How to be an irritating salesman

Sales people are notorious for being annoying. The telemarketer who interrupts your dinner. The used car salesman that chases you around the lot. The ad guy that breaks through your gatekeeper by indicating that you are really close friends. Sales people from many different industries do countless things that bug us to no end.

I am a sales person. The last thing I want to do is to irritate a customer. I make a living from people who buy things from me. I take no pleasure in alienating them or incentivizing them to avoid me like the plague. Yet, sometimes, I find myself falling into this annoying sales guy role. So here’s what I did…

I contacted a dozen or so customers that I consider myself reasonably close to. I asked them to tell me what they think are the most annoying behaviors of sales people. Below is a list of what I discovered.


I have been advised before to ignore what the customer says and go on with your pitch, especially if the customer is raising an objection. If you don’t acknowledge the customer’s concern, I’ve been told, they will forget about it. I completely disagree with this approach. It is a major turn-off to the customer when you ignore them. They want to be heard before they want to be sold in the same way that a patient would want to be heard before being diagnosed. If the customer raises an issue, don’t ignore it; explore it. It will build credibility and show them that you care.


I’m not just talking about blatant lies. I’m talking about lies of omission. Leaving things out. Dodging issues. Over-promising. When a customer asks, “Why didn’t you tell me about _____?” You say, “You didn’t ask.” Customers can smell dishonesty, and it’s a trust economy. If you don’t have a customer’s trust, you won’t get her money. Just be honest, even if it loses you the deal. The lifetime cost of lying is just too high.


It’s not the sales person’s money, but all too often she thinks she knows when it should be spent. A failure to understand and appreciate a customer’s buying cycle rubs the customer the wrong way. Sometimes, a customer is ready to buy but has cold feet and is just stalling. But don’t make them feel like that’s what they’re doing. Be accommodating. They’ll appreciate it and, sooner or later, will show that appreciation with a purchase.


Follow-up is one thing. Pestering is another. And it’s true that there is a fine line between the two. It will vary from customer to customer. You’ve got to feel them out. But there’s little worse than for a customer to say that a sales person is harassing her. That’s the kind of sales person people go out of their way to avoid. Never call to “check in” with a prospect. That’s nagging. Always have a reason to call that adds a little more value than, “Are you ready to buy yet?”


Being knowledgeable is a good thing, but it can be taken too far. Some sales people take sadistic pleasure in proving their customers wrong. They’ll smugly contradict a customer in an effort to show how smart they are. Bad move. Sales is not a battle of wits. And customers (at least the ones worth doing business with) are not idiots. Many times, depending on the nature of their businesses, they’ll know more about the products than the sales people selling them.


Sometimes, no means no. When kids ask repeatedly, “Are we there yet?” Does their incessant questioning ever cause the arrival? No. But sales people often assume that, if they ask for the sale enough times, the customer will magically change their minds. Sometimes, an uncertain customer can be persuaded and a sales person isn’t doing his job if he doesn’t try. However, when a customer has made her decision not to buy, a sales person that keeps asking will only stir up more resentment. Sales people need to learn when no means no and when it means, “convince me.”


Looking at your watch. Playing with your smartphone. Entering data into your computer. These things signal to your customer that you aren’t paying attention…and that you don’t care. Customers find unengaged sales people irritating, especially if they are trying to get answers to their questions. Sales people that are dismissive, inattentive, or unconcerned are likely to be forgone in favor of sales people that openly express how much they care about getting the business.


The misconception is that good sales people have the gift of gab. I don’t think that is entirely true. People are annoyed when they can’t get a word in. Customers, when confronted with a sales person that won’t stop talking, are often too nice to interrupt the sales person. As a result, the sales person loses out on finding out what the customer wants. Great sales people are great listeners and are able to get their customers to open up. And the never interrupt!


Nobody likes a high-pressure salesman. Ask anyone why they dislike a certain sales person and they will likely say that it’s because they are pushy. People love to buy, but they hate being sold. A great sales person doesn’t force-feed the customer but, rather, makes the food smell so good that the customer wants to eat it. They don’t push. They pull. They lead. They entice the customers by giving them good reasons to buy. If they push their customers, though, they can only push them away.


Sales people that sound like they’re reading from a script send customers running in the opposite direction. When a sales person is phony, she signals to her customer that she doesn’t really believe anything she is saying. Why, then, should her customer believe her? For a customer, hearing a sales person read from a script is like listening to a computer-generated automated sales pitch. It just isn’t believable and it’s nothing but an interruption. A successful sales person will have a genuine message to share.


Sales people should take extensive notes, because to forget a customer’s name or a promise that was made to them is death. It signals one of two things: either you don’t care enough about them or you are really lying and are just playing it off as an honest mistake. Document everything! Making a customer repeat herself is a major turn-off. She simply doesn’t have time for your lapses in memory.


Customers know when they’re being worked, and they don’t like it. ______ is important to you, right? Will that be one order or two? People can sense when they’re being lead down a path and it makes them resistant. They’ll say, “No, it actually isn’t important” or “I’m not ready to buy.” Then, it’s just awkward. Great sales people aren’t afraid to ask open-ended questions. What is important to you? How would you like to proceed? Customers are much more comfortable when they feel you are part of their buying process instead of them being part of your selling process.

Is there an over-arching theme to what customers find annoying in sales people? I believe there is. All of the above items contain one common element that customers find unnerving: self-centeredness. There is nothing more frustrating for a customer than for a sales person to convey that he is not looking out for her best interests. Customers don’t care about a sales person’s quota, her commission, or how well-fed her family his. Customers care about themselves. They aren’t donating; they are purchasing. Therefore, they expect sales people to look out for their best interests.

We can argue all we want that sales people, like all other people, are naturally self-interested. Maximizing profits (or revenue, for the sales person) is the name of the game. But profits are the end; not the means. When it’s all said and done, sales people may really just want the commission. But they aren’t going to sell anything thinking in that way. While self-interest may be the reality, it is not practical. Only sales people who are deeply interested in the success of their customers can truly be successful in today’s marketplace.

Are you involved in sales? It may be refreshing for you to stop and think about how annoying you are. Are you a bother to your customers or an asset to them? It’s a highly competitive marketplace. If you are viewed as a hassle to deal with, you probably won’t stand a chance with your prospects. Customers simply don’t have the time to be annoyed! Step into your customer’s shoes. Would you even like dealing with you?
We’re all buyers in one form or another. I would be interested in hearing what others find annoying in sales people. What do you think?

This post was originally published August 1, 2011 on Be sure to check out the site, which has all kinds of great articles on marketing, leadership, and living a fuller life–written by some extraordinarily smart people.

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