What Makes A Bad Salesperson (Hint: See Below)?

I have been an ad and marketing guy for a while now, and I’ve been sold by some of the best and some of the worst salespeople across the industry.  Many of the best I’ve maintained strong relationships with for many years, but the bad ones?  Eh… not so much.

What makes a bad salesperson?  It’s actually very easy to point out:

A bad salesperson sends me an email that starts with [name] in the first sentence and then proceeds to tell me how they did some research on my company and felt we should schedule some time to speak about how their service could be of value to me.  And by the way, that was not a typo -- I actually received an email last week that was sent to [name], which I can only assume was supposed to have said “Cory.”

A bad salesperson sends me an email that starts with the sentence, “I am following up on the voicemail I left you earlier today” -- when it is very clear he never left me a voicemail.  My work phone is a cell phone, so if you called and left me a voicemail, I can pretty much guarantee I would know about it.  You’re not fooling anyone with that line.



A bad salesperson sends me emails that begin with, “I was researching your company and I thought Oracle would be a great fit for our SaaS marketing platform – can we schedule a time to discuss?”  If you did a little homework, you would likely know that we sell some of the bigger marketing platforms in the industry -- just ask Forrester and Gartner, etc.  A bad salesperson doesn’t do his homework and is simply trying to use email as a means to scatter shoot across the landscape.

As a matter of fact, a bad salesperson will keep sending me email every three days that copies and pastes the previous email with a note saying, “I just wanted to get this back to the top of your inbox” (because that is definitely going to work).  

In reality, a bad salesperson will simply keep sending emails without making a call or trying to network to me through a mutual connection.  A bad salesperson will not go the extra mile to find out something about me before reaching out.

A bad salesperson calls me every day at the same time of day, for two weeks straight, even though I have yet to answer the phone when he calls.  I would say it’s safe to assume I am not always busy at that time -- I simply don’t want to speak to him.

A good salesperson will take the time to do some homework.  A good salesperson will try to find a mutual connection or a shared interest that warrants a response.  A good salesperson will ask questions about my business and my goals or objectives before assuming what he’s selling is going to be of immediate interest to me.  A good salesperson is going to leverage some data to understand my interests and behaviors before reaching out, and gather that data through discovery or technology.  

A good salesperson is going to engage me as a person first and a potential customer second in order to build a rapport that will hopefully lead to some business.  A good salesperson will treat me as a client and not a goal in his call quota.  A good salesperson knows this is still a business built on a foundation of relationships.

Don’t be a bad salesperson.  Be a good one.  Please.

27 comments about "What Makes A Bad Salesperson (Hint: See Below)?".
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  1. Sheldon Senzon from JMS Media, Inc., June 29, 2016 at 11:50 a.m.

    Good article Cory. You forgot to include "reaching out, touching base and circling back". Amazing how much the selling process has deteriorated over the years. Bad news is it will only get worse, oh well.

  2. Jamethon Monter from Time Inc., June 29, 2016 at 12:01 p.m.

    Part of the issue is the sales e-mail and call quotas that are still out there and being used. The other issue is that with the amount of vendors and e-mail that buyers face these days it does not seem to matter if a sales e-mail is well thought out and actual research was done about the company and its business needs or whether it is just a generic mass e-mail. The response rates are close to the same. So it becomes a numbers game. send out more e-mail to get more responses. Putting time and effort into personalizing e-mails become a waste most of the time.

  3. Michael Schmidlen from Of Eleven Media, LLC, June 29, 2016 at 12:16 p.m.

    GREAT article Cory!

    I love this and as a career relationship sales guy, it saddens me to see the current state of the selling profession, where anybody with a computer and a phone is now a "salesperson". 

    Sadly, I'm afraid it's only going to continue to deteriorate, with the prevailing "path-of-least-resistence" mentality that has taken over the process.  The internet has truly been a blessing and a curse to those of us who try to sell things :(

  4. Jack a. Silverman from Bolin Marketing, June 29, 2016 at 12:29 p.m.

    You also forgot the opening line, "Hope you're well" I get two or three pitches a week with that opening line.  I also get calls from sales people that cannot even articulate the product they sell.

  5. Paul Spyksma from P.S. Marketing Resources, June 29, 2016 at 12:42 p.m.

    Jamethon Monter is onto the problem.  It's all SaleForce's fault.  They are in the business of quantifying all of the magic that goes into sales.  The minute you saddle a sales team with such toxic software as SalesForce, their focus is on doing whatever makes the right needles move on the endless "dashboards" that their superiors are staring at.  Better they and their superiors actually think about building relationships and solving problems and growing revenue.  But SalesForce wants to quantify these things right out of existence.  Eventually salespeople will be unnecessary, as an algorithm will be better at sending the right message to the right person at the right time.  Watch for the Singularity shortly afterwards, when humans won't need to engage in commerce.  We'll all be living happily in virtual worlds as algorithms.

