Therapy for the “Recovering” Salesperson – by Kelly Riggs

Many professionals – accountants, bankers, engineers, doctors, etc. – do NOT want to sell. They certainly don’t want to be thought of as salespeople; in fact, they don’t want their names in the same sentence with the word “selling.” They don’t want anything to do with selling – period.

However, in the next breath they want to know how they can increase business, survive the recent economic downturn, and create more customer loyalty.


I would laugh, but I have heard this story so often it is obviously a common issue. While people in general have an aversion to anything related to selling, professionals in the workplace will cross the street to avoid the very appearance of a “salesperson.” But, it’s time to come to grips with the fact that everybody sells. Everybody. If you are in business and you have a customer, you are in sales. It doesn’t mean you are a down-on-your-luck-and-couldn’t-find-any-other-job kind of salesperson. It simply means that you need to persuade customers to purchase your services instead of your competitors.

Welcome to the real world.

To help these poor souls recover from their aversion (which is akin to an addiction in some twisted way), I offer my 12-step program for Recovering Salespeople – those professionals that need to sell – wait, that’s the bad word…that need to market their services to survive, but hate the thought of being compared to a high school drop-out working at the used car lot (with apologies to Alcoholics Anonymous and other similar organizations):

12-Step Program for the “Recovering” Salesperson

1. Admit you are a salesperson.

Go ahead – admit it. Say it out loud: “I am a salesperson.” You might even record it for those people who would never believe you would stoop to such a confession. But, once you can come to grips with the fact that, just like the rest of us, you need to persuade people to use your services to grow your business, the easier things will be. [Go ahead, take your time…we’ll wait.]

2. Come to believe that a greater understanding of selling will actually help your business, not hurt it.

First, understand that selling is simply the process of finding a problem that you can solve and providing a cost-effective solution. Then, you can gradually embrace the fact that selling is a set of skills like any other profession. See? That’s not so hard. Only a subset of salespeople are abrasive, fast-talking, con artists. Most of us are professionals just like you.

3. Now, make the decision to embrace selling as being necessary to sustain your business growth.

Make the decision, and then find a resource that can help you develop and implement critical selling skills (or “marketing” skills if that makes you feel better) across your organization. Your customers will eventually thank you.

4. Take an honest assessment of your selling skills.

Actually, this won’t take long. You have none…or close to none. Which is natural since you have avoided the very appearance of “salesperson” your entire adult life. On the other hand, you may find that some of the skills necessary to be successful in selling are some of the same skills you use every day as a professional – asking good questions, listening, analyzing needs…things like that.

5. Admit to yourself, and to other professionals, that you have been wrong about selling.

Unlike No. 4, this one will probably take a little longer. In fact, you may have hit a serious snag and may need a full-scale intervention. Try starting with someone you know and trust – a person who, most likely, will not laugh out loud in front of others and embarrass you. Perhaps you can find another “Recovering Salesperson” who understands your plight and start there. Then, just get it out. “I was wrrrr….”

OK. Not bad. Just keep trying. You’ll get there.

6. Prepare to remove your damaging and discouraging thoughts about selling.

Repeat after me:  “Selling (or marketing, if that makes you feel better) is good. I need to sell my services to move my business forward. All salespeople are not bad.” Stop. Recover from dizzy spell. Repeat.

7. Humbly ask a qualified and successful sales trainer to assist you in learning necessary sales skills.

Now, we are getting serious! You are getting close to moving your business ahead. You have come to grips with the reality of what selling is all about. Now, take the next step. Call a professional. Or, for the more feint of heart, you could begin slowly by borrowing a good sales book.

8. Make a list of all the customers you have missed or lost because you couldn’t (didn’t know how), or wouldn’t (avoided selling like the plague), employ simple sales and/or marketing skills. Be willing to make amends to them all.

Take an inventory of the customers you have run off because you didn’t know how to sell. Start thinking about the strategies you might employ to renew their interest in your business. Think about how you will apologize for failing to adequately serve their needs.

9. Make sales calls on as many of those customers as possible.

You know who they are; now go see them. Be humble. Simply ask them what you should change to be more effective.

10. Continue to assess your selling skills. If you need improvement, admit it.

This is a never-ending process. You are only one nasty criticism away from going right back to your old habits of denigrating salespeople. Be strong. Be willing to admit that you will always need to fight to maintain and improve your selling skills.

11. Seek to permanently change your attitude about selling.

Surround yourself with other professionals who have embraced professional selling as an essential part of successful businesses. Buy a book or two about selling. Consider reading them. Consider leaving them on your desk where others can see them.

12Having finally experienced an awakening about selling, endeavor to tell as many other “Recovering Salespeople” about your new experiences.

Become an advocate for selling. Document the improvements in your business and share them with someone else. Give a speech to the Rotary Club. Sure, there will be a few naysayers; just take heart in knowing that your business is growing.

Probably at their expense.


Kelly Riggs is the founder and president of Vmax Performance Group, a business performance improvement company located in Broken Arrow, OK. Widely recognized as a powerful speaker and dynamic trainer in the fields of leadership, sales development, and strategic planning, Kelly is an author, speaker, and business performance coach for executives and companies throughout the United States.

A national award-winning sales representative and sales manager, Kelly has spent the last fifteen years teaching and training organizational leaders in sales and executive management. He is a Registered Corporate Coach with the Worldwide Association of Business Coaches (WABC), and currently serves as a leadership and business development trainer for the Associated General Contractors and the Construction Leadership Council (Oklahoma). He has also appeared before a subcommittee of the Oklahoma State House of Representatives to present “Factors That Impact Employee Engagement and Performance.”

Kelly has written extensively for numerous industry publications, and his first book, “1-on-1 Management™: What Every Great Manager Knows That You Don’t,” was released in 2008. His second book, Quit Whining and Start SELLING: A Step-by-Step Guide to Building a Hall of Fame Career in Sales is being released this month.


Get your free Preview of Selling Fearlessly’s Chapter 1 here.