Jon E Horton - 22 laws of selling

Jon E. Horton has worked in sales, marketing and consulting for more than four decades. Through his extensive experience in the field of telecommunications he has been able to apply his sales expertise to form strong partnerships with executives from a wide variety of industries. He has distilled his years of work in the rules and vignettes found in The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling.

Friends with Benefits

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

If you have worked in sales for at least a week, you have surely been exposed to the concepts of Features/Benefits. Exposure, of course, doesn’t guarantee comprehensive understanding.


Every time I read an article about Features/Benefits (which I did last week), I have to pause long enough to mentally sort out the differences. I find that the distinctions between features and benefits are often subtle and, because using them correctly is critical to effective selling, they merit my careful attention. If you agree, join me in the exercise I use to get my thinking on track.


Review the following statements and determine which ones are actually benefits.

  • Our prices are lower than our competition.
  • We have the most experienced service team in the industry.
  • We are ranked #1.
  • This great offer is only good for a limited time.
  • Here is a list of businesses that already buy from my company.


You get an “A” if you answered, “None of the above.” But if any of these have ever been included in your sales presentations (written or oral) without further qualification, the best you can hope for is an “Incomplete.” If you think you are immune to making these mistakes, I challenge you to look at your most recent resume. I’m willing to bet it lists many of your best attributes (features) without explaining how they would benefit a potential employer.


Let’s try one more.

  • With 8 gigabytes of RAM, our computer will run faster than the competition.


If you’re paying attention, you easily saw through my effort at subterfuge. Clearly, the amount of RAM is a Feature of the computer. Perhaps less obvious, running faster is an “Advantage” of the computer but it is not the Benefit. People don’t buy a computer because it has dual disc drives and a ton of RAM. They buy a computer because it will save them time or make their jobs easier or help them beat the competition and earn more profits. Those are benefits!


Not to put too fine a point on it but it’s important to recognize that benefits are not a one-size-fits-all proposition. The critical benefit will vary from customer to customer. In my previous example, the client may have little interest in saving time but must have a computer with the ability to run a new software package. A thorough Client Needs Analysis will point sellers to winning benefits.


Here’s a simple way to test your sales presentations. Could a client respond to any of your statements with, “So what?” or “Who cares?” or “What will it do for me?” If so, you have failed to adequately describe a meaningful benefit.


Features are about you, your product or service. Benefits are about results. People don’t buy features – they buy benefits because they believe the product or service will improve their current situation.


Friends with benefits? If you’re like me, you want all your clients to regard you as a friend but I didn’t always understand the path to achieving that relationship status. Early in my sales career, I mistakenly believed I could turn customers into friends by taking them to lunch, remembering their birthdays and gushing over pictures of their children. Over time, I learned that the bond of friendship can only be cemented by fulfilling mutual needs (benefits).


For me at least, the foundations for my professional friendships were trust and respect. Correctly identifying the needs of my clients and providing appropriate solutions earned that trust and respect. Appreciating the nuances of features, advantages and benefits is key to that happy result. To get there, you must first become very friendly with benefits.


Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Apr 15, 2015

Truth in Labeling

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

We all use labels in our everyday conversation. They provide convenient shorthand for sharing well-known concepts using a minimum of words. Unless you’re meeting with a real estate agent, it’s usually enough to simply say, “I left home this morning” even though “home” might be an apartment, a condominium or a mansion.


More often than not, labels are general in nature which is typically sufficient unless a conversation requires more nuance. The morning meal is just “breakfast” unless the array of food (and the price) justify calling it a “buffet”. Similarly, “condiments” infers something a cut above “mustard” but perhaps short of “Grey Poupon”.


This subject of labels came to mind as I was cleaning out the desk drawer where I mindlessly toss the business cards I have accumulated over the years, many of which came from fellow sales travelers. Reviewing them one-by-one, I was both interested and amused by the variety of job titles printed below each name. Representative samples include “Salesperson”, “Sales Representative”, “Sales Consultant”, “Sales and Service”, “Customer Service”, “Account Services”, “Account Executive” and “Account Manager”.


These titles are, of course, labels. And, like “breakfast”, they are all labels which convey pretty much the same thing – the cardholder works in sales.


To be clear, this column isn’t about creative writing and the search for a title that doesn’t scream “Sales!” As I have written many times, I believe a sales career is a high calling and it’s a label that should be worn like a badge of honor. To do so, however, account executives must be sure to define the label rather than let the label define them. That mission begins with self-perception.


Too many sellers have internalized the hackneyed caricature of a salesperson holding out both hands, desperately asking for money from a prospect. Accepting that definition becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.


My perception of all good sellers is radically different. A salesperson plays an indispensable role in a client’s critical decision making process. Which products or services merit shares of limited financial resources? How can those choices be utilized efficiently? What are reasonable expectations for ROI? Getting the right answers to these questions and being convinced (sold) to act upon them is a matter of life and death – for both the buyer’s career and the company he represents.


When the process works correctly and the business (client) prospers, top salespeople will sometimes be told, “We couldn’t have done it without you.” And it’s the truth. Sellers are a significant lubricant for the wheels of commerce.


Accepting the mantle of being an important cog in the world of business has seller benefits beyond serving as a “rah-rah” for self-esteem. Doing so will, in fact, change how a salesperson sells.


In The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling, I wrote about attending a Chamber of Commerce mixer and meeting two vastly different men, both of whom worked at automobile dealerships. I first met Larry who, when asked about his job, told me, “I’m a car salesman.” Later I introduced myself to Bill. His response to the same question was, “I work in transportation solutions.”


Neither of these “labels” appeared on their business cards but they spoke volumes about their respective self-perceptions. Larry’s ‘job’ is to sell cars and that’s how his potential buyers will think of him. Bill, on the other hand, believes he is guiding prospects toward making an important decision. As a result, he carries himself confidently and his demeanor demands the development of peer-to-peer relationships with customers.


How about you? I already think highly of your profession but I’m not sure what you want to be called. Is your label Larry or Bill?


Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Mar 16, 2015

Practice Makes Perfect

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

The title alone should be sufficient. The phrase sounds like something you would hear from Mr. Obvious and I suspect some of my readers are sarcastically mimicking Homer Simpson’s, “D’oh!” Of course practice makes perfect – everybody knows that!

Yes, they do. Everybody knows it and yet almost nobody does it. How about you? How often do you actually practice your sales techniques?

As a Sales Manager, I could predict the collective groan from my sellers when I announced that a meeting would be devoted to role-playing. I always invited my staff to rehearse their client presentations with me but I got very few RSVP’s. Practicing takes time – a valuable commodity to busy account executives – so most sellers prefer to hone their techniques by testing the results with actual customers. While this approach may (slowly) improve performance, it hardly qualifies as practice. (One hopes our surgeons follow a different path.)

This conundrum – recognizing the value of practice but refusing to do so – is thoughtfully addressed in The Knowing-Doing Gap written by Pfeffer and Sutton in 2000. The book offers many examples of intellectual failures and its sub-title – How Smart Companies Turn Knowledge Into Action – invites substitution of “Sellers” for “Companies”. Perhaps I can encourage my readers to add a practice regimen with some impressive name-dropping.

Besides being famous and wealthy, Tiger Woods, Lebron James and Roger Federer share two other significant traits. First, their arduous practice habits are the stuff of legend. Although naturally gifted, these men outwork their competition with relentless rehearsals. Second, they are elite performers in their respective fields.

And these characteristics are not unique to athletes. I worked alongside billionaire Mark Cuban in a Bloomington bar while we both attended Indiana University – I was the deejay spinning records, he was the Manager. Mark wasn’t particularly interested in the club business but he seized the opportunity to perfect his entrepreneurial marketing ideas. Supported by a cadre of his rugby pals, Cuban managed the hottest bar in this college town. So, how did that ‘practice thing’ work out for him?

I’m not going to suggest that forcing yourself to practice will add nine “0’s” to your net worth. But I will argue that structured rehearsal of your techniques can put “elite” performance within your grasp. If achieving that lofty status if of interest to you, use the following guidelines to shape your efforts.

What to practice? Virtually everything you do. The Client Needs Analysis questionnaire, face-to-face presentations and closing techniques are primes examples of selling process functions that will undoubtedly benefit from rehearsals.

How to practice? Critique your own style (facial expressions, hand gestures) in front of a full-length mirror. Because they share your industry knowledge, rehearsing for your peers can identify content gaps or errors. Practicing in front of family and friends will test your ability to hold audience attention. For better or worse, those closest to you are likely to be your harshest critics.

I recognize that sellers are (or should be) really busy and they are understandably reluctant to add tasks that don’t offer a direct revenue-producing component. But part of establishing priorities includes incorporating long-term versus short-term values. Attaining elite level status really is a marathon, not a sprint. And that route will be measurably shorter for account executives who carve out the time for practice, practice, practice.

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Oct 28, 2014

Anatomy of a Murder

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

At some point in my sales career, I emerged as the top revenue producer for my employer. Much of the credit for that happy result goes to my managers who were both excellent teachers and very, very patient. Absent their nurturing, my story could have had a very different ending. In my early days as a seller, I really killed it.

In today’s twisted vernacular, “killed it” is an exclamation of success. But that phrase had a much more literal application to the results of my work as a fledgling seller. New prospects were lucky to survive my early style (or lack thereof) as I snuffed potential deals left and right.

As I consider possible topics for my monthly blogs, my routine is to review my own past mistakes and turn them 180 degrees into positive prescriptions for successful performance. But this time, for a change of pace, I’ve decided to provide only the negative side, leaving the heavy lifting to you. So here are five of the worst habits I struggled to overcome:

  1. Convinced that I had been blessed with “the gift of gab”, I put this talent on display early and often. Other than, “How are you”, it was usually 20 minutes into my conversation (monologue) with new prospects before I ever asked a question. After all, whoever heard of, “the gift of listening”?
  2. I loved to debate my clients, arguing the factual and logical merits of their objections. This habit was pretty useful during my three years in Law School but, in the real business world, not so much. I was oblivious to the fact that many buying decisions are emotionally driven, based on silly things like trust or friendship.
  3. The content of my client proposals was defined, in large measure, by where I stood relative to achieving my monthly budget. If I were close to that magic number, prospects were asked for a modest investment and, of course, vice-versa. Customers often recognized that my presentations were designed to meet my needs, not theirs.
  4. Price integrity was not part of my vocabulary – I was all about writing orders. Rather than waste time trying to justify a premium to a customer, I found it easier to argue the case for accepting a bad deal with my managers. That way, the onus for losing a piece of business fell on them rather than me.
  5. My desks (office and home), car, briefcase and (yes) bathroom were littered with scraps of paper. I was good at writing down anything important but the idea of collating my notes into a single tool had escaped me. I was too busy to be organized and my gross inefficiency resulted in missed deadlines and forgotten ideas.

I could fill many more pages with the “sins” I committed as a novice salesperson. But I’m pretty sure that my Top Five would show up in the autopsies of most dead deals. Fortunately, I was coachable and I got much better at my craft. Were it not so, this article would have been titled The Death of a Salesman.

So, besides the entertainment value of my confessional, what might managers and sellers take away from exposure to my weaknesses?

  • Stop laughing at me long enough to consider whether there are any signs of my bad habits in yourself or your staff. If so, address them now. Remember, the purpose of education is to turn a mirror into a window.
  • When I was a stumbling rookie, would you have recognized my bright future or would you have dismissed me as a lost cause? The trick for managers is to correctly identify the new sellers with both the ability and willingness to learn from mistakes. And to have patience…lots and lots of patience.

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Sep 29, 2014

High Times

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

It doesn’t take much to get me going. Because I believe that the ability to price aggressively will elevate sellers from good to great, I’m ready to discuss this topic at the drop of a hat. In this case, my motivation came from recent articles by two sales trainers for whom I have profound respect. With apologies to them, I’ll paraphrase a few of their words.

