Great selling does not look like selling and does not sound like an infomercial

February 27, 2017 Tarmo Tamm
In the last blogpost we talked about the essence and importance of meta-messages.This time we will analyse the concept a bit more thoroughly and talk about the three biggest and most common meta-message related errors. 



What is the definition of selling? One of the best definitions is that sales are the transfer of enthusiasm from one person to another.

How to talk about something good?

Try to remember when was the last time that you were passionate about something? It could have been a delicious meal, an interesting movie, a warm-hearted person, or an engaging sports event.

Now try to remember a situation where you shared that passion with a friend. Did you talk passively, emotionlessly, and monoto- nously, or was there more sparkle in your eyes than usually?

Now think about how you talk about your product or service. How do your colleagues or salespeople you’ve encountered talk about their product or service? Does an average salesperson infect their clients with enthusiasm or pessimism?

What would a foreigner think?

Sometimes I carry out this exercise with salespeople. A salesperson records his or her sale situations and afterwards we listen to them and analyse these situations. I ask them to focus on the meta-message: they set aside the words and focus only on the tone of voice and, if possible, on the body language. This could be called “a foreigner test”. I ask them, what they would guess the topic of the conversation was, if they couldn’t understand the words.

When listening to their attempts, the salespeople usually understand immediately that something is wrong. We don’t usually hear a recording of two people talking about something nice that at least one of them liked a lot. Instead, a foreigner would most likely think that the topic was a grave illness or bureaucracy.

The foreigner exercise

In my opinion, this is one of the best and easiest exercises that you can use to quickly improve the quality of your selling.

Imagine being a foreigner who doesn’t speak the language and listen to your sales situations. Then answer the following questions.

  • Based on the tone of voice of the people talking, is it possible to tell that the topic is something positive?
  • Based on the salesperson’s tone of voice, does he or she talk about something that he or she likes and believes in?
  • Does the salesperson’s tone of voice convey that he or she likes the other person?

Why is the foreigner test useful?

  • Firstly, because the client follows your actions or meta- messages more than your words. If the conversation partner cannot tell from your tone of voice or body language that you like the product, then why would he or she like the product? If it seems that the salesperson does not care about what he or she is saying, then why would anyone else care? The only thing more contagious than enthusiasm is pessimism. Your own attitude is the most important source of information for the client. This is what affects the client the most.
  • Secondly, this exercise helps you to establish your natural sales style.



You should not overdo it when expressing emotions. It is important that your enthusiasm be sincere and that you actually feel what you are trying to convey. Without that, the body language, tone of voice, and words are not in sync and people don’t see you as sincere and convincing.

If you start acting, then I can tell you right away that emotionally intelligent people are difficult to deceive. It is not possible to achieve a black belt or great results by acting.

Enthusiasm does not have to be unnatural and over-the-top. People often make the mistake of thinking that a good salesperson is very talkative and charismatic and jumps around energetically. Even though too much enthusiasm and self-confidence is better than a complete lack of emotions, you should hold moderation and sincerity as a standard. Communicating with a client should be natural. Great selling does not look like selling and does not sound like an infomercial.

The reputation of sales culture in Estonia and abroad has been hurt by “salespersonly” trainers with their gestures and unnatural facial expressions. It is strange that some teachers actually encourage people to try different voices. I have heard about some very strange things, such as a kitty-cat voice that is recommended by some of the most well-known teachers in Estonia. It is horrible and nobody should use things like that!

I am not trying to pretend as if I, as a salesperson, haven’t made the same mistakes. I too have tried several options. I have experimented with so many tonalities that I started to give them names at some point.

Lose your sales voice

Let’s pretend a stranger calls you. Would you recognize a salesperson 99% of the time by their first sentence? They just have that sales voice. Maybe you actually know someone who talks differently in real life than on the phone, especially when conducting official business.

A sales voice appears because a person thinks too much about how he or she wants to sound. He or she becomes too self-aware and that in turn makes him nervous. When you’re nervous, the vocal chords get tense, which in turn changes the amount of air travelling through them. Impaired air flow turns your voice higher, more like a salesman, which is quite unnatural and not very convincing.

Expressiveness and formal politeness during the sales and convincing process are extremely overrated. Expressiveness is not the same as enthusiasm. Selling is not a recital. A buyer with above average intelligence will immediately understand if a salesperson is expressing their true emotions or is trying to be someone else. Understanding this can happen at a subconscious level and culminate in the most unappealing words that a salesperson can hear. These words are: “I have to think about it”.

How can you recognize a salesman? His or her every sentence sounds like a question, such as: “Hello, my name is Tarmo Tamm? I’m calling from Sellit Inc? To talk about XYZ Ltd?

I think that the effect occurs when a person tries to be expressive. When you add to formal politeness and expressiveness the impatiently fast speech, the outcome is an overly salesmanly behaviour and an unsuccessful deal.

Talk as if you’re talking to a friend

To be natural, I encourage you to think about how you talk to your friends in everyday life about things that you like or principles close to your heart. The passion, enthusiasm, and conviction you use give an idea about your natural and convincing style of  sales.

