By Peter Smith
Peter Smith is president of Memoire and author of two books, “Hiring Squirrels,” and “Sell Something.” Connect with Smith on LinkedIn or at
One of the great complexities in sales is how we handle both hiring salespeople and training them once they have been onboarded.

Most of us would agree that the combination of those the two powerful forces serves as an important foundation to position our respective businesses for sales success, and yet I would suggest that we are all too often getting it wrong.

When interviewing candidates, we tend to default not only to industry experience, but to product knowledge as key drivers of our hiring decisions. The prevailing idea here is that if a candidate has better product knowledge, then they will be more successful in sales.

That presumption, while rationally sensible, is often misguided.

The social sciences have shown time and again that great salespeople move customers to action because they connect with them emotionally, not because they provide them with more product information.

In fact, there is ample evidence to suggest that those who have the most product knowledge tend to be the least effective in sales.

When I talk to both retail and supplier-side colleagues and ask them to describe their best salespeople historically, they very often describe salespeople who were not safe or predictable hires.

They weren’t the most knowledgeable or the most experienced members of the team. They were, however, very successful in sales.

Why is that? What is the key ingredient to becoming a top salesperson?

Christophe Morin and Patrick Renvoisé wrote a fascinating book called “The Persuasion Code: How Neuromarketing Can Help You Persuade Anyone, Anywhere, Anytime” in which they posited: “ … persuasion is not controlled by the rational brain. Rather, it is the primal brain that dominates the process, a brain that is mostly unconscious and preverbal. It appeared long before we started to use words to communicate.”
“Is it possible that too much of your [sales] training is focused on product information and too little on making real human connections?”
Morin and Renvoisé are just the latest voices reminding us that we are not persuaded by facts, figures or rationalizations. We are moved by feelings, by emotions, by human connection.

Engaging with a salesperson who demonstrates a willingness to listen, who shows the appropriate, open and authentic body language, and who genuinely believes in what he or she is selling will almost always be more persuasive than a salesperson with a laundry list of product attributes and rationalizations.

If we accept that emotion sells, shouldn’t that also impact how we hire and train our people?

Shouldn’t it change what we look for when interviewing sales candidates? Shouldn’t we be more open to candidates without previous experience and product knowledge?

And once those folks have been hired, is it possible that too much of your training is focused on product information and too little on making real human connections?

Thomas Gilovich and Lee Ross wrote in “The Wisest One in the Room: How You Can Benefit from Social Psychology’s Most Powerful Insights” that “the intuitive mind is more impulsive than the rational mind, and more likely to act, to render a judgement and lean toward a course of action, without surveying information beyond its immediate attention.”

If I’m buying a car, an appliance or a diamond ring, I am going to have some basic questions that need to be answered.

I expect my salesperson to have that information or be able to find it for me. I don’t want my salesperson to make stuff up, fake it or give me a blank stare. Having the appropriate amount of product information matters. It matters a lot.

Making a human connection, however, is ultimately what will persuade me to make a purchase.

Peter Smith is president of Memoire and author of two books, “Hiring Squirrels: 12 Essential Interview Questions to Uncover Great Retail Sales Talent,” and “Sell Something: Principles and Perspectives for Engaged Retail Salespeople.” Both books are available in print or Kindle at Connect with Smith on LinkedIn or at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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