Sales Myths CEOs Believe


There are a lot of myths in the world of sales.

Unfortunately for CEOs who don’t come from a sales background, they get fooled by these myths. They mistake them for “conventional wisdom” because they hear them so often.

Even for CEOs who come from a sales background, it’s easy to believe what they hear repeated Ad Nauseam.

Here’s one: “Sales people are coin-operated.”

I heard a VP of finance say this once and I rolled my eyes. This level of simplicity wouldn’t be accepted in a discussion about operational constraints, so why is it ok when referring to sales?

(The truth there is that sales people, like all people, are motivated by a variety of factors, and those differ from person to person.)

What happens when we accept myths as facts? Let’s look at one area – hiring. When myths are accepted as fact, hiring managers select the wrong people.

Hiring mistakes turn into performance problems.

Performance problems cost near-term revenue. And can impact relationships with customers or future customers.

In the near term, numbers aren’t hit, and sometimes, that has downstream effects on cash flow or earnings.

Performance problems inevitably lead to turnover. Sometimes the turnover is losing good people who want a better culture. Inevitably, it’s the firing of those who shouldn’t have been hired in the first place.

The cost of all this? More than anything, it’s lost time as you begin the process of hiring and ramping all over again.

What are the most commonly accepted myths? Let’s dig into those about salespeople and sales leaders.

Before we dive into some of the pantheon of sales mythology…

In 2021, I talked with a group of investors who wanted to open up shop in a competitive industry.

They didn’t have direct knowledge of the industry because they hadn’t worked in it. But they saw the margin in the business and thought, “We’re smart guys. We can figure this out.”

They were also overseas, meaning getting boots on the ground here was important, but effectively impossible for them.

So…they hired someone “with industry experience.” They looked for someone who had been in the industry for a long time and was available to work for them. That was their criteria.

They needed this guy to produce a certain number of deals to make their business work. Effectively, they were all in on this guy to make their bet pay off.

I cautioned them against this – it was too simplistic a mental model. They believed, “He has had success before in this industry – he can and will again with us.”

1 year later they let me know they were folding up shop. This guy – and their business – hadn’t worked out.

They made a slew of assumptions and didn’t ask nearly enough questions. Because they believed 1 myth – industry experience is enough.

Here are the 10 most common myths I see leaders make when it comes to salespeople and sales management.

  • We can hire athletes. Look, I know athletes have turned into great salespeople across many industries. But so have teachers. And Enterprise Rent-A-Car management trainees. College athletics is not a predictor of sales success. The relationship isn’t causal. Think about this: is there any correlation between practicing something you love, where you get a lot of positive feedback, and are with others… AND something that is hard, full of rejection and failure, and effectively a solo act?

(just like prospecting, right?)

  • She worked at a big company in our space, so she’ll kill it for our tiny business no one has heard of. If someone is killed at some massive company with phenomenal marketing and lots of resources… and you want them to come to your smaller company, where you’re an underdog, and you don’t have the support this rep is used to, and your marketing budget is much smaller… they CAN be successful. But the odds are stacked against both of you. It’s a different game. When I coached high school football, our little band of high school coaches routinely beat coaches with experience in pro or college ball – different circumstances and a different game.
  • He has a network, so he’ll sell a lot of our products. Oh boy. A network can get you meetings. That’s it. Don’t expect someone’s rolodex (is that still a word?) to close business. You’re effectively overpaying for some appointments. And hoping people like the person you’re hiring.
  • I just need a closer. Ah! The closer myth. Because you have so many opportunities coming in that you and your team can’t field them all, money is just running through your fingers. It’s more likely that you need people who can qualify the opportunities you or your team is blowing, AND build a case for “Why you?” Do that, and closing becomes easier.

  • They were referred by my buddy, so I can short circuit the interview process. Does your buddy work in your industry, with your customers, selling your products or services, and is he at the same stage of business growth you’re in? If not, do your due diligence on this person. Because you’re more likely to skip steps thinking, “She made it in printing, so I’m sure she can sell building supplies. People like her!”
  • If they make great money, they’ll stay. While many companies are guilty of not paying top performers enough (note: they leave and compete with you)… pay is not a guarantee they’ll stay. People work for their reasons, not yours, and if they aren’t aligned with them on their reasons, you’re going to lose someone… and not even see it coming. People leave for more opportunity, more recognition, less travel, and many other reasons. That has nothing to do with pay.
  • I don’t need to talk to them about their personal life. See the one above. You have to know why people are working. In my training of sales leaders and execs, this is one of the first exercises I have them do. They must find their employees’ personal goals… so they can help them reach those, with the business. It also helps to know what’s going on outside of work when someone’s performance is likely to be impacted by it. Such as the sick parent… or the struggling marriage… or the behavior issues their child is having at school. Want to help your people perform? Know what else is going on.

  • I hire adults. What a doozy. I hear this from managers who don’t want to, well, manage people. They say, “I hire adults so I don’t need to hold them accountable. If they don’t want to work, then this isn’t the place for them.” The problem is that they burn a lot of time and opportunity finding out if that person is going to make it. Or not. Interestingly enough, the highest performers in the world hire people to… hold them accountable.
  • They know what they need to do. This is the response when I ask a manager or exec if their people know what’s required to hit their numbers. After they respond, I then ask people in the room if anyone can tell me how many conversations a rep needs to have to close 1 piece of business. Sounds like….

  • My top people don’t need my help. People tend to leave the top performers to themselves, believing, “They have it. I can focus on other areas of the business.” But if the world’s top performers hire someone to push them further… what are you and your top people leaving on the table by you leaving them be? Or, another way to think about it: you’re more likely to get MORE out of spending time with your top people than you are trying to rescue your bottom performers. Your call.
  • Great seller = great manager. This mistake is made repeatedly. Yes, there are CEOs who rose from individual seller to manager to director to VP. But many great individual contributors aren’t cut out to manage. By the way – I’ve seen amazing managers and leaders who weren’t anything more than average at selling. There’s not a direct correlation here. If anything, it’s a 2-sided problem: you lose a great seller and get a lousy manager.

By the way – this list isn’t exhaustive. It’s just a start.

Which one hits home for you? Perhaps you’ve made one of these assumptions, believing you could rely on what others have said before about the simplicity of sales.

If so, has it worked out? Have you been lucky? Have you been able to replicate success in terms of new customers, revenue, or more sales hires?

Because I’d bet … a new Yeti cooler… that where you’ve relied on the above beliefs, you’ve either had a problem, or gotten lucky once but not been able to replicate that luck. Because rarely do you get lucky twice in the same way.

Adam Boyd