  6. Eric Porres from MeetingScience, June 29, 2016 at 1:41 p.m.

    Here's a note we received fom Oracle Marketing Cloud... stop me me if you've heard this before:

    Subject line: Wanted to connect.

    Hi ______,

    Wanted send a quick note to introduce myself and the Oracle Marketing Cloud.

  7. Cory Treffiletti from Rembrand replied, June 29, 2016 at 1:50 p.m.

    Just saw your note Eric - good catch.  Unfortunately Oracle is a very big company and the Marketing Cloud doesn't report into my organization.  My opinions are mine and my team reflets my opinions.

  8. Jim Burchell from Visual IQ, June 29, 2016 at 2:19 p.m.

    Cory - great article...sad but true stuff.  BTW, how many licenses do you want to buy?  ;)

  9. Leonard Zachary from T___n__, June 29, 2016 at 3:43 p.m.

    Corey I am not a bad sales person but you and I would have the most engaging discussion on mobile advertising within the first 5 minutes that it may carry on for hours. I'm afraid I do not have that type of time so I can't extend the invitation.
    Best, L

  10. Paula Lynn from Who Else Unlimited, June 29, 2016 at 3:44 p.m.

    Excellent article and let's not forget management and their direction. Off kilter management and those who bought "programs" are forcing the sale force to support their decision rather than improving sales. 

  11. Chuck Lantz from, network, June 29, 2016 at 6:47 p.m.

    If a good company has a good product that I can use, but has a sales force that fits this "bad salesperson" formula, I can either avoid their sales force because they don't meet my standards, and thereby miss-out on that product, or I can bite the bullet and endure their poor techniques and have the product.

    Of course, later when I have to explain to my boss why our company doesn't have the great widget that our competitor has, I can cheerfully tell him or her that I didn't like their salesperson's style.  That should work. 

  12. Leslie Laredo from The Laredo Group, June 29, 2016 at 11:07 p.m.

    Cory, you nailed it!
    There are many reasons you are experiencing bad sales behavior...
    -Poor sales process and sales management
    -Laziness/lack of interest/time required to do appropriate research
    -Focus on #'s to fill "lead gen" quotas 
    -Poor lead qualification practices
    -No alignment of sales with business strategy
    -Lack of sales marketing to help articulate product/service differentiations
    -And one of the biggest reasons is lack of sales skills training

    Many media/ad tech sellers have "transactional" sales approaches and not consultative. There are degrees of consultative selling, from solution selling to a more intense "insight" selling process highlighted in the Challenger Sales book. Some reps just dial for dollars and are not trained, nor are supported, to sell in a less damaging way.

    The sellers you want calling on you have advanced their ability (most likely through sales training) to find and properly use the insights to trigger the "why" you should be interested in taking their call, have a focus on the "what's in it for me" (the prospect's business advantage), have practiced writing and presenting skills that create curiosity, are willing to try new approaches to how they prospect, reach out, have become experts at questioning, probing, listening and will spend time to develop strategies to activate their business contacts. 

    BTW, we (the Academy of Digital Media, formerly Laredo Group) have a new sales skills course that teaches media and ad tech professionals how to excel at being a great salesperson!  

  13. Beth Devoe from Omega Mgmt , June 30, 2016 at 7:08 p.m.

    Finally someone has said's for sure lack of serious training with the depth and breath required to be a really good force in whatever industry they're in. But Salesforce type evaluations are one of the worst things to hit modern day sales in recent times. Strictly surface, facile evaluations designed to make upper management feel they've got total control over the activities of each employee. Golly, surely they can do it better than that at Salesforce in the future...before they mess up what's potentially working.

  14. Jonathan Latzer from MarketJon, June 30, 2016 at 7:41 p.m.

    Leslie Laredo described the problem well and her courses do help with that process.  I meet with sales staffs across the country and the best are the one's who are true business developers.  To be a true biz dev person you need to immersed in how to speak with a client,  how to connect with them and develop repoire.  To do that you better come armed with insights and information. 

    Sadly in today's world there are too many people "selling" and not enough people "developing".  

  15. Robert Bentz from ATS Mobile - Advanced Telecom Services, July 1, 2016 at 10:44 a.m.

    I've wanted to write an article like this for the past five years.  I continue to be amazed that sales people try to sell exclusively via email.  That shows me you are lazy and not interested enough in my business to take the effort to make a phone call. Some of us do still answer their phone.  Pick up the darn phone and show me you care enough about my business to work for it.

  16. Robert Bentz from ATS Mobile - Advanced Telecom Services replied, July 1, 2016 at 10:46 a.m.

    Agree. What kind of an awful person would you be if you wished I wasn't well.

  17. Jack a. Silverman from Bolin Marketing replied, July 1, 2016 at 12:30 p.m.

    I agree with you on picking up the phone however the response isn't exactly great when the person doesn't know you. As a biz dev person I make calls and get calls as I'm the go-to-contact on our company website. I heard Eric Nordstrom President of Nordstom's speak and he quoted his grandfather as always trying to answer every call and letter. This became the basis for their legendary customer service. I try to live by this advice as well as I know how hard it is to create sales. In reality it takes many forms of contact to get through to people.

