The Contrarian Salesperson — 8 Rules to Help You Close the Deal

Every once in a while a book comes along that makes it easy to understand what can make us more effective in our sales career. The Contrarian Salesperson by Jody Williamson, a Sandler Training veteran, is a parable about the trials and tribulations of a slumping salesman named Alan Atleaster. It’s one of those read-it-in-an-hour books with “aha moments” that will suggest you make several fundamental changes to improve your professional selling skills.

The story set-up: After a strong rookie campaign, fourth-year sales guy Alan Atleaster was not making his numbers and was put on probation. With getting canned being a real possibility, in desperation he starts seeing a coach, Carl Contrario. Carl lays out 8 rules for Alan to follow that change the way he approaches his business.

     RULE 1: Zig When Others Zag  You’ve got to stop acting like the typical salesperson, a self-serving, manipulative, greedy, fast-talking huckster. Their slick “ABC” (“Always Be Closing”) tactics don’t work anymore. This means you start listening a lot more than talking to your prospects, be sincerely interested in helping them alleviate their problems, even be willing to admit you may not offer what they’re looking for.

     RULE 2: Sell Adult-to-Adult This rule is another way to say “grow a pair.” Don’t be the Cowardly Lion by letting people push you around, make unreasonable demands, have you jump through hoops and then not give you the biz. From the start you want to establish the ground rules for collaboration with prospects rather than groveling. And you’re willing to walk away from the ones who won’t do this.

     RULE 3: Everything Is an Iceberg There’s always more than meets the eye when you engage with prospects. It isn’t that they’re are born liars – they just aren’t comfortable being straightforward about their situation. So your job is to patiently dig for information by being both curious and supportive, using probing questions until they feel safe enough to tell you what’s really going on. Like a doctor, you need a good bedside manner when you conduct your sales examination to determine where it hurts.

     RULE 4: No Coasting There’s only one way to coast, and that’s downhill. I would venture to say that most people in sales view what they do for a living as just a job – if they get fired today they’ll find another sales job next week. A select few make the commitment to continual learning that earns them the right to be called a sales professional. The pros view the “comfort zone” as a “danger zone” so they strive to keep learning and growing to stay on top. And coincidently, that’s why they make the big bucks, while others just think they got lucky.

     RULE 5: Manage Behavior, Not Results Getting a new client is always a high-five moment. But I assume your clients don’t just materialize out of thin air — they show up as a result of you engaging in a number of purposeful preceding activities: prospect contacts, one-on-one meetings, networking events, blog posts, etc. These activities need to be tracked daily so you’ll know at a glance if you’re making progress toward your weekly, monthly, quarterly, and ultimately, annual goals.

     RULE 6: Use a Sales Process Many salespeople, even veterans, pride themselves on their ability to “wing it” when in front of a prospect. It’s not surprising that this would lead to missed opportunities, just like an unprepared quarterback wouldn’t be very good at leading his team down the field into the end zone. A real pro takes control of the sales process right from the beginning by laying out the meeting agenda, then probing for their prospects’ pain/gap/need, their ability to pay and their decision making process through a series of systematic questions.

     RULE 7: Embrace Deliberate Practice The old saying, “Practice makes perfect” is flawed; perfect practice makes perfect. If you keep practicing the wrong techniques you won’t get more sales, but you will get frustrated. It’s useful to get feedback from a manager, a mentor and/or a coach to regularly evaluate your efforts and determine areas for improvement. That’s what the great pro athletes do – the same concept applies to sales professionals.

     RULE 8: If You Feel It, Say It As you gain confidence in your skill set, you’ll start to get good at trusting your gut when you sense something a prospect is telling you doesn’t ring true. For example, prospects might say, “We’re just not looking to make a change right now” when what they really mean is, “We got burned the last time we made a switch.” If you detect that, it’s up to you to gently poke around until you can get your prospects to share the truth about what keeps them up at night.

Contrary to popular belief (pun intended), you don’t need to be “nasty” to be a contrarian salesperson – you can remain polite, respectful, low key, even playful if you have prospects with a sense of humor. But you do need to be highly assertive (not aggressive – big difference) when dealing with them to determine if you are going to do business together or not.

The bottom line: Applying these 8 rules will definitely help you improve your sales career. If you want to become a professional, follow them and you’ll be on your way.


Success Skills Coach Jim Rohrbach, “The Personal Fitness Trainer for Your Business,” coaches Financial Advisors around the US by phone to help them grow their clientele. To set up a Free Consultation with Jim, go to

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