Business, Competence, Honesty, Miscellaneous, Sales, Work

One Thing Most Extraordinary Salespeople Have in Common (Part II)

Please Note: This is the second and last part of a two part series on the art of person-to-person persuasion — or selling, as the cads call it.  I strongly recommend you read the first part first before reading this part, because the first part is funnier, much funnier. It can be found here.


(About a 4 minute read)

As you’ll recall, Chuck was not merely a successful salesperson, but almost in a category of his own.  He had, for instance, set a hundred year sales record for his corporation. Then, the very next year, he broke his own record — just like a turnip joyously smashed against a concrete sidewalk by a man passionate to live his life fully.  And again the following year!  But this time, as easily as a watermelon jack-hammered to the merest juicy pulp — and by a man extremely prejudicial against that particular melon, and no other melon.

Three years running, before Chuck retired from the company to start his own business.

Chuck was also my mentor, and the approach to selling that I am going to discuss in this post is faithful to the one he taught me over the course of a year.

So far as my own experience has confirmed, Chuck’s approach is so effective, so powerful, that just about anyone who is willing and able to practice hard enough to learn and apply it will — at a bare minimum — greatly improve their success.

But here’s a catch: The approach looks deceptively simple, and I also fear many folks will take a superficial look at it only to conclude they have “heard it all before”.  I would encourage them not to.  The approach worked for Chuck, and it even worked for me — who had much less aptitude for sales than Chuck.

So,  I do not ask that you decide to try it, I only ask that you thoroughly and thoughtfully study it before deciding what to do with it.

The next thing I have to say might surprise anyone who harbors a stereotypical view of salespeople as essentially dishonest.  Honesty was once a major issue for me in my early years as a salesperson.  Almost more than anything else, I found myself at war with my own sense of honesty and fair play.

It seemed to me that persuading people to buy something almost required a fair bit of BSing them.  I wasn’t at all comfortable with that.  I was even less comfortable with aggressively pushing or tricking people into buying.  If that sounds extraordinary, consider where my feelings came from.

I was raised in a small town where doing such things could quickly gain you a reputation — a reputation that in turn would make you all but a pariah.  Only a psychopath can end up a habitually pushy liar growing up in that environment.

The last thing I expected from a professional sales trainer was a solution to those problems.   But that’s what Chuck did: Showed me an approach to sales so deceptively simple, yet so powerful, you neither had to lie to your customers, nor push them into buying.  Instead, once you learned how to actually apply it, the customers would push themselves into buying.

So, you might ask, “What is this fabulous secret approach? Fork it over, Sunstone, you insufferable assassin of melons!”

I will right after this important message from our sponsor (that would be me again, I’m the sponsor here):  The approach is not secret. Far from it, it has been around for ages and is well known.


I’ve never seen it properly taught.  Not by trainers, not by books.  Only in that singular sense is it a real secret.  Least of all have I seen it properly emphasized.  Now, that being said, here we go:

Perhaps you’ve heard of FAB.  If you haven’t, FAB stands for Feature-Advantage-Benefit, and most salespeople have at least heard of it.  But many (I often suspect most) do not consistently apply it or — if they do — they do not apply it in the most powerful manner possible, which chiefly consists in perfectly tailoring it to each individual customer.  So let’s turn to that now.

First, a simple way to grasp FAB — at least at first — is to imagine that every sale proceeds from the salesperson telling you the features of his or her product, to their telling you how those features will be of an advantage to you, to their wrapping up by telling you how you will specifically benefit from their advantages.

To illustrate, suppose you wanted to sell a drill bit to a man who came into your hardware store telling you he was shopping around all the stores that day for the best price on a quarter inch bit.

Would you tell him a price right off the bat?  If you would, you’re like the vast majority of salespeople. And what happens when he comes back at you with, “That’s not low enough.  Jones and Dogs is selling the same bit for a buck less. Can you beat that?”

Most salespeople who can will immediately cave to the lower price.  But suppose you applied FAB.  Your first step would be — not to tell him your price — but to ask him what he wanted the bit for.  And unless you do that just right, it can sound pretty weird to him that you want to know.

But suppose you get past that hurdle and he tells you he wants to hang some shelves in his apartment.  So you ask him “What for?”  Well, it turns out his fiancé will only marry and then move in with him if and when he gets all his books off the floor and properly shelved.  And that’s your golden opportunity.

“I’d say that was a good reason to buy a drill bit! Congratulations on getting married, then.  Frankly, you’re in luck!  Our bits are a bit more expensive than the ones over at Jones and Dogs, but we’ve got a special going that’s a real opportunity for you. Allow me to explain.”

“This month, we’re giving customers who buy even just one of our premium drill bits the opportunity to purchase a mattress at a 15% discount! What newlyweds aren’t about to wear out their old mattress and be in need of a new one?”

Yadda, yadda, yadda.  Now, let’s look closely at what’s going on here:

The guy comes in for a drill bit.  The bit is the feature.

The guy reveals he needs the bit to hang shelving.  The hole the bit will drill is the advantage — you can’t hang shelves without it.

Getting married is the benefit — the real or ultimate reason he wants a drill bit.

