The Difference Between a Show Horse and a Plow Horse

Anthony Iannarino
Post by Anthony Iannarino
September 20, 2010

It bears repeating: “ . . . a salesperson should never judge themselves by how well they do in the boardroom fielding the tough questions. A salesperson should judge themselves instead on their ability to do all of the front end, heavy lifting that ensures that they go into the boardroom with enough confirmed votes in hand to ensure that they will win.”

The Effective Salesperson Isn’t a Show Horse

The real work of sales isn’t done during the final presentation. It isn’t the glamorous work of telling the persuasive story that makes even the most skeptical buying team member’s heads start to nod in agreement. It isn’t the fast thinking and the slick answers to the challenging questions.

Winning sales isn’t about the suit. Winning sales isn’t about the shine on your shoes. And winning sales it isn’t about the million-dollar smile. That stuff is for Hollywood; it’s all show horse.

Great Salespeople Are Plow Horses

The real work of sales is for plow horses. Plow horses are bigger, stronger, and they can handle a massive  (and thankless) workload.

The real work that leads to winning deals isn’t the glamorous work that gets all of the accolades. The real work is in prospecting relentlessly until you get that first commitment from your coldest dream client. It is in finding a way in when it looks impossible because your competitor has you locked out.

The real work that wins deals is in spending time developing the relationships two and three levels deep in your dream client’s organization and working to understand their problems, challenges, and opportunities. Sales are won by building a vision of the right solution together, a solution that will later have the support of the buying team.

Sales are won by facing the uncomfortable truths. They are won by having the difficult conversations about the constraints that must be effectively dealt with to produce a better result. They are won by making the sale in your own organization before you make it in your dream client’s organization. They’re won by asking for what you need to win and what you need to succeed.

Sales are won by being there. By making the choice to act. By telling the truth at any cost. By creating value on every call and before you claim any. By providing your dream client with the answer to the question: “Why should I buy from you?”

Sales are won by following a process that is true to the iron laws of sales, and by thinking outside the box when things go off the map.

None of the work of the plow horse gets any attention or praise while it is being done. But this is the work that wins deals and beats the show horse that believes that the deal is won or lost during the show.

The deal was won before the show ever started.


The real work is done in front of the deal. The end of the sales cycle is too late. Even for a show horse.


You really, really want to be a show horse, I know. But deep down you know where deals are won and lost. Why is it better to put your effort and energy into the front of the sales process, instead of the end of the buying process?

Have you ever been forced to play the role of show horse, presenting even when you had no business presenting? Think back and remember that time. What did you wish that you had at that moment?

When you get to the boardroom table, what do you need to have going into that room to know that you are likely to win that deal? What do you need to do to make sure you have what you need? What do you need to have that no one who hasn’t done the front end, heavy lifting that you have done could possibly have?

Why don’t your dream clients want to buy the show horse? What are the actions and the behaviors that your dream clients really need to see to feel 100% confident in choosing you over all others? How do you accomplish giving them that before final presentations?

If you were buying, would you buy the show horse or the plow horse? Who would you believe would get the real work done? Who would you have known to be trusted for doing the heavy lifting when there was no applause?

Sales 2010
Post by Anthony Iannarino on September 20, 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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