Mark Hunter is the author of High-Profit Selling ( Mark insightfully if painfully points out that positioning price as a main benefit is tantamount to announcing that the salesperson has little else to offer. He adds that the customer who is interested because of price is going to ask for an even lower price in the future.

Jeff Schmidt is EVP and Partner at Sparque ( He believes that most sellers badly underestimate both the ability and willingness of prospects to spend larger sums of money. As a result, the orders these salespeople write are significantly smaller than they should be. Before becoming an accomplished trainer, Jeff carved out an incredible sales career following his own mantra – Think Big, Ask Big!

Mark and Jeff offer excellent perspectives and I encourage you to read more of their work. I typically reduce my own arguments about aggressive pricing to a simple, no-nonsense action step. Always go in high! Always. There are dozens of sound reasons for you to follow this edict. A few of the most compelling are:

  • A higher price point will command a higher level of attention from your prospect. That’s a good thing. You have announced that your proposal represents serious business and merits significant discussion.
  • If you are priced higher than the competition, the customer will wonder why you are more expensive. That question presents the opening you want – the opportunity to detail the unique characteristics of your company and to firmly differentiate yourself from others.
  • Regardless of your initial asking price, most prospects will insist on negotiating a better deal. By inflating the starting point, you have given yourself room to make concessions and improved the opportunity for a win-win result.
  • At the risk of stating the obvious, writing contracts for larger dollar amounts means fewer sales are required for you to achieve your budget. This happy result clearly falls under the heading of working smarter, not harder.
  • Oh yes. If you make an effective argument for your pricing, your prospect may simply say, “Yes.”

I must confess that, these good arguments notwithstanding, my passion for aggressive pricing is not generally greeted with much enthusiasm. Although rewarding when done well, selling is not easy and most salespeople would prefer to avoid the additional challenge of defending high unit rates. I understand. I really do.

But I’m still disappointed by the general reluctance of sellers to embrace my approach, primarily because I’ve experienced success from aggressive pricing. I suppose I was fortunate because I’ll readily admit that I didn’t actually make a decision to charge more than my competition. That decision was made for me by a manager (owner, actually) who refused to sell inventory for less than fair value, irrespective of how it was priced by others. My choice was simple – become proficient at justifying my premium prices or wash out as a seller.

I chose the former and you can, too. I know that some of my readers will seize this opportunity and enjoy great results. I also know that some of you will count your blessings that I’m not your manager. I understand. I really do.

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Aug 19, 2014

Put Some Lipstick On That Pig

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

The myriad of challenges which confront sales managers runs the gamut and is as varied as the cities where they work and the industries in which they compete. But there is one consistent refrain I hear from virtually all of them. “It’s increasingly difficult to find good people to hire,” managers tell me. And they are correct.

The business landscape has changed dramatically over the last 20 years or so. The explosion of technology, in particular, has created new employment categories, many in sales, which easily trump the sex appeal of the more common options for new job seekers. What is the likely outcome, for instance, when a recent college graduate can choose between selling traditional media (radio, television or, God forbid, newspaper) or Google Ad Words (with free Google Glass for all new hires)? Yes, the competition to attract tomorrow’s bright sales stars is fierce!

There are many practices which will improve results from the hiring process. Interviewing every week regardless of need, using professional testing to screen applicants and turning your existing team into active recruiters are good examples. These and many other ideas deserve serious consideration.

But lest I turn this article into a book, I want to use this space to propose a single concept that will dramatically improve the pool of candidates from which managers may select. Put some lipstick on that pig! I’m suggesting, of course, that you dress up your job opening to make it more attractive. Implement the following steps to separate the perception of your opportunity from that of the competition.


  • A 3-line ad in the newspaper classifieds doesn’t count. Consider slick, glossy, over-sized ads placed where they will be seen by the candidates you wish to attract. Well placed, year-round billboards are impressive. Ad words and pay-per-click should be part of your mix. A web site dedicated to your recruitment is a must.
  • Be creative with your creative. “Join the most successful team of sales executives.” Graphics should use models that represent your prototypical candidate. If your company employs an ad agency for consumer marketing, get that same agency involved in your recruitment.
  • The approach I have outlined will require a serious budget. If you believe (as you should) that a marketing campaign will give you the opportunity to build a stronger sales team, you will convince your manager that this investment will pay real dividends.



  • There was a time when “Account Executive” had more cachet than “Sales Representative” but both are passé today. The ‘lipstick’ version is “Manager of Key Accounts”. Dress it up!
  • Because they can, job seekers now demand a clear vision of upward mobility. Bringing them in as “managers” addresses some of that concern. Laying out a well-defined path to a “Senior” title could clinch the deal.



  • Offering a relatively low draw while painting a rosy picture of lofty commission upside used to be efficient but that approach will no longer attract top talent. If you doubt me, do the research – find out what your competition is paying. And remember, you’re now trying to hire a “manager”.
  • You get what you pay for. If you want to hire a person who should easily earn $50,000 annually working for you, then you should be prepared to pay them $50,000 – NOW! Consider the quality of candidate who will respond when your ad includes, “$50,000 starting salary.”
  • Biting this entry compensation bullet will likely require another adjustment to your department’s budget. But both you and your boss must recognize the long-term economic benefit of upgrading your talent pool.


Notice that all of the ‘lipstick’ elements I have described take place before you have administered a single predictive assessment test or conducted the first interview. It’s all about shaping the perception of what your company has to offer. If you’re serious about attracting the best talent, you (your company) must look your best. So get out your makeup kit and put out the welcome mat. Oink-oink!

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Jul 22, 2014

The Untouchables

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

You know who they are. Every business has them. They are sellers but their titles often begin with “Senior”. Their tenure with their employer is typically longer than most and, owing in no small part to attrition, they have accumulated an impressive account list. As a result, their billing is at or near tops in the building every month.

