Common sales myths and their truths

Over the 30 years or so that I’ve been in sales/sales management/sales training, there’s been the occasional myth that continues to do the rounds.  Here are three that still get trained out or cited as being true.

Myth #1: 55% of the meaning in face to face communication comes from body language, 38% from tone and 7% from words.

This is a misrepresentation of the 1967 research findings by Professor Albert Mehrabian and colleagues.  Professor Mehrabian has personally addressed the ongoing misquote, including in an email to Max Atkinson, published in Atkinson’s book “Lend me your Ears” (pp 343-5); Albert Mehrabian said:

I am obviously uncomfortable about misquotes of my work. From the very beginning I have tried to give people the correct limitations of my findings. Unfortunately the field of self-styled ‘corporate image consultants’ or ‘leadership consultants’ has numerous practitioners with very little psychological expertise. (31 October 2002)

The truth is that while body language and non-verbal clues are important to the understanding of messages, it isn’t as clear cut as the 55% figure.  For a better understanding, we recommend that you read Joe Navarro’s “What Every BODY is Saying”.

Myth #2: Yale University’s 1953 (or Harvard’s 1979) study proved the effectiveness of written goals, with the 3% of students who made goals going on to have a combined wealth that exceeded that of the 97% who failed to set out their goals.

Yale’s Research Associate Beverly Waters undertook an exhaustive search of Yale alumni archives and found… no evidence that such a study had ever been conducted.   She explained, “We are quite confident that the ‘study’ did not take place. We suspect it is a myth.”  But does that mean that goal-setting and planning are ineffectual?  Fortunately, there really is some research.  Step forward, Dr Gail Matthews of the Dominican University of California.

Dr Matthews’ 2007 study summary is freely available to download

Myth #3: Problem-solvers make the best salespeople.

Google this wording and you’ll get around 250,000 returns.  It does seem to make sense that companies recruit salespeople who can work towards solving problems. However, it also explains why these same companies expect a conversion rate (from lead to sale) of around 30-35%.  The problem is in the language that problem-solvers use: they talk about moving towards something, which instantly alienates and breaks rapport with half the population.

The truth is that the best salespeople are the ones who can work towards a solution when it’s right for their client, and move away from a problem when that’s right for their client.

If ever you come across the myths, illuminate them with the truth.

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