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