The five worst traits of a bad salesperson

Bad salesman



I was recently the recipient of a 45 minute phone call from hell. Despite various failings in life, one quality I do feel blessed with, due in no small measure to my upbringing, is politeness. However, life’s catalogue of indelible challenges has also hardened me to not be a soft touch. These two traits combined mean that I seem to spend longer dealing with sales calls than most!

The particular call in question came from a brazen young sales “hot-shot”. Time and a vacation has tempered my anger so I will restrain from naming her or her company. Suffice to say she was trying to sell me on-line advertising space. I could write a Masters dissertation on the wider context and consequences of her behaviour, but in the interests of brevity, I’ll describe my experience as the five worst traits of a bad salesperson.

  1. They lie to you. An early line I was fed was that she had just left a board meeting to call me. Yeah right! Am I supposed to be impressed that I am deemed so important? Even if it were true, I’d be distinctly unimpressed by her lack of ability to prioritise. This was just one of a catalogue of lies. In fact lying seems to be at the very fabric of the salesperson’s handbook. “We’ve got one quarter page space remaining and I immediately thought of you…” No you don’t – you probably have numerous spaces left and no you didn’t – I’m probably at least number 12 on your sucker list!
  2. They just won’t take “no” for an answer. I don’t put the phone down on many people, but eventually I just had to cut this girl off. She literally refused to give it up. In fact, her desperation was becoming slightly embarrassing. What amazed me was her total lack of awareness on just how bad the conversation was going! Our dialogue was the professional equivalent of an obsessive stalking relationship coming to a head.
  3. They’re revoltingly false. Let’s be honest, we are now all pre-conditioned to smell a sales call a mile off. When a total stranger calls and immediately asks if you’re having a good day, you’ve already acted as judge and jury on them. They over-repeat your name – that’s really nauseating! I know we are told it is good to use the other person’s first name in a conversation, but there is a limit beyond which it is just sycophantic drivel! Other common approaches are to over-compliment, be overly upbeat (“it’s a great day!” – no it’s not, it’s bloody lashing it down!) and engage in ridiculous and superficial small talk.
  4. They put you on hold. When I was a little boy my parents fell into the heinous trap of inviting a vacuum-cleaner salesman to the house to showcase their product – huge mistake! Four hours later this guy was still with us. He’d tried emotional bribery on me by showing me super-enlarged photos of bed bugs. These were sci-fi bugs on a gargantuan scale and I was terrified! One of his many tricks of the trade was to keep going into our hall to call the boss. It was 10pm – his boss would likely be tucked up in bed; more likely he was calling his wife, giving her a status update. My telephone sales call equivalent of this was being put on hold whilst she pleaded with the boss for authorisation on the latest “unbelievable deal”. This is from someone that had just come out of a boardroom meeting – something doesn’t add up there!
  5. They steadfastly refuse to admit they are selling anything. This is probably my ultimate bug-bear. The first thirty minutes of that call comprised of me asking at least six times to confirm that this was advertising not editorial. Even at the end, as I put a lid on her desperate monologue, she was still clinging to the belief that this was not sales! It’s like me going to a hardware store and being told I’m not buying paint, I’m taking the first step on a journey to future domestic bliss. Maybe, but you still want my credit card right?!

So there’s my top five but there are countless more. So, any sales people reading this that fit the bill, please take note. We’ve got your measure. These tricks of the trade simply don’t wash any more. Re-think your approach. Become the person in work that you may well or should be in your personal life. Treat us with respect and who knows, we might just buy from you!


  1. The other bug bear I have for sales calls is being call MR Matthew Southgate, use my first name or call me by Mr Southgate but dont use both.

    Given that most of the people who do call me know me by person its a sure fire wall of telling its a sales call.

    • Absolutely! It’s crazy. makes you wonder what, if any, training they are given before being let loose on their potential future customers.

      Thanks for leaving the comment Mr Matthew Southgate (!)

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