If I were to make a list of my all-time favorite "how to sell" books, it would definitely feature Exceptional Selling by Jeff Thull. Thull really "gets" what selling is all about and is really talented at making complex ideas simple but not simplistic.

I interviewed Thull a while ago and we've talked since then and he gave me six rules for selling that I think are particularly useful. Here they are, along with my own interpretation and comments:

1. If you're feeling pressure, you're doing something wrong.

If you're constantly ending a quarter or fiscal year with a flurry of selling activity, trying desperately to make your numbers, you haven't managed your time or you're not thinking your sales process through. Selling is not supposed to be a struggle against time and fate. Plan ahead and it will seem more natural.

2. Never answer an unasked question.

It's easy to scuttle a sale by raising issues that haven't yet entered a prospect's head. Such behavior usually occurs when you're so afraid of losing the sale that you begin surfacing (and answering) objections that exist only in your own paranoid imagination. Remember, you can't read minds, so don't try.

3. One opinion does not make a consensus.

It's human nature to take the last opinion that you just heard and turn it into a final judgment. For example, when a sale goes sour, it's easy to conclude that there's something wrong with you, your firm or your product. However, just because one person or one company didn't buy, it doesn't mean the next won't.

4. Always protect the customer's self-esteem.

It's your job to help even the most clueless customers make a good decision. The only way to do this is to be persuasive rather than abrasive. There are some sales books, like The Challenger Sale, which recommend that you tell customers how to run their own business. Such behavior only raises hackles.

5. Remain professionally involved but emotionally detached.

Selling entails building professional relationships with prospects and customers. However, while you can care about a customer, about your career and about your firm and its offerings, you should detach yourself emotionally from the outcome of any selling situation. In other words, don't take things personally. It's just business.

6. When in doubt, do the opposite of what a salesperson would do.

Most folk view salespeople with suspicion. As a result, doing anything that smacks of professional selling (e.g. slick patter, glad-handing, constantly trying to close) creates distrust and distance. Paradoxical as it seems, the most effective way to sell is to stop "selling" and instead figure out how to add value to the other person's life.

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