The History of Sales: Dale Carnegie is Still with Us

I've recently been hearing sales companies talk about how they are 'helping their buyers buy' with a system that is the 'next thing' after Consultative Selling. After becoming familiar with their concepts and methods, I've come to believe they are correct: they are definitely on to the next iteration. But of what?

The next iteration of How to Win Friends and Influence People.

Interestingly, Dale Carnegie's beliefs and sales models continue to capture the mainstream audience for sales professionals, complete with the beliefs and behaviors he put into place in 1937.

Let me take a moment and enumerate them:

1. Although the buyer has input, the seller is the product expert and therefore knows what the buyer needs.

2. The seller's job is to influence, convince, or persuade (the word Carnegie preferred) the buyer to buy the seller's product.

3. By careful information positioning - appropriate pitches, presentations, ads, campaigns, marketing strategies, layouts, commercials - a buyer will recognize that they need a product.

4. The seller can see what is missing from a buyer's environment by virtue of his/her knowledge of the product, and is at fault when s/he fails at selling the product where it is needed.

5. If the seller can get it right the buyer will be ready to buy in the seller's time frame using the seller's sales criteria.


Once Consultative Selling came along in the mid 80's, thanks to Larry Wilson, Linda Richardson, Neil Rackham, and David Sandler, sellers began realizing they needed to get input from the buyer. Thus the inclusion of 'questions' into the selling process.

And what were the questions? Information-based questions that led the prospect to admit just WHERE they had a problem and just HOW they could solve it using the seller's product. These questions ultimately were a manipulation to get the buyer to concede that yes, alas, they had a problem, and no, they weren't handling it as effectively as they might. Obviously, went the theory, once they realized the error of their ways, they would know it was time to buy the seller's product.

But did they do that?

Given that the questioning system was used to 'create a need' and was therefore manipulative, buyers ended up not being totally honest; they knew they were being set up for a sales pitch. And, after all, why should they share private information with a stranger - especially a stranger that would use the information against them. David Sandler coined the term "Buyers are Liars". The implication here is that sellers, still, have the answer and know the real truth behind buyer's needs. Indeed, sellers create their own objections.

But it's a bit more complex. Buyers have lived in their unique culture - and indeed helped create it - for so long that it feels comfortable. Things are 'done that way' because they always have been, and it seems to be fine. And, if you remember the 3-part series on What is Buying Facilitation® (newsletters October, November, December, 2002), buyers have a very microscopic view on their piece of their environment, and sometimes have difficulty recognizing the entire picture. They intimately know the systems around them and they tend to respond to questions using this micro view as the basis of their answers. [If you have not yet read the above series, I recommend you do so, as this is a very important piece of understanding when helping buyers make decisions.]

So, given that the job of sales continues to be defined as a process meant to move product into the hands of buyers (using whatever methodology that can move it), using Dale Carnegie's precepts will continue to reap the same problems they always have: slower-than-necessary sales cycles - while buyers figure out their internal issues; multiple decision makers appearing seemingly out of nowhere - while the internal systems get organized around change; tough price deliberations - because buyers don't know how else to evaluate one offering over another; seemingly unnecessary time delays - while buyers attempt to solve the problem using familiar resources; rejection - because buyers don't know how to justify change.

In other words, the problems inherent in the conventional sales methodology have become standard business problems, occurring across contexts, independent of product or price or delivery system.


Lets look at two extreme forms of sales environments and how they have designed their business strategy around conventional sales practices and problems.

At the low end of the spectrum are the telemarketers and call center reps: they have a script, push the features, functions, and benefits of a product, and play a numbers game. They aim for a closing ratio of one half of one percent of the calls they place. That process defines a huge multinational industry: hire a specialist to create a great script, find plenty of people (in almost any country) who are willing to work for low wages - and train, train, train (there is a 70% turnover due to the sheer boredom and abuse the job bears).

These sellers get 'no's' because they don't know how to engage the prospect in rapport and don't help them examine their systems problems - not to mention treating all people like numbers. They base their entire process on finding those people who are actually seeking that particular product, with that particular price tag and description, on that specific day. The process actually is one of the most inefficient sales processes imaginable. With just a few small changes, they can increase their response rate to 2% using Buying Facilitation®. But since the people they hire are such a cheap commodity (especially in countries like India where a lot of this is taking place), they just keep aiming for the one half of one percent close, and keep hiring new people when their agents burn out.

I recently trained call center reps at a software company. Although they were receiving incoming calls, they were able to increase their per-dollar sale from $300 per call to $2000 per call. By using Buying Facilitation® they taught their customers how to take a rational look around their business culture, recognize problems, and be willing to purchase new products to solve the problem, all in one call and five extra minutes.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Senior Partners of large accounting and consulting firms. Although they consider themselves above sales, that's exactly what they do. They just do it smarter, with an air of greater expertise, more money, more people involved in the sale, better presentations, and with nicer ties. Buying Facilitation® has helped companies at the very high end of the spectrum bring multi-year sales cycles down to months by teaching the buyer how to bring in all the stakeholders immediately, and giving them decisioning strategies so they can coordinate the whole picture - micro and macro - easily and quickly.

Most people in sales truly care about their customers, so I'm being a bit unkind, but only a bit. Sellers would be happy to do it more efficiently if they knew how, but unfortunately, the method that Dale Carnegie created lives on and is still considered the norm, even though we've added a few bells and whistles to his original concept. Ultimately, once a sale is based on one person having the answers and finding a way to impress their solution on the other, it becomes an exercise in power, control, and ego.


Before I clarify how Buying Facilitation® gets rid of the inherent business problems created by conventional sales methods, let me digress and discuss the reasoning behind the continued use of the sales methods as Carnegie defined them.

The thinking goes something like this: since buyers haven't solved the problems that face them (in the area the product resides), obviously they can't or they would have already done so. One of the reasons for this oversight, the reasoning goes, is that they weren't even aware of the capabilities of the seller's product. Once they are made aware of them, and see how the product solves their problem, obviously they will be smart enough to buy it.

I can't tell you how many thousand times I've heard a seller say that the buyer was a jerk, or stupid, or worse, because they didn't buy the product they obviously needed. Obvious to the seller, of course.

It's becoming a known fact that buyers want a solution, not to solve a problem. So the sales community has learned the new lingo about helping buyers discover their solution. But they don't use skills that will support this discovery, and continue to use problem-solving techniques (information push, product-focused) as a way to sell.

In reality, the only people that can know how to fix a problem are the people that have a stake in the solution - those on the inside. And all the information that sellers collect or share will NOT address the systems necessary to support a new solution on a seller's site. People do not buy based on information; they buy based on their ability to align all of the systems that need to be included in a solution. And often, the data that sellers collect is just the top-of-mind data - not the intricate systems data that creates a final decision.


Buying Facilitation® is a new sales paradigm, and it fits with our new economic challenges (slowdown, recession, people taking a long time to decide to spend money). It has different skills, a different premise, and different results. It does NOT use the Carnegie thinking, or the consultative methods. It does NOT use the typical product pitch, probing techniques, closing strategies, or questioning approaches. Most importantly it operates on a totally different set of premises:

1. only a person working or living within a culture/system can understand that culture/system.

2. people will do something different only when they are assured that there will not be chaos (or they know how to manage the chaos) when they make a change.

3. a seller is in a unique position to be a brand manager for his/her company.

4. a seller is in a unique position to truly serve a buyer by helping them discover how and what and when and where and why they need to solve a problem within the parameters that exist in their unique culture.

5. a buyer is the only one who can navigate the decision system s/he lives within - the seller has no political capital and truly can only take a macro view since s/he doesn't reside within the buyer's team/family/company.

6. a buyer must be able to recognize the differences in competitive product offerings before they make a purchase: it is only when they have recognized precisely what a solution needs to entail are they ready to understand product data and differences.

7. the seller's job is to help people understand their systems in order for change and before product information is relevant.

8. the seller does not initially need to know or understand the buyer's needs, and, during the first phase of the Buying Facilitation® process, functions purely as a neutral navigator.

The most significant difference in thinking is that the buyer is the only one who can understand their own needs, given their understanding of all the elements that go into their unique decision and culture. The seller is taken out of this aspect of the equation, until the buyer can specify what they need and how. Only then is it time for the seller to pitch and present their product in terms of what the buyer needs to have happen in order to buy.

So, to summarize: Buying Facilitation® is NOT a new way for sellers to glean the data they need in order to make a sale. It is a decisioning process that teaches buyers how to recognize all aspects that need to be included in a decision in the area of the seller's product benefits, with the seller being the neutral navigator to help the buyer think it all through.

Here's a personal story that would be funny if it weren't so sad. A visionary sales manager from a large multinational hired me to train his group. It was an easy sales process for me, since the person with the checkbook was the buyer, and the Facilitative systems questions I posed were (in his estimation) not relevant since he was a single buyer.

As the training progressed, I discovered that the entire company had been opposed to him bringing in a visionary sales model. Folks had had meetings with him, threatened him, traveled long distances to get him to listen to reason, etc. because they were unwilling to change the system. Since this man had his own budget, he went ahead, but did not bring his annoyed colleagues into the process.

