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  • Writer's pictureBill Petrie

A Shakespearean Approach to Sales

Knowing when the better part of valor is discretion

I have an admission that – at least to those who know me – won’t exactly come as a surprise: I am a bit of a nerd. To be sure, I enjoy a lot of traditional non-nerdy things like sports, music, barbecue, and spending time with my family. However, a part of me has always gravitated towards the works of Shakespeare, which, some have suggested, is a particularly nerdy endeavor.

My affinity for the famous playwright began in high school English class, where I first uncovered the flawlessly brilliant prose woven into dialogue, soliloquies, and character exchange. Where my classmates were hopelessly disinterested in the lives of Hamlet, Othello, and King Henry, I was enthralled. Within each comedy or drama, there was always a character that I seemed to enjoy more than the others. One such character – who happened to be a recurring one – was Falstaff.

Sir John Falstaff was a bragging, bulbous, and ultimately cowardly knight who appeared in three of Shakespeare’s plays as a primarily comic figure. While his appearances were brief, his impact was lasting as the world still uses many of Falstaff’s words to this day. My favorite is, “the better part of valor is discretion,” which is often misquoted as “discretion is the better part of valor.” Even at a young age, I felt the inherent truth in the statement and how it genuinely applied to everyday life.

This hits the target when applied to sales. When describing the ideal qualities of a salesperson, words such as “tenacious,” “persistent,” and “determined” are often used. While these are seemingly fantastic, if not ideal, elements of a successful salesperson, it’s strictly one-dimensional. Every salesperson has encountered countless situations where a sale was not going to be made regardless of persistence or tenacity. The fact is that no amount of sales calls, spec samples, slick literature, or marketing materials will persuade some potential clients.

Perhaps the prospect doesn’t have the budget, wasn’t able to see the value in the product/service, or just didn’t like the person trying to make the sale. However, the reason is not as important as the realization that some people will not buy from you despite any amount of dogged determination. This is where the wisdom of Falstaff’s famous quote comes into play for the salesperson: to truly succeed, there must be a realization that even though every prospect likely buys promotional merchandise, not every prospect will buy from you.

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