At most companies, these senior sellers operate by a different set of rules than everyone else. They pay little more than lip service to management initiatives for new business development. Their unit pricing is below the company average and their activity reports are turned in late or incomplete. The ‘special’ rules that govern these elite account executives are unwritten but they are, nevertheless, very real. To management, they are “untouchables”.

What would happen to the revenue flow if a super seller decided to quit? The truth is that most managers just don’t know. And, understandably, they are unwilling to risk losing these ‘special’ account executives by holding them to the same standard of accountability as the rest of the staff. Management would prefer to accept the negatives that may result from their tolerance of the “untouchables”.

And there are many potential negatives. Examples include:

  • The atmosphere in the sales department suffers. Lower ranking sellers notice and resent the preferential treatment accorded senior account executives;
  • In spite of producing substantial revenue, “untouchables” often underperform, failing to deliver appropriate share of budget from major accounts. Tepid management can never be sure; and,
  • Because these senior sellers corral so many meaningful billing clients, managers often lack the flexibility to reward promising young account executives with additional active customers. After being well trained, new talent departs for the competition.

As an on-site consultant, I’ve often been given “hands off” instructions for these senior sellers. Since I don’t face that constraint in this forum, here are the top five thoughts I would share with “untouchables”:

  1. You ARE good but you could be better. If you aren’t moving forward, you are certain to be passed by;
  2. The best way to measure the quality of your work is through the eyes of your peers. Do other sellers frequently ask for your help? Are you a well-used resource for everyone in the sales department? If so, you should take pride in your role. If not, it’s time to get busy…again;
  3. Your work will suffer when you operate in a vacuum but to earn critical help from peers and support staff, there must be a “U” in “Team”;
  4. You won the approval of management by displaying passion and superior performance but that respect must be constantly renewed; and,
  5. Past performance earns you a place in history but it is today’s performance that keeps you from becoming history.

These Horton-isms have value for sellers of all stripes – managers might consider copying my remarks for their entire team. I would, however, suggest you do so without additional comment. Should one of your “untouchables” take offense, better to let me be the heavy.


Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Jun 29, 2014

For Managers Only

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

All Sales Managers have a system they use to direct and/or control their salespeople, the elements of which vary widely. What all these systems typically have in common is a finite (if arbitrary) number of several activities which every seller is required to perform on a daily/weekly/monthly basis.

For example, account executives are often asked to meet minimum quotas for things like new business appointments and face-to-face presentations. And to verify compliance with these ‘rules’, sellers must complete Call Sheets or Activity Reports.

So, do these “systems” actually work? Although they loathe to question their approach, Sales Managers privately confess a good deal of frustration. They find little correlation between the written reports they review and outstanding sales performance. At some point, they become convinced their sellers have simply become proficient at creative writing. They are no doubt correct.

This disconnect will continue to exist so long as Managers insist on simply mandating efficient selling habits. By contrast, sales consultants (like me) encourage Management to “sell not tell”, to “get the buy-in” from the team. The idea is to persuade sellers to adopt the “system” as their own. How?

Having slogged my way through three years of Law School (please don’t hold that against me), I view this process as similar to the Socratic teaching method popular with legal professors. In theory, Socrates used relentless questioning to elicit the desired response from his pupils. Consider the following sample dialogue between a Sales Manager (M) and a seller (S) who is falling short of budget.

M – “How do you feel about the sales team we have assembled here?”

S – “Good. We have a really good sales team here.”

M – “That’s great, I’m glad you feel that way. So you’re happy to be on this team?”

S – “Yes I am.”

M – “Wonderful. I think we have a good team, too, and I want to be a good manager for the team. Would you be willing to help me with that?”

S – “Well sure, if I can.”

M – “Good, I’m sure you can. What do you think the members of the team expect from me?”

S – “I think they expect you to help them be better salespeople.”

M – “Oh yes, that really makes sense. But let me ask you this – how will I know if they’re getting better?”

S – “Well, if they’re making their budgets, they must be doing a pretty good job.”

M – “I get it – that’s perfect. If a salesperson is making budget, we’re both doing a good job. Right?”

S – “Correct.”

M – “Okay! But wait. What should I do if a team member is not making budget?”

S – “You have to help them.”

M – “Sure, I want to help. But how would you suggest that I help?”

S – “Provide direction. Tell them the steps they need to take to get better.”

M – “That’s it? Just tell them what they need to do?”

S – “Pretty much. And make sure they do what they are supposed to be doing.”

M – “Wow, this is really helpful. Now let me make sure I’ve got this right. When team members don’t make budget, I should give them specific action steps and check to make sure they get done?”

S – “That’s right.”

M – “And that will make me a good sales manager for my team?”

S – “It sure will.”

M – “Wonderful! Thank you so much for your help! Hey, since it was your idea, would it be okay if I started this new approach with you?”

S – “Uh…..sure.”


My dialogue is admittedly simplistic and your conversations with sellers may not go quite as smoothly. But this approach stands a much better chance of getting salespeople involved in your system than simply passing out a list of fixed performance criteria. Give it a try and let me know how it works for you.


By the way, I recognized that the title of this article would probably guarantee readership from lots of non-managers. So, while I have their attention, let me suggest that this same approach serves as an excellent closing technique. Used creatively, sellers can maneuver prospects into closing themselves.


Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: May 31, 2014

In Search of the Perfect “O”

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

“Which aspect of your job performance needs the most work?” That’s one of the questions I always ask sellers during our first meeting and the #1 response never changes. “Help me improve my ‘O’.” To be clear, this “O” stands for Organization.

If you’re surprised, consider that I’ve been asking this question for more than three decades as a sales manager, trainer and consultant. My conclusion is based on a fairly substantial sample size. Moreover, the results are the same whether I’m asking seasoned sales veterans or raw beginners.

“Tell me how I can be better organized,” they ask. So I do. “Write it down,” I say. “Make a list. Plot EVERY task you should perform on your calendar. Then, let your calendar control your daily activity.” That’s it. How hard can it be?

