Expert Panel

Focus on these things to succeed in Sales

Now That’s Old School Selling!


By Deb Calvert, President, People First Productivity Solutions

In the photo below, you’ll see an advertisement from the first century B.C. It is engraved on the streets of Ephesus, in the archaeological site outside of Kusadasi, Turkey. The three parts of the ad that I’ve numbered in the photo are:

  1. A woman.
  2. The direction your feet should travel if you want to have the company of a woman.
  3. The instruction to open your pouch and find a coin that fits into the hole so you can pay for the company of a woman.

Old School Selling

This advertisement dates back to antiquity and illustrates that not much has changed in the world of selling. In fact, in recent years, there has been a resurgence of place-based and street advertising. Everything old is new again!


Selling in ancient times included the product offering (the company of a women), buyer instructions (walk this way), and the cost. Nothing more. There is an assumption that the prospect will figure out the benefits. There is no direct call to action and no urgency. There is no effort to personalize the sale or to customize the offer.


All too often, even today, sellers over-rely on the basics – product, how to acquire it, and cost.  This approach, time tested and well-worn, works well enough that it has lasted for centuries. But it doesn’t work well enough to give you and your company a competitive advantage. You can’t increase market share, revenue, or commissions by passively informing prospects that you’re available if they’re interested.


One of the biggest differences between the first century and the 21st century is this: everyone has significantly more competition in selling. Buyers have more options than ever before. They don’t have to choose one and only one source. So why do sellers keep selling as if they do?


As I coach and observe sales reps, I see three prevalent reasons for old-school selling. If you’re looking to competitively differentiate yourself, start by eliminating these barriers:

  • Sellers do not know the difference between features and benefits. There are mountains of books and papers and training manuals written about this, but it doesn’t register for many. Sellers almost always fall short of translating features into bona fide benefits. Some get to the point of strongly implying benefits, but they don’t emphatically and compellingly state the benefit. Instead, they leave a gap – one that the prospect often doesn’t fill. What’s more, sellers don’t realize they have fallen short of stating the benefit.
  • Sellers do more informing than selling. Missing from most proposals and sales presentations is an urgent call to action. Sellers tell me that they don’t want to pressure their prospects. More often than not, this amounts to weak or non-existent close attempts. Do your proposals have expiration dates written on them? Do you use urgency and calls to action to advance to a close? If not, you probably get a lot of time-wasting continuances and lose business to others who sell with higher levels of urgency.
  • Sellers fail to personalize the offer and the value. They pitch the same products in the same way over and over again. They miss clues about what individual prospects value and race through generic presentations instead. Want to test this? Go look at cars at a couple of dealerships. You’re bound to get a full-blown pitch on some feature of the car that is of absolutely no interest to you while the sales rep misses the mark on describing the features and benefits that would escalate your interest. This is happening in sales of all different types of products.


As the world continues to change and your prospects’ options multiply, it’s imperative that you get back to the basics of selling – benefits, value, urgency – and that you get really, really good at these essentials. Notice the key word in the previous sentence is SELLING. If all you’re doing is informing or pitching, then you aren’t selling (those are marketing functions).


Old school advice? Yes. Not as old as the ad in Ephesus that merely informs… But old enough to be proven, undeniably effective, and absolutely true. Get actual benefits, personalized value and call-to-action urgency into your selling or you aren’t really selling at all.


Written by Deb Calvert,

Sales Expert for ManagingAmericans.com & President, People First Productivity Solutions.


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