they hope to get something out of it.  Worse are discussions on for example LinkedIn.  Imagine you fault on China in a business group where most people need China.  It is a big theatre, for sure!!

To my opinion too many cannot do without being the guru (or worship him / her), publish another book and keep on believing their sales methods are unique.  Most people in Sales are parrots, sheep and have met too many times the man with the hammer (constantly change their behavior, tools and distract from who they really are…).

Why do I like and use "Stop Selling"?  Well, simple: because it lowers the pressure on both sides. Please let me explain;

You have a product or service.  You know your customer (and competition).  You have your sources to find new customers.  Now you only need sales people. As soon as pressure and aggression gets in or worse is necessary I do not trust product or service.  So, that is already out of the question (for me) but let´s move on.

The key for “Stop Selling” is having enough in the pipeline.  Yes, that can sometimes be difficult due to a crisis but patience is the second key.  Never burn contacts. To get enough in the pipeline your focus is not on the result but first on getting into the picture.  Let your potential customer know you exist but let them closes themselves.

Because you are not putting any pressure or in demand you keep on warming up.  Forget about all the rules.  You are in charge, not a theory, book or guru. It is all about you. This means the sales person has to be able to adjust but he or she guides where necessary to make (some) progress.  This can take weeks, months or even years.  So what?

The good part here is that your sales people stay longer with you which is good for your ROI.  The disadvantage is that it take longer for starters to get their first clients. This can partly be settled by making sure they start with an existing network but you also have to assure they get upfront a realistic 3-6 months or longer target / results.

When you have build up a large(r) network this means you always can go back to earlier established interest.  You wait for the right moment which your prospect decides, not you. Because your pipeline is always (more) full your results remain on average with stronger moments because of extra trust you built up.  Still there is no guarantee but who can offer that?

You keep on building your network, adding to your pipeline, keep on following up and those who are ready will give the right signals.  It is like fishing but never in an empty lake. Some fish are small, others larger.  You do not feel the stress when the month ends and neither your network.  Sometimes you could put some extra pressure but only to remind them of the opportunity or because you expect them to move on too (for example forwarding a proposal but you always have to deal with a decision maker directly).

It is what I really believe in.  It has nothing to do with the right or wrong way.  There is no way.  It requires knowledge, being open minded, thinking out of the box and being nice. It requires the ability to adjust in every conversation and patience.  True, I also can loose that or my result disappoint but this is on the long and not the short run.  I am not a rock or always successful but I never consider my way the wrong way!  Till now I never doubted my skills or even product / service.  I only doubted my management and the company!

Greta Schulz
Posted on April 20th 2012 at 1:57PM

I disagree as well. The "strategy" is to not "sell" to someone because no one likes to be sold. that is a truth that is through and through.  Selling is often thought of, maybe incorrectly but well deserved, something that is done TO someone, not something that is done together and with someone.

That being said, it is an attention getter for all of the poeple today that want or need to"sell" but when they think of selling get the old car salesman picture in their head and run scared. It doesn't sound like you believe that is the right thing to do but since most people even today associate that with true selling, then isnt it the right thing to tell them to stop??

Posted on April 20th 2012 at 8:02PM

Thanks Charles, Martijen, and Greta for taking the time to share your ideas about my blog.  As Charles points out, the dictionary contains definitions of 'selling' and its permutations that have negative connotations.  Those pejorative meanings have infected the sales profession, and confused customers and salespeople alike.  'Selling' also has meanings that are exceedingly positive.

Companies that are highly effective at selling don't hide from the word or cast negativity on selling.  Rather, they focus on being highly effective at selling, which means in large measure, making sure customers are delighted with the experience of buying, and are moved to complete the transaction.  As I mentioned, that happens by deliberately focusing on repeatedly performing the activities that contribute to that result.  If you don't choose to call the aggregation  of those activities 'selling,' OK, but for the time being, I don't know of a better handle.

Maybe it's that I'm swayed by the accounting terminology "Cost of Goods Sold" or "Selling, General, and Administrative Expenses."  Corporations have viewed expense categories that way for many, many years.  I don't see that sales-centric lens any less relevant today, or dysfunctional, for that matter.  Companies that embrace what's positive about selling will be on the road to success.  They won't be sending their sales force mixed messages by making them quota-accountable, and then telling them not to sell, or making them feel ashamed to do so. 



Greta Schulz
Posted on April 23rd 2012 at 12:58PM

I love this banter!! It does show that it seems we all agree that "selling" the old way is not what any of us want. It is semantics!!

Nice!! Now in our work lets get more people doing it the right way! that is what really matters!

Posted on April 24th 2012 at 2:40PM

When accounts become CEO's in big Corporations Sales never get the respect that it should, also implementing 6 Sigma never creates a selling friendly enviornment.