Even rank novice salespeople have been exposed to fundamental elements of the selling process. They know the steps: prospecting, client needs, solutions, presentations, closing, service and renewal. Just put them on the calendar and then execute! How hard can it be?

Want to send a ‘Thank You’ note for a new order? Write it down. Need to research a prospect’s business? Put it on the list. Thinking about picking up a birthday card for a special client? Add it to the calendar. How hard can it be?

Sadly, it can be very, very hard and human nature is mostly to blame. We are all guilty of trusting our ability to remember things we need to do, particularly little things. Unfortunately, our abundant self-confidence is misplaced and we forget.

Are you thinking you shouldn’t be included in this generalization? Okay – here’s a test. Please stand up if you have ever gone to the grocery store relying on your memory for a short list, only to get home having forgotten at least one item. Those of you still sitting down (liars) may be excused from the remainder of this lesson.

My organization solution isn’t sexy but it is simple. If it needs to get done, write it down. This works equally as well whether your calendar comes with pen and paper or sophisticated software. The greatest challenge for sellers seeking organizational nirvana is recognizing the limitations of the brain.

Following my method in excruciating detail requires a truly special commitment. For the few of you actually prepared to take my Organization Pledge, a few rules will help keep you on target:

  1. No activity is too insignificant to merit being written down. “Drop off dry cleaning” appears on my calendar every week;
  2. Front load each day with those things you look forward to least. Doing so will make the rest of the day go by more quickly;
  3. Update your calendar at the end of each day so you can get a fast start the following morning; and,
  4. Check off tasks as you complete them every day. Move unfinished activities forward (a day, a week, a month) on your calendar.

As this Organization Pledge becomes habit, sellers will enjoy peace of mind and improved efficiency. Plus, they will earn an “A” for “O”.


Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Apr 6, 2014

Quantity vs. Quality: A Trick Question

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

When interviewing for new jobs throughout my sales career, I always told potential employers they could count on me to be, “in early and out late.” I made certain to share this disinformation because I was proud of the hours I devoted to my work. Fortunately for me, none of my future bosses ever responded with, “So what?”

Sales Managers have seen sellers still sitting at their desks well into the evening. Maybe the same salesperson was already there when the boss arrived in the morning. The long hours will be noticed and the apparent effort appreciated. But let’s face it – if all that energy doesn’t produce results, a Sales Manager will remain unimpressed.

Clearly, a seller who is generating contracts will curry more favor with management than one with nothing to show for hours of work. But does writing business make it acceptable for a salesperson to stroll in mid-morning, turn in an order and leave the office in time for an early happy hour? How much additional revenue is this account executive leaving on the table?

“All things in moderation, nothing to excess.” This mantra from the ancient Greek philosophers makes sense today when trying to balance the relative values for quantity versus quality. Consider:

  • Renewing many existing contracts (quantity) should not be a substitute for bringing in new business (quality).
  • A cluster of discounted orders (quantity) may have less value than a few contracts at a higher unit price (quality).
  • Cold calling many random prospects (quantity) has a lower chance of success than pursuing fewer new clients that have been carefully pre-screened for potential (quality).
  • Hiring multiple warm bodies to fill every available sales cubicle (quantity) can be less productive than taking the extra time to identify a single experienced seller (quality).

The takeaway is the same for managers and sellers alike. Trying to manage sales activity with goals predicated only on quantity (50 client contacts, 20 new prospects and 10 closing presentations weekly, for instance) is unlikely to succeed. Effective time management must include criteria defining the right contacts, prospects and closing opportunities.

For me (and I hope for you as well), weighing the proper emphasis of quantity versus quality is easier when I reduce the challenge to a single word. Efficiency!

Efficiency is “performing in the best possible manner with the least waste of time and effort.”

As a Sales Manager, I don’t want a sales team exhausted from 18-hour days and I don’t want sellers frustrated by a lack of results. On the other hand, I don’t want a staff that fails to maximize production from lack of effort.

Achieving the optimum balance will require trial and error from managers and sellers and the best mix will vary from person to person. But the task is simpler when the focus is on achieving Efficiency (E) without exclusive reliance on either Quantity (Q) or Quality (Q).

To steal a line from one of my earlier blogs, “I’m No Einstein, But”,

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Feb 27, 2014

The Classic Cliche’ Can Lead You Astray

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

When I finished writing my latest book, I was fairly satisfied that I had successfully enumerated the key rules (Laws) needed to guide winning salespeople. But now, after reviewing insightful and constructive feedback from my readers, I suspect I have more work to do.

Whether or not I find both the material and the motivation to write 22 MORE Unbreakable Laws of Selling is a question for another day. What isn’t in doubt is that my next collection would have to include The Law of Opposites.

Nearly every day, someone I know asserts a hackneyed cliché as an accurate characterization of a good seller. It’s surprising enough that these descriptions are virtually always wrong but, more remarkably, the truth is typically the polar opposite! You will likely recognize more than one of the following examples.

He has the gift of gab. Wrong! The best sellers are actually those who are the best listeners, not the best talkers. They have mastered the ability to get clients/prospects to talk more. Salespeople with the gift of gab simply talk too much. (See The Law of Ears.)

He could sell ice to Eskimos. Wrong! A talented salesperson will always begin the sales process with an in depth assessment of a client’s needs and will only propose products/services that provide appropriate solutions. Selling ice to an Eskimo eliminates the potential for a symbiotic business relationship. (See The Law of Needs.)

He always comes out on top. Wrong! The best salespeople are serious about finding win-win solutions to negotiations with their customers. These sellers purposely leave something on the table to insure that their clients leave as winners. They will pass on short-term gain that leads to long-term pain. (See The Law of Negotiation.)

He devotes most of his time to his biggest clients. Wrong! Buyers for major customers with large budgets are typically experts in their field. They make informed decisions, buy with confidence, clearly define the service they require and don’t appreciate needless interruptions from sellers. Smaller clients are often harder to close. They must be nurtured, guided, reassured and expect to be treated like V.I.P.’s when they finally say “Yes”. (See The Law of 80-20.)

