Business Operations

Olsen on Sales: Attitudes & Activities of the Master Seller

Master Sellers plan their week in advance. They know exactly who they are going to call and what they are going to offer the next day the night before they go home.

When a Master Seller looks in the mirror, they see a salesperson. Sellers who underachieve see sales as something they do. When they look in the mirror they see a good parent, great golfer, or cook, which are all fine things to be, but this difference is as significant as the results they produce.  Many of us drive cars every day and are good (enough) at it, but we don’t consider ourselves professional racers and could not compete with them. The same holds true in sales.
Work Ethic & False Friends
I have worked with and trained thousands of salespeople. The number one reason for failure is lack of work ethic. Master Sellers work harder and with more intensity and focus than the underachievers. Are there highly compensated sellers that make it look easy? Are there some that make a great living working short hours and closing deals over cocktails and golf? Yes, with three important caveats.Number one, these sellers are exceptional. I tell sellers, “You want to be Bob Johnson. The problem is, you’re not Bob Johnson. You may be someday, but today you’re not, so you don’t get to do it like Bob.” Bob is an exception. We can not run our business on exceptions!

Number two is that many times these sellers only make it look easy. But making something look easy is different from something being easy.

Number three is that many sellers put in years of work to get to the level they have achieved, so we are seeing only the tip of their lifetime work ethic iceberg.

There are many “false friends” in sales. False friends are activities that don’t lead to sales. Sellers who under-perform are famous for being busy at the wrong activities. Delivering samples, poor drive-time planning, and over-servicing existing accounts are some of the biggest mistakes.

Account Management

Most sellers prospect for new accounts for the first two years of their careers and then fake it until they retire. These sellers do not develop new customers and thus are over-reliant on existing accounts to make their number. When individual accounts are too important to us, they own us—and they know it, which makes it difficult to win price negotiations. High maintenance/low margin accounts are the hallmark of the low producer.

Master Sellers prospect for new business ALL THE TIME. They take great care of their existing accounts but they don’t over-service them.  They love all their accounts, but they don’t “fall in love” with any of them.

Master Sellers will not take poor treatment from accounts. They give respect and expect it in return. Master Sellers are partners, struggling sellers are servants.

Underperforming salespeople have stagnated account boxes. They are “working hard” on accounts that don’t buy from them or pick them off when they’ve got a stupid (cheap) number.  Master Sellers close business faster and move on from accounts that don’t buy from them sooner.

Daily & Weekly Organization

Master Sellers plan their week in advance. They know exactly who they are going to call and what they are going to offer the next day the night before they go home. Most sellers plop down at their desk after the morning coffee, paper and chatter with co-workers and say, “Okay, what now?”

Sales Call Organization

The overwhelming difference between a Master Seller sales call and the rest is preparation. The Master Seller knows exactly how they want the call to go and what outcomes they want to achieve. The Master Seller is prepared to close on every call.  This preparedness is felt and appreciated by customers. The Master Seller never leaves an account without setting the next meeting or action step.

I am shocked at the number of sellers who don’t have a plan and are not ready to close. This lack of preparation is also felt and resented by customers; poor sales calls are boring and waste time.

These poorly prepared sellers get kicked around and treated poorly and blame it on the client! They say, “Wow, it’s tough to get people on the phone these days. All my customers want me to do is email them the information.” These sellers are correct. Customers won’t come to the phone for them because they are on the phone buying from someone who will not waste their time.

Fail Faster

Master Sellers get more “no’s” in a week than most sellers get in a month! Most sellers are afraid of the no so they dance around it or avoid it altogether by not even asking for the order. Master Sellers are not afraid of the no. They PURSUE it. They know that the job doesn’t start UNTIL the customer says no. They ask for the business often and repeatedly. They train their customers to expect it.

Leadership Sales

There are three stages we move through with our customers.  Serviceship is the first stage. They are testing us. All the details of every order must be correct. If there are problems at this stage they can be difficult to resolve, costly and often end the relationship before it starts.

Friendship is the second stage. We have earned the customer’s trust. We get to know them on a more personal level. Problems are solved more easily. This is the stage where most sellers stop.

The Master Seller moves to the Leadership stage. They earn customers’ trust and then work so hard at understanding their business that eventually they know it (the part they do for them) better than their customers do. These sellers get the “just take care of it for me and let me know what we’ve got when you’re done” treatment from customers.

Most sellers are asking customers what they need. Master Sellers lead their customers. They anticipate their customer’s needs BEFORE the customer (and other competitors) knows they need it.

Discipline — The Final Frontier

When I think of all the great salespeople I know and work with, the word that keeps coming back is discipline. Each has different styles and strengths. Some are smarter, more charming, harder working, or craftier, but they all have the discipline to do what it takes—see above—every day.


James Olsen

James Olsen is the founder of Reality Sales Training, Portland, Or. After 20 years in sales with Nike, North Pacific Lumber, and Forest City Trading, in 2001 James started his own sales training business, devoted to helping companies and individuals achieve rapid sales growth. Contact him at (503) 544-3572 or

Join the discussion

Please Login to comment