We all share our good experiences, happy occurrences, and passionate views with our friends. Somehow when a person starts doing sales work, he or she forfeits the natural style of communication and tries to be a salesperson. He or she is pretending to be someone else and follows old “sales stereotypes”. Approaching sales in this way is extremely tiresome and unpleasant to everyone involved.

The fact is that all people are a little different. I have seen both introverts and extraverts do exceptional sales work. The sound of their speech is definitely not identical. Their common trait is that they bring enthusiasm and conviction to the client using their per- sonality, without trying to impersonate someone else. Their communication style while selling doesn’t differ a lot from how they talk in everyday life. They sell as if they are talking to their friends about things they are convinced and passionate about.

Great selling is like sharing a good experience with a friend. You don’t do it for selfish reasons, but for him or her to experience the same.


I can admit that at the beginning of my career I was quite an aggressive salesperson. I have never felt as if I’m trying to force anything on someone, because I’ve always sold products and services that I completely believe in. It was more about my style of communication and my philosophy of work.

I have always believed in working   hard…

My fuel has always been adrenaline. I am naturally a goal-orientated Type D personality. When you add strong willpower and motivating goals, both good and bad things can happen.

In my case this meant constant hyperactivity in and outside of work. I got myself going in the mornings using aggressive music and motivational videos. My internal monologue is as follows: “What do you mean someone is better than me? No one can beat me. I am       a one-man army. The whole world could be against me and I’d still come out on top.” That’s how I used to work and exercise.

In short, I worked hard and got good results, but along the process I used up a lot of fuel. It started to affect my health, although at the time I didn’t realize the connection between health and adrenaline rushes. Rather, at first, I started thinking hard about my strategy when I saw that some of my colleagues getting better results with much less effort. We had the same sales pitch, which I had put together, but the main difference was in how we thought and in turn acted.

They had a more casual and less serious attitude towards work. It didn’t come out in their activity, but in their attitude and state of mind. It was as if I was on an important mission and tried too hard. I got good results, but I kept feeling that I was doing something wrong.

Others didn’t work harder, but they worked smarter. It made me feel uncomfortable, which in itself can be a driving force. I started watching them and myself more, and started to find the best methods using trial and error.

Soon I noticed an interesting relation. For example, I broke most of my records on Mondays, after an active weekend holiday. It was about my state of mind. I was active, happy, and relaxed.

If the usual meta-message for a motivated Tarmo was: “I don’t take no for an answer”, then on better days it was: “I’ll tell you about it. If you like it, then it’s good. If not, then it’s OK. I don’t really care if you make the purchase or not”.

Being overly motivated and aggressive seems like desperation

A client should not feel that the salesperson wants to close the deal more than the client him- or herself. If the client senses that, he or she wants to delay the transaction subconsciously, which is then put into words: “I need to think about it”.

By the way, being tense doesn’t just hurt results in sales but in nearly all areas. I have two very different examples of  that.

  • Let’s take an activity that requires physical effort, such as martial arts. What guarantees a strong punch in martial arts? Knowing when to tense up and when to relax. The basis for a strong punch is relaxation and the resulting speed. You need to tense up right before the impact. That is why bodybuilders don’t hit very hard. They are used to tensing their muscles during their entire exercise, but in martial arts you need to balance tension and relaxation differently.
  • The second example is about thinking fast. I am a user of a website called Lumosity is designed to train your brain, and I suggest everyone try it. You can use different games to train your brain and you receive feedback about how different states affect your speed of thought. Again, I can use the practical data acquired using trial and error, to say that overthinking or too much effort do not give good results. You get the best results by trusting your brain and operating on auto-pilot.

Extra tension – whether it be from too much aggressiveness, self-confidence, or self-consciousness – can be very tiresome. If by the end of the day your neck, back, or shoulders hurt, then it’s a good indicator that your state of mind has been a little off during the day.


What is a good meta-message?

In general, a good meta-message can be characterised using the following words:

  • confidence and conviction (meta-message: “It will benefit you immensely” and “This purchase serves your interests more than mine”);
  • passion (meta-message: “I love my job. I am happy to see you. Our products are great and worth every penny!”);
  • lack of tension (meta-message: “I will get you up to speed. If you like it, then it’s good. If you feel that it’s not right for you, then it’s fine as well. We’ll walk away as friends”).

It’s very important to remember that sales are not a static process, moving from start to end in the same pace, rhythm, and tonality. While the entire tonality of a sales process is based on confidence, conviction, passion, and lack of tension, certain phases of a sales cycle tend to have more of one or two  components.

The meta-message could be:

  • when establishing contact: “I love my job and I like communicating with people. I like you and I like myself”;
  • when demonstrating the product: “This product is great!”;
  • when closing the deal: “You benefit greatly from this product and the decision is obvious. It is not a major decision”.

Tarmo Tamm

Tarmo has sold at least 12 different products and services and worked as a Sales Manager on at least 14 projects. The efficient practices described in this book have been successfully implemented for B2B and B2C. These principles have been tested over the phone, in conference rooms, implemented in retail business, at shopping malls as well as in door-to-door sales.