The reason these “opposites” merit our consideration is that, on their faces, these clichés are incredibly seductive and the “truths” are, at best, counter intuitive. And this is the case for managers as well as sellers. It’s easy to imagine a manager being impressed by the snappy interview patter of a prospective new hire. And we can certainly understand the salesperson – being paid on commission – that fawns over a client dangling a big budget.

Avoiding these cliché traps requires discipline. Articles like this can help heighten awareness. Regular training and personal vigilance will do the rest.

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Feb 15, 2014

Give That Man A Cigar

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

Freebies, trinkets, spiffs, comps. They can range in price from cheap to very expensive. But, regardless of what they are called or how they are valued, most businesses provide their sellers with gifts to be passed along to ‘special’ customers. This is common practice.

Also common, unfortunately, is the absence of any meaningful discussion of protocols for this sort of gift-giving. What must a client do to qualify as ‘special’? Should new prospects get freebies? How and when should customer gifts be presented?

Managers and sellers alike seem to assume (there’s that ugly word) the answers to these questions are intuitive. I disagree and I devoted a chapter in my book to The Law of Gifts. As you read through the following real-life stories, you may decide that chapter should have been titled, The Law of Unintended Consequences.

Through some sort of barter arrangement, the company I was selling for acquired a handful of 7-day Hawaiian vacations for two. As a top biller, several key customers were on my account list so my manager handed me one of the trips with instructions to give it to a “special” client. I chose a big-spending customer who politely thanked me and enjoyed the free vacation with his wife. As frequently happens, my relationship with the client ultimately morphed into a genuine friendship. Only then did he feel comfortable enough to share his perception of that gift. In his opinion, my company’s ability to hand out expensive premiums signaled that he was over-paying and he seriously considered cancelling his contract with us.

As a sales manager, I had access to box seats for our market’s NBA team. When the Lakers (the Showtime era) came to town, I invited a good client who turned out to be a huge basketball fan. So, when the Celtics (the Bird era) visited, I invited the same customer who, coincidentally, had nearly doubled his spending with me. We enjoyed a Pistons (the Bad Boys era) game together again. But, when the Lakers came back to the market, I invited a new client to join me. Two hours before tipoff, the first customer called me, asking where we were going to meet for the game, voicing the expectation I had created. I lost that client within 60 days.

One of my account executives was having a hard time getting the first appointment with an important (female) buyer. He decided that the gift of one of our company’s stylish shirts might help break the ice so he dropped one off at her office along with his business card. I can’t print the words she used when she called me to complain. It is enough to report that she was certain my seller was mocking her generous figure with the size small shirt he delivered.

During my first appointment with a new prospect, I noticed an obviously expensive cigar cutter on his desk. Somewhat presumptively, I picked up a couple of premium cigars (about $9.00 in 1985) and offered him one during our second meeting. “Excellent choice,” he said while nodding appreciatively. “And very thoughtful of you. I like to indulge myself on the patio at my club. Why don’t you join me this afternoon?” I did and this became a ritual we repeated monthly throughout our relationship.

I’m certainly not extolling the virtues of tobacco use – I only share this vignette for the obvious irony of how an inexpensive token gift can deliver longer lasting results than premium merchandise. Your personal experience may be similar or opposite from mine. More likely, you haven’t given it much thought and that’s my goal – to get you thinking.

The Law of Gifts can be summarized with two final thoughts:

  • Let’s be honest. The real point of client gift-giving is to extract some strategic value from customers. As such, this exercise deserves the same careful consideration as pricing and other service elements.
  • Discerning clients may accept goodies but they will still demand superior service. So, successful sellers will rely on good business practices and only use gifts to enhance already solid customer relationships.

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit Comments to

Last updated: Dec 17, 2013

The Price Is Right

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

I got a call last week from one of my favorite clients, asking for my help following an all too familiar conversation with a prospective customer. My client reviewed the dialogue in detail including his prospect’s repeated questions about price. “Should I offer the customer a big discount,” he asked me?

I’ll confess that my initial instinct was to treat this challenge as a negotiating issue – I wanted to remind my client that he should “always go in high”. Fortunately, I resisted that temptation and told him instead, “No, the price is right.”

Here’s the simple truth about customers who relentlessly question their account executives about money. Most of the time, price really isn’t the issue.

Salespeople typically struggle with this lesson because it is so counterintuitive. If prospects keep asking about price, then surely price is their most important buying criteria. That logic is seductive but usually misguided.

Here’s the body blow to sellers who spend their careers fighting price with price. Most customers only focus on price when they don’t perceive any other significant differences between their purchase choices.

Think about it this way. A new car buyer wouldn’t expect a Mercedes salesperson to beat the price of the Ford salesperson down the street – the difference in perceived value is readily understood. Conversely, the same car buyer would quite naturally challenge two Chevrolet dealerships on opposite sides of town to win the sale with the lowest price.

So, what are you selling?

If the dialogue with your clients has been reduced to a question of price, then you are selling exactly the same thing as your competition. Don’t take my word for it – ask your customers. I guarantee that is their perception. Therefore, the only way you’ll get the business is to sell it cheaper.

Seasoned salespeople avoid the need to be “cheap” by laying down a solid foundation built on unique characteristics. By painstakingly assessing the needs of prospective clients, they are able to creatively position their products and services as critical solutions. They understand that it’s not their mission to save clients money – their job is to help customers grow their business. These sellers will deflect any questions about price until they have firmly established differentiated value with their customers.

Rising to the top of their class, a very limited number of salespeople take this approach a step further. Contrary to the teachings of many sales trainers, they never ask for a prospect’s budget. Rather, they present each customer with a winning solution which defines the budget required to successfully execute the plan.

Fortunately for me, my client is a member of this exclusive club. So, he understood perfectly when I said, “The price is right. It’s the conversation that’s wrong.”

Oh, and one more thing. Always go in high!