Last, the mattress is called an “upsale” — I’ve tacked that on to the core FAB sale just to show you one of the things FAB selling can set the stage for, but an upsale is not actually essential here.  It’s icing on the FAB cake.

Feature-Advantage-Benefit, almost nothing looks simpler.

In practice, it’s as hard to learn as returning a speeding tennis ball.  There are details upon details to it — and they can only be learned through persistent practice in situation after situation.

I have said nothing yet more than the equivalent of,  “You should aim to hit the ball into the other court and out of range of your opponent”.  It’s important to know that, it’s crucial to know that, but knowing it is not the same as doing it.  Far from that.

So here’s my first tip:  Look into selling something worth the effort you’re going to put into each sale.  Obviously, if you’re only selling drill bits, your payoff will never be great enough to justify going through FAB with each and every sale.  Think big.  Think, say, selling houses, where a single sale can net you thousands.  Or — think major corporate sales.

Next, begin practicing whatever it is you’re selling by role-playing the sales with a friend, or even all alone and just in your head. Try to think up a new and different FAB each time you role play.  In the end, you are likely to find considerable similarity in the advantages people are looking for, but perhaps great variation in the benefits.

For instance, two prospective home buyers might both want the advantages of locating in a good school district.  But the first might have college aspirations for their offspring, while the second might only be concerned with their kids “doing whatever they decide to do.”  How would you drive home the benefit of good schools to each? Should you probe the second prospect further to find new and different benefits?

Last — and this is key — keep in mind how crucial is the questioning stage.  You can seldom if ever apply FAB entirely correctly if you fail to gather enough information at the onset — especially in some complex sale, as is generally found in corporate sales.

The power of this approach lies squarely in how accurately you can tailor your FAB presentation to a specific individual.  In a way, uncovering those benefits is a cat and mouse game — more often than not you will need to learn how to be very skillful at probing for them or you will get fatally misled.   But the payoff from getting good at that can be huge.

And that is the approach summed up in a ridiculously too superficial manner.  Yet, the approach fully grasped and applied can be motivational beyond expectation.  You don’t need to lie, to use tricks, or pushiness to sell with it.  People will motivate themselves to buy once they grasp the chance you are giving them to realize their dreams.

I think most people will forget this post by tomorrow, and that’s ok.  I’ve found it difficult, more difficult than even I suspected at first, to adequately describe in a mere blog post what FAB is really all about. I can’t blame anyone for all too easily dismissing it.  Except Teresums, I can blame Teresums.

As for everyone else, I’ll make a deal with you, if you’ll make a deal with me.  Assuming you want to learn as much as I have to teach you about FAB and all that can go into it, simply email me with any questions you have.  I ask that you email me, rather than ask your questions in the comments, because my response will usually — but not always — be as detailed and informative as I think useful to you.

By the way, FAB can be applied to any situation in which you seek to persuade someone to do — or even to not do — something.  So feel free to contact me about, say, how to best go about persuading you partner to quit cooking yucky deep-fried mac and cheese for Tuesday’s diners, and switch to deep fried roadkill instead.

My email is

Other than that, I wish you the best of luck!

11 thoughts on “One Thing Most Extraordinary Salespeople Have in Common (Part II)”

      1. When you get down to it, it’s the same principle you pointed out on your blog: Authenticity likes authenticity. Real likes real. That’s to say people want to be treated they way they think they’d treat you (at their best).

        What is the overall theme of your forthcoming book, Tony? I only know that one chapter is on being liked.


  1. Great. As I was reading about FAB, I was thinking that this may have been the approach of the Toyota dealer who sold me my car (the 2008 Scion that still drives beautifully).


    1. Glad to hear he did that! But we should be careful here: FAB does not guarantee honesty. It can be used either honestly or dishonestly.

      That is, however, an improvement over some approaches to selling which, in my opinion, are dishonest to begin with.


      1. The art of convincing people. I knew it was a strength of yours, I never knew you had been a salesman. It suits you.
        I always thought I might make a fair salesman, but I don’t have the heart for it. I figured it would entail a lot of acting and devious twisting of words if I didn’t fully support the product, and I couldn’t see myself as fully supporting many products.
        But something about the way you wrote this… it’s about figuring out what people want, and delivering it to them. This is a happier way of looking at it.
        I kind of do this already, but it’s more of a communications thing. Don is kinectic, so I use lots of hand gestures when talking to him, and give examples. Hannah is visual, she reads my face. Jon is audio like me, we don’t even look at each other when we talk and communicate beautifully. Paul Sunstone can take a good ribbing, but I should be a little gentler on Kat, she might believe me. I’m sure you get the idea.
        Figuring out what they are able to hear is very similar to figuring out what they ultimately want, and it can be a great kindness.


      2. Sarah, the relationship between how people communicate and how they are motivated might be a whole lot tighter than you imagine.

        We were taught that the two go hand in hand. For instance, with Kat, I would lay out a logical argument that (hopefully) had but one legitimate conclusion — buy my product. I would then back off entirely, subjecting her to no pressure at all on any level, except to negotiate a deadline with her for her decision. That’s it.

        I would expect then for her to analyze the argument, find it sound, procrastinate making a formal decisions until just before the deadline, and end up buying.

        See the link between how she communicates logically and how she is motivated by logic?


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