  18. Jessica Benjamin from Monster Worldwide replied, July 1, 2016 at 8:06 p.m.

    I just suggested to a colleague that he stop calling people to introduce himself, because basically, no one cares.

  19. Judi Cohen Wade from Silverlight Digital, July 1, 2016 at 10:55 p.m.

    Simply said! True on every level. Thank you for stating what is hopefully obvious to the great sellers out there as well as the ones who aspire to be great! 

  20. Ned Newhouse from Conde Nast , July 2, 2016 at 8:13 a.m.

    Peronal selling like selling a product is fufilling someone's needs, saving them time, money or doing its better. Conveying that and trying to do, and executing  that for your customers will most always build loyal, durable relationships.  There are plenty of ways to try and convey that virture in the cold call stage will easily take you ahead of all the lazy or untrained others that Cory alluded to. I like working hard and earning it.  Its not bad for my interests either!

  21. Daniel Ambrose from, corp., July 6, 2016 at 2:02 p.m.

    Great observations Cory.  That is why in the Masters of Media Selling seminars that I teach in partnership with MediaPost emphasize starting with a client centric engagement based on knowledge of the clients situation.  I just posted "Not Cold Calls, Smart Calls"  on my web site...with today's research tools, there is no excuse for generalized, sales-manish blather.

  22. Joshua Engroff from KBS Ventures, July 6, 2016 at 4:45 p.m.

    So true. 

  23. Darren Johnson from Campus News, July 7, 2016 at 10:58 a.m.

    Cory, Good thoughts, but your attitude is part of the problem, at least when it comes to legitimate people selling real products that may be useful. Do you really want the "seasoned pro" who asks you how your kid is doing in Little League selling you some overpriced media, or would you rather the company be a bit less entrenched, saving money by hiring less experienced sales people, and passing those savings on to you? So many ad buyers need their egos stroked, but, ultimately, it's the product that matters. That said, everyone, Campus News is a popular newspaper that hits 37 colleges in the Northeast in large numbers -- a very affordable, effective venue! See, how is that pitch? It's quick and authentic. Your time is valuable.

  24. Cory Treffiletti from Rembrand, July 7, 2016 at 11:05 a.m.

    You miss the point in making an assumption that i want a "seasoned pro".  I am simply asking that salespeople attempt to get SOMETHING right.  At least my name, maybe the company i work for and possibly an idea of what my objectives are before pretending to know me.  At least ask a question and listen before jumping into a pitch.  This is not about ego and if you think it is, then you completely missed the point, hence using the comments to make a sales pitch.

  25. Andrew Ettinger from Ad Agency, July 7, 2016 at 12:01 p.m.

    A great articles!

  26. Ken Kurtz from creative license, August 10, 2016 at 2:16 p.m.

    A good salesperson will take the time to do some homework.  A good salesperson will try to find a mutual connection or a shared interest that warrants a response.  A good salesperson will ask questions about my business and my goals or objectives before assuming what he’s selling is going to be of immediate interest to me.  A good salesperson is going to leverage some data to understand my interests and behaviors before reaching out, and gather that data through discovery or technology.

    Amen to the above. I've sold over $100,000,000 worth of advertising in a 20 year career with Gannett, Hearst, Newsweek/Washington Post, and Time Inc., $500,000,000 worth of real estate in a 10 year career in the "dirt business", and now close to $100,000,000 in five years in software.

    I have never, ever sent a letter or e-mail, or placed a phone call to a prospect, or customer without digging deep first to educate myself, and identify common touchpoints. Today, it's easier than ever to do due diligence on such things.

    I called a Media Director in North Carolina for 6 months in the 90's (he was running millions of dollars of advertising with my primary competitor) and he flat out refused to take my call for that duration. One day, rebuffed yet again, I asked his "assistant" what he truly loved on a whim (she'd started feeling sorry for me, I believe, so patient had I been over the months of call-ins that resulted in rejection).

    When she replied "Mickey Mantle, and the NY Yankees" this born and bred NYer, now living in Atlanta, but with many days and nights at Yankee Stadium under my belt while growing up in Westchester County in the 60's and 70's, was off and running. I closed this Media Director about three weeks later... his first order was of the $1,000,000 variety, and I'm not ashamed to say that I dropped about $700 on a Mickey Mantle autographed baseball along the way.

    Know your prospect. Know your customer. Today, there are myriad ways to learn more about them than you might ever need.

  27. Leslie Laredo from The Laredo Group, October 4, 2016 at 12:02 p.m.

    While it has been a few months since this article was published, the Academy of Digital Media has launched it's newest sales skills course, "Mastering 21st Century Media Sales Skills" which addresses many of the issues discussed in the article and long thread of responses. The course outline is here
    and is being taught in NYC on Oct. 20th and in Chicago on Nov. 2nd. We also teach custom versions of this course. 

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