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit www.JonEHorton…com. Comments to

Last updated: Nov 4, 2013

I’m No Einstein, But…

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

Most customers are inclined to do business with winners so it’s important for Account Executives to exude confidence. BUT…

  • Feeling good about yourself should have some rational basis in performance results.

Given that, on average, it takes 5.3 meaningful contacts to turn a prospect into a sale, persistence is an important characteristic for Salespeople to possess. BUT…

  • If, after 12 meetings, decision makers still aren’t buying, it’s probably time to face facts.

If you follow my blogs, you know that I believe in the power of numbers (see Moneyball – It’s Not Just for Baseball) and I respect Sellers who try to get better results by making more calls. BUT…

  • If, regardless of how many prospects you see, your closing ratio hovers around 5%, your performance is not good.

It was Einstein who famously defined insanity as, “doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results”. I would humbly suggest that the same can be said for incompetence.

Cynics among us will suggest that the Account Executives I’ve described should change professions and, for some, that might be the right answer. I can’t imagine an unhappier existence than being a Salesperson and not writing any business. But, I’m a ‘glass half-full’ kind of guy. And, because I believe good selling is more of an acquired skill set than a natural talent, I believe many Sellers can be saved.

I will say, however, that mediocre AE’s need to “man up” and take candid stock of their own performance. They must be proactive in order to break out of their “Groundhog Day” cycle. So, if your sales are sagging, what can you do?

  1. Make a personal commitment to change – anything or everything. Swallow the bitter “what I’m doing isn’t working” pill and get excited about a new regimen;
  2. Execute an honest self-assessment. If you’re going into work late and leaving early, taking risky shortcuts in the selling process or being distracted by personal issues, you already have a roadmap for positive change; and,
  3. Ask for help – now, before it’s too late. As a Sales Manager, I found nothing more seductive that a Seller seeking my guidance. In nanoseconds, I would transform from mortified Manager into motivated mentor. The same thing will happen to your boss, given the chance.

Here’s something about which all Managers will agree. They are desperate for good Salespeople and they despise needless turnover. So, take heart struggling Sellers! Your Management Team would much rather turn you around than turn you loose.

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more of his blogs, please visit www.JonEHorton…com. Comments to

Last updated: Oct 13, 2013

When “Maybe” Is Worse Than “No”

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

As a Manager, I would often stroll into the Sales bullpen and fiddle around in a file cabinet, disguising the real purpose of my visit. Plain and simple – I was there to eavesdrop on the telephone conversations my sellers were having with their clients.

Call me sneaky, if you must, but my surreptitious listening was almost always productive. Monitoring these one-sided dialogues helped me appreciate the challenges faced by my salespeople and gave me good ideas for training. You might be surprised how frequently I overheard one of these.

  • “How soon should I call you back?”
  • “When do you think you will know?”
  • “What can I do to close this deal?”
  • “Do you have any more questions for me?”

All of these are variations on a theme and, translated, they mean that the potential customer has given the account executive a resounding “Maybe”! So, is the seller better off working with a “maybe” rather than a definitive “no”? Before you answer, consider some of the likely reasons for a buyer to waffle about a purchase decision. The prospect:

  •  Is not the decision maker. The person with the final say-so might be the owner, the father or just an unidentified superior but, in any event, it’s not the person being asked for the business (see The Law of Decision Makers).
  • Would love to say “Yes” but business has not been good and the company simply cannot afford to spend the money. The buyer is waiting for things to turn around (see The Law of Qualification).
  • Is stalling as a negotiating tactic with hopes of getting a better deal from the seller. As the salesperson becomes frustrated by the delay, he may, indeed, try lowering the price (see The Law of Negotiation).
  • Isn’t really convinced the purchase is a good idea or has other objections not yet verbalized (see The Law of Needs and The Law of Ears).

In virtually every case, the cause of “maybe” is something other than simply a prospect’s inability to make a decision. As a consequence, sellers who react to “maybe” as really “a matter of time” are unlikely to ever hear a “yes”. At best, they will waste precious energy (time = money) on a treadmill of indecision. At worst, they will inadvertently pressure clients into a firm “No”.

The takeaway from this discussion is that top salespeople rarely accept “maybe” at face value. They have learned that an ambivalent prospect usually means there was a breakdown in the selling process. Rather than continue to press for a decision, perceptive account executives will take one or more steps backward, even returning to the Client Needs Analysis, making certain their customer relationship has a solid foundation

Salespeople dread hearing their clients say “No”. But, I would argue that this apparent negative should be viewed as an opportunity for a future positive. At least when a prospect says “No”, a seller can ask “Why not”, initiating a dialogue that can lead to a better result next time. But, that productive process cannot begin as long as the wheels of commerce are mired in “maybe”.

So, top flight sellers will see “maybe” as an urgent call for remedial action. Experience has taught them that the correct answer – When is “maybe” worse than “no”? – is always!

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from Contact

Last updated: Sep 5, 2013

Moneyball – It’s Not Just for Baseball

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

Of the millions of people who flocked to see the award-winning movie Moneyball, many surely earn a living working in Sales. But, what percentage of these sales-oriented moviegoers was struck by an epiphany on the order of, “Wow, those sabermetrics could help me perform better, too”? It’s really not a guess to suggest the percentage is probably close to zero.

               I know this because, as a DOS, I watched my Sellers try to become invisible anytime I attempted to support a training lesson with the use of numbers. With seemingly choreographed synchronization, my Sales Representatives would slide down in their chairs, often accompanied by a collective roll of the eyes at the very suggestion of a math problem. (The only other exercise that elicited such a negative response was “role playing”.)

               I can’t help it! I’ve always regarded the failure of Sellers to embrace the lessons available from simple mathematics as silliness bordering on – dare I say it – ignorance! Consider these simple truths:

  1. I’m not talking about calculus or trigonometry. Enjoying the performance benefits from studying the numbers only requires mastering the grade-school basics of addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
  2. At its core, Sales is and always will be a game of numbers.