By the time I got there, it was too late: they were lying in wait for him. During the brief post-training coaching phase, the sales numbers lagged. That was it. They began a lethal campaign that led to the redeployment of the trained reps, and a new job - for another company - for my client. Oh. The figures for the month the sellers used the Method were 600% over their projected revenue. It was more important for the system to be stable than a huge increase in revenue.

Contrast this to the success of the Buying Facilitation® implementation at California Closets. When we began the training and discussed the possible points of disruption and chaos, the entire executive management team got on board to create strategies to contain any chaos. As soon as it began, the team put into place their action plan, and mitigated the problems. Now, after five years, they continue to use Buying Facilitation® successfully internationally. The rewards include easier collaborations amongst all stakeholders, as well as increased revenue and long term client relationships.

Remember this: until buyers take into account all of the 8 points above, they will drag their heels, or do something to recreate the status quo. Change is too costly.

The results for sellers when using Buying Facilitation® are:

1. greatly reduced sales cycles;
2. sales people become brand ambassadors for the company;
3. long term loyal business relationships;
4. the decommoditization of products (i.e. no price competition);
5. easy differentiation with the competition;
6. alignment of all stakeholders in a short time period.


Helping buyers find solutions by thinking through and aligning all of the decision-making factors that create their culture is obviously different than a 'sales' philosophy (although people buy as a result). But it seems to be a hard bridge to cross to get sales people to understand that their job hinges on the actual decision process rather than the strength and relevance of the product.

Because there is now so much access to data, sellers actually think they have all the 'data' they need to 'help' a buyer know how to buy. And while they might have all the data, unless they live with that family, or sit in on team meetings and share projects and phone calls and gossip with a team for months and months, they will never understand HOW buyers make their decisions, and the criteria they use in order to choose to make a change.

Indeed, buyers might not consciously understand the 'hows' either. But make no mistake: until they do, they won't buy anything. They need to do it with you or without you: it might as well be with you.

Buying Facilitation® (for those of you needing a refresher) is a questioning methodology that uses systems thinking to help buyers figure out what a solution needs to look like:

- so they don't have unmanageable chaos;
- so they don't step on political toes;
- so they assemble all the relevant criteria of the players;
- so all the players are on board;
- so they link all of the history and politics with a new solution.

It's not about the product; it's about the norms of the buying culture. And the seller has NO WAY OF KNOWING the buying culture.

So even though you have the exact right product, if the buyers can't make sense of their own norms and values and beliefs and history and future and stakeholders, you can't sell it.

I recently spoke with someone who is running programs in one of the new sales methods, purported to be the 'next step' from Consultative Sales. What have they done? They've added questions that help sellers handle the anxiety brought about by pushing a solution from the seller's perspective.

Sellers are recognizing the problem - they can't make a sale unless a buyer makes a buying decision; but they haven't figured out how to handle that problem using the original thinking that Carnegie gave us. They continue to use the same methods with the same basic beliefs. In fact, the person I spoke with said, "Buyers don't know what they need. We take care of that by helping them work through their anxiety."

Nice. But imagine if you didn't try to sell. Imagine if you led buyers of any type of product, in any market, through a simple process that taught them:

1. how to look at their environment with (their own) new eyes;

2. how to stop and consider all of the political and historic factors that not only got them where they are, but are planned to be used into the future;

3. how to fix it themselves if they can (so they know it's time to seek a different solution if they can't);

4. how to understand and align and handle all of the stakeholders and policies that have kept the status quo where it is.

Until or unless a buyer does all of the above, they will not buy. Remember: the time it takes people to come up with their own answers is the length of the sales cycle.

Dale Carnegie's methods (including Open, Probe, Pitch, Close) taught sellers how to sell. There are no skill sets within his belief set that support buyers in discovering the unique, idiosyncratic solutions they, and all their stakeholders, need to create in order to make a new purchase that involves more than one person.

Given our economy is at such a difficult juncture, it might be time to apply Buying Facilitation® and help support those decisions.

Sharon Drew Morgen is a thought leader, and the author of New York Times Bestseller Selling with Integrity, Sales on the Line, and Buying Facilitation: the new way to sell as well as over 400 articles. She is the pioneer behind the visionary sales paradigm the Morgen Buying Facilitation Method®. As the architect of a wholly original sales model, Sharon Drew has provoked, inspired, and motivated thousands of sales professionals world-wide. With a history as a million-dollar producer and 30 years in sales, an entrepreneur of a successful start-up, and a sales consultant in many Fortune 100 companies, she brings field knowledge as well as innovation to her audiences. She can be reached at:

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