Why Can’t Johnny Sell?

Why Can't Johnny Sell?

What makes the difference between those who flourish in a sales career, and those who struggle?  It is probably going to be one of the points you will find below.  Read this and let me know what you think. Why can’t Johnny sell?  Let me count the ways….


We all know great looking sales people or sales position candidates like Johnny, who have the appearance of premier sales professionals.  You can line them up and it would look like a privileged and capable sales force ready to distribute any ready product in any sales territory.

The truth is that Johnny and many of these candidates will fail.  Failure should not be a bad word in sales; it should be known as the occupational filter that it is.

A great education, a solid appearance, a good product, and skills training are all things that should help, but there are some important things that play heavily on someone’s ability to sell effectively.

Not For the Faint of Heart

Sales can be lucrative as a profession, but when you are without a couple of these skills or attributes, you are going to be at a disadvantage.

Johnny will continue to struggle or even fail if he:

  • Does not want to be in sales, and is unwilling to adapt
  • Doesn’t communicate effectively
  • Cannot form meaningful relationships
  • Avoids success by avoiding the most uncomfortable aspects of the sales job
  • Repeats the same unproductive activities over and over again
  • Frankly does not want to put in the work
  • Cannot deal with measurement and competition
  • Does not have a winning attitude

Does not want to be in sales - If you do not what to be in sales, and are unwilling to adapt to it, you are in the wrong place, and won’t be there for long. If you just need a job, find something else to do.   As a sales manager, one of my interview questions was, “If we choose another candidate for this position is there a job in this organization that you would elect to do if that position is available?”  If the answer was yes, that individual wanted a job, not a sales position.  They lose in the job search!

Doesn’t communicate effectively – This one is not just the spoken word, but the presentation particulars as well.  Communications skills, including listening are ultra important.  For those of you who do it well, you probably take it for granted, but for many other sales professionals communication skills are not top notched. Johnny cannot show well against those who perform on a high level.

Cannot form meaningful relationships – You have heard me say it before, “Relationships are everything” when it comes to most professional sales.  You might refer to Black Sales Journal 1/13/2011- Deepening Your Customer Relationships for more information on this important topic.  Relationships give you preference, and preference in a business relationship is where you want to be.  You don’t ‘work’ the relationship angle, you live it.  If you develop enduring relationships you will benefit for years.  Relationship skills make all of the difference in the world, and are a major reason why some reps cannot sell.  In a sales environment that requires implicit trust such as a large ticket sale situation, you must be able to develop relationships that give preference.  This kind of preference is important, as it ‘trumps’ racial preference as the buyer knows and trusts you.  But there are people that have a tough time with relationships, and have not mastered the process of developing relationship basics.

Avoids success by avoiding the most uncomfortable tasks – You will not be successful if you avoid the tough stuff.  Prospecting is a good example.  Avoid prospecting on Tuesday, and something might come up on Wednesday, then you have a sales meeting on Thursday.  You have successfully avoiding sourcing prospects for 3/5ths of the week.  This activity is something that you would want to do almost every day.  Avoidance happens, but not for long, as you will begin new job hunt activities if you continue to avoid important tasks.

Repeats the same unproductive activities over and over again- Whether it is the habitual coffee break, long lunch, or even Friday afternoons off, unproductive activities have a way of repeating themselves.  The consummate professional has an ability to stop this madness and focus on productive activities.  Many sales professionals review the weekend with colleagues on Monday morning.  What can be more unproductive than a review of everyone’s child’s soccer games when money and a job hang in the balance?

Frankly does not want to put in the work – There are those reps, which appear lazy, but in truth it normally is something less vexing such as the point above.  This individual  ”avoids” success by avoiding the most uncomfortable tasks.  Laziness does find its way into many sales reps lives, and usually they get away with it for a while because of the requirement that they work without close supervision.  If you don’t want to put in the work, get out of the way and let someone else have a chance.

Cannot deal with measurement and competition – There are many individuals that quickly find that they are in the most measurable job that exist.  Being constantly measured and in competition with their peers gets to them and distracts them from cold calling and building relationships.  It does not seem as impactful as some of the others above, but it makes a difference.  You can be a ‘social worker’ in many different occupations, including management, but you cannot afford to feed the hungry and take in the needy in sales, as you are going to be measured objectively for the most part.  Lack of mental toughness in the face of the competition is the reason many falter.

Does not have a winning attitude – I saved this one for last as it speaks to why many sales professionals don’t make it.  You have to have perseverance and a belief that you will prevail.  A positive outlook is the most important ‘attitude’ that you can carry with you on a call, and in the office.  I know that this sounds light, but armed with a positive and winning attitude you can do so much.  I know a Black sales professional who I mentor (I will call her JP) who keeps a positive outlook through difficult situations.  The employer sees it, the customer recognizes it, and her family feels it.  The sales professional wins in the end.