               And yet, these truisms notwithstanding, I am guaranteed to get that “deer in the headlights” response when I ask Sales Representatives to tell me their respective Closing Ratio’s. The math is simple but the question itself causes a brain cramp. That said, if I can convince only a few Sellers to join me in the treacherous numerical waters, my work will have been worthwhile. To that end, my best chance of teaching success requires me to demonstrate both the simplicity and power of “doing the math”. So, let’s give it a try.

               By reviewing her calendar for the previous month, a hypothetical Sales Representative can easily determine that she made 60 client presentations and successfully closed 15 contracts. Using simple math (and a small leap of faith), this Seller will divide 15 orders by 60 attempts to realize that her Closing Ratio is 25 percent (1 in 4). By adding the dollar value of her 15 contracts, she learns that her orders totaled $75,000 last month and, when she divides $75,000 by her 15 orders, she can see that her average contract equals $5,000. Now, suppose this Seller’s Manager has established her monthly budget (quota) as $150,000. Because she did the math, the Sales Representative can easily determine that she must write 30 orders to reach her budget and she can be fairly confident that she will do so by making 120 client presentations each month. By just letting the numbers dictate her activity, our Seller is guaranteed to be successful. Now that’s power!

               Superior Sellers recognize there are actually two impressive benefits that result when they embrace the numbers:

  1. Because Sales is a numbers game, aggressive use of the math WILL improve revenue production; and,
  2. By following the numbers, Sales Representatives are actually managing themselves and, as a result, they will suffer less scrutiny from the boss.

               Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more on this topic, please read Chapter 4, The Law of Numbers. Contact

Last updated: Jul 13, 2013

Laws of Selling: Winning with Gatekeepers

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling

Following my recent podcast interview with Radio Ink Magazine, I received significant feedback to my brief laws of selling discussion on Gatekeepers. The comments varied but generally fit under the umbrella of Homer Simpson smacking his forehead and exclaiming, “D’oh”, as in, “Gee, I never made the connection.”

For those of you who missed the interview, I introduced the Gatekeeper this way: A real person that exists, without exception, for every Decision Maker;

  1.   Gatekeeper titles can range from Receptionist to Administrative Assistant to Department Head;
  2.   It’s the person who stands between you (the seller) and the Decision Maker when you call or visit in person;
  3.   It’s the person who is trusted by the Decision Maker to screen out frivolous interruptions; and,
  4.  It’s the person who has the Decision Maker’s ear for good or bad reports on those (you) seeking appointments.

Like many of the less obvious basic laws of selling, dealing appropriately with Gatekeepers requires performing some mental gymnastics. For those less practised in the art of sales, this task calls for a full 180-degree twist!

For many sellers, the Gatekeeper I have described is viewed as simply an annoying hurdle standing in the path of commerce, impeding efforts to make a sale. They approach this obstacle much as they would a large boulder in the middle of the road – if they can’t roll it out of the way, they’ll find a way to go around. As I’ll explain in a moment, this strategy won’t work. What these salespeople really need is an attitude adjustment that changes their perception of a Gatekeeper from an obstacle to an opportunity.

Laws of Selling: Gatekeeper Tips

Treating a Gatekeeper like an inanimate object (a boulder) is certain to have negative consequences. Consider these unhappy truths:

  1. The Gatekeeper will resent being treated poorly and will find a way to convey that bad feeling to the Decision Maker; and,
  2. The Gatekeeper is not going to go away. After sellers navigate around a Gatekeeper once, they will face the same challenge repeatedly each time they try to contact the Decision Maker but they will find the Gatekeeper to be less and less receptive.

Conversely, savvy sellers will aggressively seize the chance to cultivate a positive relationship with Gatekeepers. These salespeople will treat Gatekeepers with the same courtesy and respect they show to Decision Makers, even taking the time to conduct a mini-CNA before asking to speak with “the boss”.

The benefits of taking this opportunistic (and animate) approach to Gatekeepers are both predictable and significant. A salesperson’s life becomes exponentially easier when:

  1. The Gatekeeper welcomes contact from the seller;
  2. The Gatekeeper makes sure the seller’s messages reach the Decision Maker; and,
  3. The Gatekeeper speaks highly (better) of the seller to the Decision Maker when compared to other peddlers.

If salespeople remain unconvinced that Gatekeepers merit this special treatment, one final reality check should close the deal. It is not uncommon and perhaps even likely for Gatekeepers to ultimately be promoted to Decision Makers. So, the way sellers treat today’s Gatekeepers may well determine their future relationship with Decision Makers. I rest my case.

Jon E. Horton is the author of The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling available in both paperback and Kindle versions from For more on basic laws of selling, please read Chapter 8, The Law of Gatekeepers. Contact

Last updated: Apr 30, 2013

Laws of Selling: Feel Positive About Yourself

Author: Jon Horton | Category: Basic Laws of Selling


Laws of Selling - Be Positive

Like many of my Facebook friends, I chuckled when the picture above was posted by numerous people. And, like all good humor, these words contain an element of truth. But, as is often the case, the truth can be tricky with basic laws of selling.

Virtually everyone would agree that we can only do our best work when we feel good about ourselves. Those good feelings produce positive energy which, in turn, generates confidence.

But, you feeling good about you doesn’t happen in a vacuum. And, it probably doesn’t happen at all if the signals you receive from those around you aren’t positive. So, when all is said and done, how we see ourselves is largely determined by how we are seen by others. For those of us who work in sales, the reflection we’ll see in the looking glass will be defined by our clients. Will they envision us as simply commodity peddlers? Or, will we be viewed as critical business partners?

Basic Laws of Selling

Salespeople have the ability to shape the answer. But, only those sellers whose activities are totally customer-centric, who remain focused on controlling how they are perceived by others (clients), will truly be able to feel good about themselves.

For more on this topic, read The 22 Unbreakable Laws of Selling, Chapter 1 – The Law of Self ( Share your thoughts with

Last updated: Apr 16, 2013