Exceptions Aren’t the Rule

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
October 14, 2010

alt text of fingers crossed

There are exceptions to every rule.

Even though the iron laws of sales cannot be broken, sometimes a salesperson can win a deal through some combination of luck and circumstances that conspire to create an exception to the rule.

Sometimes the Gods of Sales smile favor on the “fortunate” salesperson, offering them a gift. But like a Greek tragedy, the gift will only much later be revealed to be the curse that it was all along, and only after much harm has been done and many deals have been lost.

With a Little Luck

One of the iron laws of sales is that you must diagnose before your prescribe your solution. If you attempt to break this law, you will quickly find yourself out of alignment with your dream client’s idea as to what the solution might look like, having not bothered with discovering their ideas before presenting.

Occasionally, a salesperson may discover that, in spite of their not having done what they should have to done to work in front of the deal, they present in the boardroom and they win anyway. This extraordinary luck may be the result of their having something that looks and sounds like the right solution, their dream client being in so much pain that their decision is ruled by urgency, their dream client’s generally poor decision-making or buying process, or just having a damn fine presentation that pushes them over the line—even thought don’t know nearly enough to deliver on the promises contained within proposal or presentation.

So what’s the problem with good luck and exceptions?

The Problem With Exceptions

The problem with exceptions is that they are too often confused for the rule.

If you win without following an effective sales process, if you win despite your having violated the iron laws of sales, then it is easy to believe that what you did was right and effective, even though it will rip future deals straight out of your pipeline, casting them into the depths of your fast growing loss column.

It’s easy to look at the win that occurred and believe that it was no exception, that it was instead the rule, and to start behaving and taking actions in accordance with some new law: “I won without doing an great diagnosis because one isn’t necessary in my case. I can present and win without knowing anything because I am a great presenter, and because what we sell is truly special.”

Exceptions and Rationalized Losses

Believing that the rules don’t apply to you, or that the laws that are embedded in effective sales processes are not necessary in your case, is the fast track to the bottom of the bottom eighty percent. Instead of recognizing the exception for what is was, an exception, you start dreaming up all sorts of reasons that you are losing and transfer the blame to something outside of your control.

You start to believe that you lost on price. You start to believe that you only lost because your competitor is bigger, that they have programs and resources that you don’t have, or that they have something special that you can compete against effectively. You start to believe that it something that your company is doing wrong that make them uncompetitive, and that your losses aren’t in any way your fault.

How could your losses be your fault? Remember when you won a deal doing exactly what you are doing now?

The Problem With Luck and How To Take It

The problem with luck is that it isn’t repeatable. It shows up when it wants to. Another iron law of sales is that the worse you need a deal, the harder it is to win one. Luck is unpredictable, rarely there when you need it, and isn’t a repeatable process.

Lots of deals are won because a lot of breaks come your way. Sometimes you sit next the primary decision-maker at an industry conference, or sometimes you sit next to them on a plane.

But most of the time, the luck that comes your way because you have done everything right.

Sometimes your nurturing efforts put you in the right place at the right time with the right ideas. You were lucky in your timing.

You end up with the fifth vote of nine at the boardroom table because the four relationships you have built over time went to work on number five and made the sale while you were driving back to your office. You were lucky they were strong enough salespeople—or trained well enough—to sell your solution and pull the vote.

Or maybe you got lucky and your solution was spot on because your first contact was deep enough in the organization to help you frame it in a way that no competing salesperson could come close to your demonstrated understanding. You were lucky you got in where you did and no one else bothered to go that deep.

Effectiveness in sales is doing everything right so that when you need luck, you make it easy for a small bit of luck to push you over the line. When you win on pure luck, you take it as you find it, but you remember that is was an exception to the rule—not the rule.


    1. Think back to a time when you won a deal even though you didn’t do what you know or knew to be right. What lessons might you have taken from that deal that, if applied to future opportunities, would reduce your likelihood of winning?

    1. Think about some of your last few won deals. Think about the lucky breaks that came your way (and, I assure you, there were some). What did you do that enabled those lucky breaks to work in your favor? How did you make it easy for a little bit of luck to push you over the line?

    1. What are the iron laws of sales that are embedded in your sales process that you believe don’t apply to you? What are the general rules and principles that you believe don’t apply to what you sell or how you sell? Who do you have to be to explore your long-held beliefs and to open your mind to new ideas, new actions, and new possibilities?

  1. How do you make sure that you have not mistaken an exception for the rule?

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Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on October 14, 2010
Anthony Iannarino
Anthony Iannarino is a writer, an author of four books on the modern sales approach, an international speaker, and an entrepreneur. Anthony posts here daily.
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