Is There A Magic Pill for Johnny?

If you have some of the problems above you can still find success.  If you have all of them, you might want to consider another occupation. If Johnny should not be in sales, it is understandable.  Many of us cannot be successful engineers.  Review this post, BSJ 2/23/2012– The Smartest Person in the Room, to understand why.

This list is not exhaustive, but contains the major reasons. Black sales professionals can conquer so many business and societal ills on the basis that they are strong and adaptable.

Put these points to use and make the difference. Your comments are welcome.  Please reach me at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.com.

Improper Racial Comments from Coworkers?

You are at the social hour of a business function and during the cocktail hour, and another sales professional takes an opportunity to give you, your manager, and the other individuals in your conversation group his “two cents”:

“I believe that this thing with Black athletes in the NBA is sickening. They are selfish, tattooed animals that make money from bouncing a ball and shooting it into a basket.”


You might not even like the NBA, but you immediately feel your temperature increasing because it was an overtly racist statement.  Statements like this do happen, and are not only offensive but also very revealing about the one who speaks them.

How should you react?  What actions should you take?  Are you in jeopardy when you make a complaint?  We will examine these issues in this post as you have probably heard comments that are offensive more than once.

Measured Reactions When it Comes from “the Side”

What do you do when these comments come from a coworker?  That is why I am referring to it as “the side” as opposed to “from the top” which would be management.

This may sound like a pretty simple question, yet it should be discussed.  Above is an example of an overt racist comment.  He specifically noted Black NBA athletes in his comments, and made a blanket statement about a league which is approximately 80% to 82% Black with an average annual income of $2.4M.  Regardless of his reasoning, he said it.  Additionally, whether he was right or wrong, the statement should not have been made.

Statements like this are “baiting” and designed to get you to move to the defense. In some situations they are clear indications that they forgot who was in the audience.  I aver that regardless of the reason, our response should be a simple and demonstrative as what I will describe shortly.

I certainly believe that any comment that disparages race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, or religion affiliation should be met with an immediate response.  Whether they are veiled or not, you have the right to remove yourself from that conversation, and by doing so you will send a clear signal to the individual and the rest of the group that you are a professional.

At the first utterance, my suggestion is to not legitimize the comment by engaging in conversation or argument.  Comments like this are offensive and designed to get a reaction.   Having a discussion or even a moment of argument about it gives them what they want.  Even if you are incensed, I urge you not to legitimize it, but to take the following actions after the comment:

Think about the comment briefly and if it is racist, or darn close to it then I suggest you state one of the following, or something you have crafted for this type of occasion:

  • “I have no desire to discuss this issue”, then exit the conversation.
  • “I will not legitimize your comments with discussion or my presence”, then exit the conversation.
  • “I am as surprised that you have views like that and even more surprised that you would be insensitive enough to state them.  You will excuse me?”

Everyone in the group will know why you exited the conversation.  As a matter of fact this will give you a good chance to see how many of those individuals you work, including those you consider friends, have the intestinal fortitude (guts) to do the same thing.  These types of comments have no place in a work setting, and you cannot be selective about which ones to listen to, they need to all be met with the same response.

When someone makes comments like this in your presence, you can imagine what they say when you are not present.  Remember, you probably have the right to “go off” about the issue.  The problem is that you don’t want to give someone the power to be able to “push that button. “   They have shown their ignorance; now your demonstration of the fact that you will not listen to that garbage puts that individual’s action, as well as the actions of others that you work with in the spotlight.  Will they listen to these disparaging comments?  Will they partake of this type of racism (or sexism, or religious intolerance)?

If It Happens Again…

You must remember that everyone that you work with is not your friend.  You should show respect initially, yet that can change if they continually abuse it.  Note that if there is a second instance, then a discussion with Human Resources should be the action taken.

Any discussion with HR should be factual and clearly state the your objection to the comments as well as who was present as witness to the comments.   This is not “tattling” it is working to correct a wrong.  We know that sales people sometimes push the “envelope” in their comments and views.  Regardless, this type of scenario is unacceptable.  It should be clearly discussed that this is not the first time, and the date and time, and witnesses to the initial comment.  If you are truthful about what has happened you should not create any jeopardy for your job in this action.

I have seen jobs endangered, and terminated for comments that disparage racial groups, genders, and other items.  Your comfort should come in that you had the courage to speak up because chances are this is not the first time that a disparaging comment was made.

We appreciate your comments, I can be reached at Michael.Parker@BlackSalesJournal.com.