The American Theory of Selling states that the salesperson closes the sale.

The American doctrine of selling or salesmanship says that “the salesperson” not ‘the customer” closes the sale.

This strategy of selling has caused many problems in the marketplace. It is a flawed strategy as it is unscientific because there is no evidence to support it.

This strategy has proven very costly to shareholders because it is difficult to recruit, to teach, to manage and to retain salespeople using this strategy. In America 80% of salespeople get only 20% of sales using this method. Most salespeople fail and leave the profession. This is very costly to shareholders and gives the sales profession a very poor reputation.

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The American method is also costly to shareholders because it is difficult to gain and retain satisfied and loyal customers using this pre-socialmedia method. Why? Because customers do not like this strategy and they tell their friends by word-of-mouth and so brands and reputations become damaged at great expense to the shareholders.

For example, recently the CEO of a major Australian bank had to apolagise to the Parliament of Australia for how badly its sales culture has been mistreating Australian customers. Mr Ian Narev, CEO of the CBA apologised by saying,

I have said before how sorry I am for the pain that we have caused them. I say so again today. Our goal is to uncover any cases where the customer has not had the right experience and to put it right. We understand we need to be fair and seen to be fair. We have done wrong by some customers in that business (Comminsure) and our other businesses.

At AUD$12million annual compensation for his efforts Mr Narev is the highest paid bank boss in Australia.

American salesmanship is about winners and losers. It’s a zero sum game. Although many Australian businesses have imported American sales training “close-the-sale” methods into their culture there is plenty of evidence to show that Australian customers prefer win/win to win/lose strategies.

In Australia, customers widely reject the ploys and tricks and games that salespeople play using the American method of “closing the sale”.

What it is further off-putting is that books on the American method have a strong evangelistic subtext (convert the sinner/close the sale) written by preachers such as Zig Ziglar, Norman Vincent Peale and others and the method is often taught at revival-style rah-rah meetings. Most notorious are those accused of being pyramid-like schemes such as Amway and Herbalife.

Australian customers have made their preferences clear. In dozens of Gallup Polls and many other polls conducted annually (since 1980) customers have rated American-style sales practitioners at the bottom of all the various professions in terms of professional and ethical practices.

I have called this American Theory of Selling “OLDSELL” and have written at length both about the theory and practise of selling in several books (see NewSell (1984), ISBN 0932648568) and WOMBAT SELLING: how to sell by word of mouth (2006) ISBN 1740664280).


Image of Professions 2017 – (note bottom four lowest ratings)

Image of Professions 2017

Even plays and movies have been made about the OLDSELL culture. Tin Men, Glengarry Glen Ross, Death of a Salesman etc.

How can you tell if a sales culture is dominated by OLDSELL?

One straightforward way you can discern the kind of sales culture that exists in a business is by recording the question habitually asked by the sales manager of the salesperson.

If, whenever a salesperson returns from a customer visit, the sales manager always asks, “Did you get the deal?” or “Did you close the sale?” etc then the focus of the salesperson is cued on the deal rather than on the customer … aka OLDSELL!



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On 14 December, 2017, Elizabeth the Second, the Queen of Australia appointed by Letters Patent the Honourable Kenneth Madison Hayne AC QC to conduct a Commission of Inquiry into the selling practices of the financial sector in Australia.

Such a thing could never happen in America! The doctrines of selling and salesmanship are sacrosanct in America. They are never challenged. Even the President is a self-acknowledged practitioner of American salesmanship!

But, things are different in Australia. This is an historic occasion in the history of selling and salesmanship because a world class independent inquiry will for the very first time investigate three important issues:

  1. the selling practices of banks and others in the business of selling financial services to customers in Australia,
  2. whether they are operating in the best interests of customers, and
  3. the internal sales culture that is operating in these businesses.

Sometimes things change. They say the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. Change can be sudden and cataclysmic, like the Kobe earthquake, or slow and unnoticeable like a friend’s weight loss program. But change is change and sometimes things may never be the same again.

When I think of change in this way, I’m often reminded of the TWTTIN phrase — That Was Then … This Is Now! — and of the humour that often accompanies this kind of change in circumstances.

About thirty years ago in Pasadena, California, Edward de Bono I were having lunch with a couple of Caltech scientists. Lunch was at the home of Paul MacCready. Paul invented the Gossamer Albatross which won the prize for man-powered flight across the English Channel. Paul also invited his friend Murray Gell-Mann who won a Nobel Prize for his discovery of the quark.

We came to discuss the role that creativity plays in scientific discovery. This led to a discussion about sudden insights like the Aha! phenomenon and then, inevitably, to the subject of humour.

Murray Gell-Mann began to laugh and then he told us his dog story …

At that time, Murray explained that he had two Doberman dogs and a fruit-laden avocado pear tree.

One of the dobermans liked to eat the avocados when they fell from the tree, the other doberman didn’t care for the avocados at all. Murray’s problem was to stop the first dog from eating his avocados. He tried a number of things but to no avail. But being the scientist that he is, he didn’t give up. Then he had an idea … Aha!

dober man pupMurray sprinkled cayenne pepper on an avocado to see if the dog would still eat it, the dog wouldn’t touch it. So, triumphantly, he then sprinkled cayenne pepper on all the avocados that had fallen on the ground to teach the dog a lesson that avocados are for humans who are smarter than dogs, anyway.

The change in circumstances worked, more or less. The avocado-eating dog never ate another avocado. However, the other dog now began to eat all the avocados. He liked them now that they were laced with cayenne pepper! … TWTTIN.