You Can’t Sell Everything to Anyone (or, The Car Analogy)

By Kevin on May 18, 2012 in Sales

My sales rep: “They just want us to build ten hours of training for $10,000 and they need it in a month.”

Me: “That’s ridiculous. Did you tell them we don’t do that? Did you explained why they’ll get better results from our approach and why we charge $500,000 and why that’s actually the best investment they can make?”

My sales rep: “Well, I spoke to Joe in development and he said he could do it if we code it in Gobbledygook, license clip art from AcmeArt,  and tell them they have to do their own QA. Joe says he wants to do it.”

My eyes narrow, my blood pressure rises, here we go again…

As an entrepreneur, time and again I would have to fight that battle—er, educate—my customers and my employees as to what we sell, and why we don’t sell everything else.

In any business—but especially a small company—it’s critically important to stay focused on your specific solution, which you’ve crafted for a specific type of customer. That focus will grow your brand more quickly, get better sales results, lead to higher profits, and ultimately let you expand into new areas. But it takes discipline.

Too often, sales representatives want to say yes to any business, at any cost, to win a deal. Their motivation is usually psychological (closing a deal feels great; be low on the rack and stack board feels terrible) and because they want the commission and have no stake in whether what’s delivered will satisfy the customer in the long term. It’s easy to be an order taker, it’s harder to actually sell.

Too often, your employees will nobly want to take any business that comes in. They might think they’re being heroic, “I can hit that deadline…don’t you worry!” Other times it’s for job security, “We’d better take the next thing that comes in otherwise we’re doomed.” Still others want variety, “This will give me a chance to learn that 3D modeling program!”

Try as I might, I always found it very difficult to explain why we don’t just say yes to every opportunity. What I found worked best was the car analogy. I would say…

Listen, there is no car company out there that tries to get 100% market share; no car company expects to sell to every car buyer.

Many people like a Cadillac, but not everybody, and not everybody can afford one. A family of four making $60,000 per year probably doesn’t want a two-seat Porsche 911. A multimillionaire, 35-year old single woman is less likely to want a Toyota Sienna mini-van. BMW focuses on creating “the ultimate driving experience” and is looking for buyers who can afford that experience. If each car company tried to offer every possible car so they could sell to every car-buyer they would have a muddled brand, an unfocused sales effort, and be wildly unprofitable.

So, as hard as it is sometimes, think carefully about what you stand for—what product or service you think is best for a particular target audience—and then make those sales. Look for those kinds of prospects and make those kinds of sales.

When someone wants you to custom build something or to drop your price or to change your solution, push hard to convince them why your solution is actually a better choice, but if they just aren’t that type of buyer, kindly steer them to a company who is a better match.


Kevin Kruse is a NY Times bestselling author and keynote speaker. Get more success and tips from his newsletter at and check out keynote video clips. His new book, Employee Engagement 2.0, teaches managers how to turn apathetic groups into emotionally committed teams.

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