The Sales Skills You Thought Were Most Important…Aren’t

I had a great conversation with a friend and business colleague today. He is an absolute ace when it comes to raising money and I was picking his brain about how to best approach outside investors. Not surprisingly, we also happened on the subject of sales – about which I am the ace and he is the proverbial babe in the woods.

As with many prospective clients (and anyone who will listen) I was trying to dispel some of the many beliefs and assumptions that business owners hold to be true about the sales skills that make a great salesperson. I was doing this in the hopes of helping him avoid some of the painful mistakes we see made with respect to hiring sales talent.

Most people believe that the best sales skills are industry knowledge, relationships, charisma, and that most nefarious of red herring – experience – and that they are what make a sales resource successful.

You may be asking yourself – ‘Did he just say that sales skills like experience, industry knowledge, and relationships don’t matter?’

(Note: The purpose of this entry is not to give all the answers but simply relate the analogy offered up by my friend.)

The crux of my position was the notion that it is easy to be misled by factors that would seem to predict success for a sales resource. Stated simply…looks can be deceiving.

Michael’s response was infinitely more insightful: ‘You mean like getting in a fight?’

Those of you familiar with the Ultimate Fighting championship (UFC) may grasp the profundity of Michael’s statement. The UFC was started in 1993 as an attempt to find and showcase the world’s best fighters.

Practitioners of various martial arts (Karate, Thai-Boxing, etc) and traditional fighting styles (boxing) were matched up – often with great differences between their size and weight.

This was a big deal because up to that point in time, it was a commonly held belief that the predominant factor in the success of a fighter was size. So when 170-pound Royce (pronounced ‘Hoice’) Gracie submitted the 275-pound wrestler Dan Severn it was unprecedented. What most fans didn’t know was that Royce Gracie practiced Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, which was created by a couple of 120-pound brothers (also Gracies) who had adapted traditional Japanese Jiu-Jitsu because many of the moves required strength they didn’t have. Fundamentally, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu was founded on the principle that a smaller and weaker person using leverage and proper technique can successfully defend themselves against bigger, stronger assailants.

What my friend Michael stated so eloquently was the fact that technique – which is most often not visible to the naked eye – can easily trump those ‘sales skills’ which are valued simply because we can see them at first glance.


By Townsend Wardlaw

Townsend Wardlaw







With tours of duty at AT&T, BDM, TRW Technology Services, Lucent, and Avaya, Townsend Wardlaw had his share of large corporations and left a secure job and hefty salary to start his own company, Three Value Logic. For six years, he ran his own sales consultancy and sales outsourcing company that, at its peak, delivered millions of cold calls and many more millions in revenue for our clients. Since shutting Three Value Logic down in 2009, he has lived the glamorous, profitable and relaxing life of the sole proprietor. His boutique consultancy works with Founders and CEO’s of companies earning between $1M and $10M to help them lead happier and (more importantly) more profitable lives.

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