How A Perfectly Nice Sales Guy Pissed Me Off (Without Even Knowing It)

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The software demo started off like any other.

A few slides about the company’s client list. Some stats on the number of employees they had, how quickly they’d grown.

But as I listened to the pitch the rep gave about his company’s PR monitoring software, I started to feel pissed off.

Later on, I tried to deconstruct what the rep did that ticked me off. He didn’t say anything offensive. And he was a nice enough guy.

And then it dawned on me.

The company has plenty of expertise in PR. But the way it conveyed that expertise didn’t draw me in. It only pushed me away.

Here’s why…

As a relatively young company, we don’t get a lot of PR.

So showing me all the ways they can slice and dice massive amounts PR data didn’t impress me. It wasn’t even relevant. And it did nothing to help me see how using them would help me succeed.

Instead of showing me some ways they could help me succeed over the next 3–6 months, they focused on a bunch of tools and reports that weren’t helpful for a company at our stage.

The call only accomplished two things: helping the sales rep feel good about himself and his company for all the tech they’d developed, and wasting my time.

Buyers Aren’t Impressed By How Smart You Are

Chances are, if you’re in the B2B marketing space, you’re selling some form of technology that your potential customers don’t have. And you have two choices for how you can position that technology.

You can choose to talk about the technology itself. About how sophisticated it is, how long the feature list is, or all the impressive people who worked on building it.

This approach is easy.

Anyone can rattle off a list of features and specs. And talking about your great technology probably makes you feel good. The only problem is that this a great way to alienate buyers. They don’t care about you – they care about themselves.

The alternative is to talk about your technology in the context of helping the buyer see how they’ll succeed. By empathizing with the challenges they’re facing and showing them how we’ve built something that’s going to help them win.

This approach is hard.

Effective B2B messaging requires putting your ego aside. It demands that you spend time with your customers to understand their dreams, fears, hopes, insecurities, and points of pride. You have to connect with them on an emotional level, which requires thoughtfulness. But it’s the only way to get people to feel like you’re on their team.

Think about your doctor.

Who would you rather see – the doctor who tries to impress you with the number of journal articles he’s published, the pedigree of his school, the amount of money his practice pulls in?

Or the one who uses her expertise to empathize with your situation and help you create a better version of yourself?

Great B2B Brands Don’t Intimidate, They Empathize

The company trying to sell me PR monitoring software probably makes a perfectly good product.

And while there was little chance I was going to buy their software that day, they pretty much lost all chance of ever selling to me in the future.

By trying to impress me with a lot of talk about themselves, they lost the chance to develop an advocate for their brand. The rep didn’t mean it, but every feature he rattled off only served to intimidate me from using their software.

But it didn’t have to be that way.

If he had focused on empathizing with me as a marketer at a small company, things could have ended much differently. If he could have found some small way to help me during that call, he could have created a potential customer 1–2 years from now.

But when I do look for PR software in a year or two, I’m likely to look elsewhere.

To recap, having some expertise or technology that your customers lack is necessary to sell anything in the first place.

But use that expertise at your own risk.

Talk about yourself too much, and you risk intimidating potential customers and turning them away. But use that expertise to empathize with buyers and equip them to be better versions of themselves, and you’ll be much better off in the long run.

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About the Author

John Rougeux

John Rougeux is a Partner at Category Design Advisors. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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Get the newsletter that will help you become a better category designer.

About the Author


John Rougeux is VP Marketing Strategy at BombBomb. Connect with John on LinkedIn.

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