One way to avoid the accidental sales jibe


Selling and sailing have a lot in common. Consider the jibe.

A sailboat cannot sail directly into the wind, but it can sail at angles to the wind. The closest point of sail is approximately 45 degrees to the left or right of the wind direction. Turning the bow (the front) of the boat to change direction from one side of the wind to the other is called a tack. That’s a common maneuver which is fairly easy to execute.

Things are more complicated when sailing downwind. With the wind directly behind the boat, the mainsail is positioned far to the left or right – sometimes extended to a perpendicular angle. The wind is pushing the boat, the sail is full, and there is a lot of power at play.

A jibe happens when the boat is heading downwind and the wind changes from one side to the other. When the skipper executes a jibe, the wind crosses the stern (the back) and the sail moves to the other side of the boat. That’s a long way for a heavy sail to travel. If it doesn’t happen gradually, the sail can swing violently and cause a lot of damage. If there is a sudden wind shift – or if the skipper isn’t in complete control – the result can be an accidental jibe. In heavy wind, an accidental jibe can cause serious injuries or break the mast.

“Wind at your back” is a general phrase that means things are going well. It’s true that, when sailing downwind, a boat can move smoothly through the water. But experienced skippers know it’s important to be careful with turns.

There are times when a sales person sails downwind. The sales conversation is positive and the prospect is showing genuine interest. Then all of a sudden, something puts the entire presentation at risk. At those times, the veteran sales person knows to be on guard for an uncontrolled jibe.

Of all the risky points in a presentation, it’s hard to find one riskier than the temptation to criticize the competition. The prospect might say, “I’m also considering radio advertising,” or “Our marketing department is pushing for a different media mix.” If the sales person jumps in with critical comments, he or she can quickly lose control. Responding with criticism is like saying, “You’re wrong. I can’t believe you would even consider such a lousy advertising choice.” That’s a jibe that can do a lot of damage.

One way to deal with this is to make a comparison. Instead of making a negative remark, say something like, “Let’s compare our paper to the radio stations in the market. Here’s a chart showing each station’s audience figures and our readership.”

Just about every sales presentation has opportunities to criticize the competition. That’s why it’s a good idea to prepare comparisons in advance. We all know that criticism can kill sales and damage client relationships. Relevant comparisons can help advertising prospects make informed decisions.

It all leads to smooth sailing.


(c) Copyright 2018 by John Foust. All rights reserved.


John Foust has conducted training programs for thousands of newspaper advertising professionals. Many ad departments are using his training videos to save time and get quick results from in-house training. E-mail for information: