Business Operations

Olsen on Sales: The Gentle Art of Changing the Subject

To succeed in sales, we must control the conversations we are in.

One way to change the subject is to have a subject! To control our calls, we need a plan. Next, we need to be able to change the subject. If we have prospected and qualified our customer properly, we should already know what they buy and be ready to promote those products to them. 

Sadly, many sellers call customers and say some version of, “What are you needing right now?” This approach irritates customers because these sellers are asking the customer to do all the work: “Tell me what you want, how much, and how much you want to pay, and I’ll shop it for you.” This brings almost no value, creating poor treatment. These salespeople bring it on themselves and blame the customer.

The reason salespeople don’t prepare their calls is because they will have to prepare for 40 or 50, but will only get 20 customers on the phone, so they don’t prepare any.  Instead of over-preparing, they don’t prepare at all!


A Well-Planned Call

A great sales call:

  1. One or more products ready to promote and sell on every call. Master Sellers have several products and several options on each. Struggling sellers tell me, “It’s tough to get customers to come to the phone.” I say, “Yes, because when you do get them on the phone you aren’t ready; you waste their time, so of course they don’t come to the phone.”
  2. Three reasons why what we are offering is a good deal for the customer.
  3. Be ready to ask for the order, overcome objections (change the subject), and ask again.
  4. If the customer insists on shopping it a bit more, change the subject and set a firm appointment for last look.


How to Change the Subject

“So” is a very powerful transition word. Many sellers—Quotrons—answer customers’ questions like dutiful students speaking to the headmaster. Master Sellers give an answer then use “so” and a question of their own to take control of the call.

Customer: “What do you have on studs today?”

Quotron: “I can get some into you at $350/MBF.” (Then dead silence while dutifully waiting for instructions.)


Customer: “What do you have on studs today?”

Master Seller:   “We have lots of options. So, how many can you use?” (We add the softeners “we have lots of options” and “so” to make the transition smoother than “how many can you use?” which is too direct and off-putting.)


I Agree With You

“I agree the market is coming off. Many of my customers are taking advantage of these falling prices to pick up some great deals. We just picked a block of 2×4 104 5/8” out of ABC sawmill your favorite stock, with flexible shipment and a great price. How many of those can you use?”


And That’s Exactly Why

Customer: “This market is coming off. I’m going to wait.”

Us: “It is coming off. That’s exactly why we should look at our 12’-16’ in Utility. We always have a tough time finding the tally we want. With the market showing weakness, now is the time to get tough tallies at good prices.”


Most of My Customers Buy Direct

Customer: “I buy direct.”

Us: “Perfect, most of my customers buy direct. It’s a great way to buy. What I do for them is show them a part of the market they can’t see buying direct, so let me ask you this, what are your main three items?”


Speaking Of…

Customer: “This thing is coming off big time; I’m going to wait.”

Us: “Speaking of coming off, a supplier just came to us and asked us to make an offer. We made one we thought for sure they wouldn’t take, but they did. We bought five cars of 2×4 14’, your key length, at a heck of a price. How many can you use?”

We must remember that our customers are not our bosses or our grade school principals. We share information with customers as partners. Respect, yes; servile obedience, no.

To succeed in sales, we must control the conversations we are in. The gentle art of changing the subject will become easier with practice.


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

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