Accepting Responsibility for Your Sales Success

That we live in a time of relentless and pervasive change is no longer news to anyone. There is one important implication of this situation that continues to be a challenge. That is that our employees need to continually change their behavior to adapt to the world around them.

My work of helping companies develop more effective sales organizations always involves making changes in the company. And sooner or later, that means that some of the employees must make significant changes in the ways that they think about, and do, their jobs.

This is particularly true of the sales people, who must decide to change their behavior and to implement the best practices that I teach. Beyond that, ultimately, helping people change is the work of every executive, manager, consultant and trainer.

Which brings us to the heart of this article. What is it that empowers some people to change smoothly and effortlessly, while getting others to modify their behavior seems like moving a mountain? What is the fundamental building block for individuals that, more than anything else, equips them to successfully implement change?

It is something that is becoming increasingly rare — a motivating sense of personal responsibility. That is, a deep and imbiding belief that one is responsible for one’s own behavior as well as the consequences of that behavior.

That seems so basic and common sense, yet I am constantly amazed by how few people actually exhibit it. Over and over in my work in developing sales people and their managers, I’m struck by how many people fail to accept responsibility for their own success or lack of it.

It’s far more popular to be a victim. We have all shook our heads sadly over some newspaper account of someone who commits some act of irresponsibility, and then successfully sues someone else. In our litigious world, being a victim often pays. That is an unfortunate consequence of an unhealthy belief.

As long as we view ourselves as victims, we’re unable to change ourselves or our circumstances and achieve better results. It is not our fault that we’re not doing better, we tell ourselves. Someone else caused it. And because it’s someone else’s doing, the power to fix it and make it better is with some one else. We’re powerless to fix it.

While few people admit it, or even realize it consciously, this “victim attitude,” the direct opposite of personal responsibility, is very common, and embraced to some degree by most of us. This is especially true of sales people, who could always do better if only something were different – something that someone else controls. If only… we had lower prices …our quality was better …the boss was more understanding …customer service was more responsive …you know the litany because you’ve chanted it.

My wife is a crises counselor. One of the biggest eye-openers for her occurred when she realized that she was counseling the same people over and over again. You’d think, as she did, that a crisis would be an isolated event. Not so. Many of her clients find themselves lurching from one crisis to another. Why? Because they don’t make the changes in their behavior and character that got them into the crises in the first place. At some deep level, they see themselves as victims, not personally responsible for their own character, their own behavior, and the consequences that behavior brings. Where there is no sense of personal responsibility, there is little hope for positive change.

I had a personal experience that brought this lesson home to me in a way that I will never forget.

I had been the number one salesperson in the nation for a company – my first full time professional sales job. I had it made: adequate salary, good benefits, company car, bonus potential, and the respect of my employer and colleagues. But the long term opportunities were limited, and I decided to move onto a job that was 180 degrees different. I took a position selling surgical staplers to hospitals. It was a leap from the secure job I had to one that paid straight commission, required you to buy your own samples and literature from the company, and provided only six months of a draw to begin.

You probably apply this principle in every other aspect of your business.  Don’t you have a system for almost every important process in your business?  Don’t your accountants follow a well-defined set of principles and procedures?  Aren’t your customer service reps expected to input an order in a certain way, and respond to a customer in a certain fashion?  Don’t your purchasing people follow certain procedures, and aren’t they guided by certain principles and criteria to ensure that they make the best decisions?  Don’t your warehouse employees ship, receive, stock and pick orders in a certain well-organized, duplicable fashion?Why should sales be different?

It isn’t.  There are principles, processes and tools that have been proven to be more effective than others in sales, just like in every other profession. It is like a football game.  No coach says to his team,  “OK, you guys go out and figure out how to be successful.”  Rather, a coach develops a “best way” to tackle, to block, to pass, to catch, etc.  And then, the coach develops the system, creates a game plan, and teaches his players that system and that plan.

In a similar way, a selling system addresses the interaction between the salesperson and the customer, providing a “game plan” for success.  Think of it as a template for the salesperson’s face-to-face tactical encounters. It is based on the principle that, when it comes to selling a specific product or service to a certain type of customer, there are principles, processes and tools that are proven more effective than others.

Study any successful company that fields a large number of salespeople, and you’ll discover that almost every one of those companies has evolved a well-defined, duplicable selling system.  And they teach that system to their salespeople – “This is the way we keep track of our files, this is the way we collect information about our customers, this is the way we present this product or that one, this is the way we think about strategy, this is the way we develop a weekly plan,” etc.  The larger, older, and more successful a company is, the more likely it is to have a highly sophisticated and refined selling system.

The large old life insurance companies are great illustrations. Go into the local Northwestern Mutual office, for example. Talk to a manager, tell him you would like to sell for him, but you are going to do it your way.   See how far that gets you.  Or perhaps IBM has an opening for a one-of-a-kind salesperson.  Maybe Microsoft and Johnson & Johnson haven’t yet figured it out.

You have the idea.  A well-defined selling system is one of the essential components of an effective sales company.

To be effective and productive in your sales efforts, sooner or later you need to develop a selling system.

Your selling system should have variations for each major market segment.  For example, the “best way” to sell to a truck line may not be the best way to sell to a tool and die shop.  Typically, a selling system would define a sales process for each segment, and then address the best ways to accomplish each step in that process.

Take truck lines for example.  The most effective process may be to make an appointment with a purchasing person, to collect information at the first face-to-face meeting, to prepare a written proposal, to personally deliver that proposal, and then to make a personal face-to-face follow up call.  That may be the process piece of the system.  The tools might consist of a script for making the appointment, a profile form to collect the information, a capability brochure to use to describe and introduce the company, a standard “proposal” form, and a set of carefully crafted questions to use throughout the process.  The tactics may be a series of techniques to facilitate each step of the process – to accomplish each step well. When all those pieces are put in place – the appropriate processes, tools and tactics – you would have a selling system.  And when you have a selling system, and when you have trained all your salespeople in that system, you will have taken a major step forward.  You’re ready for the big leagues.

Dave Kahle has trained tens of thousands of B2B salespeople, sales managers and business owners to be more effective in the 21st Century economy. He’s authored nine books, and presented in 47 states and seven countries. To access Dave’s training, insights and tools online, visit The Sales Resource Center. Visit to check out a seminar near you.



Since 1988, I have been helping our B2B clients grow their sales & develop their people. My articles have published over 1,000 times. I've written twelve books, spoken in 47 states and ten countries, and trained tens of thousands of sales people and sales managers to be more effective. I've personally and contractually worked with over 329 sales organizations. My latest book, "The Heart of a Christian Sales Person," has just been released. "How to Sell Anything to Anyone Anytime" was published by Career Press in December, 2012, and has been recognized by three international entities as one of the ten "best English language business books." "Is the Institutional Church Really the Church?" was released by Tate Publishers in 2014. Our on-line training site,, contains over 400 individual lessons for sales skills training and sales leaders. Our weekly Ezine ( goes to an opt-in subscriber base of 30,000. Visit for over 240 signed letters of recommendation.

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