Sales tips from Frank Sinatra and Steve Stills


In different ways, two popular artists shine light on the critical need for sales people to maintain 100% focus on each customer.

“If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with,” Steve Stills

Frank Sinatra

Frank Sinatra knew how to connect with people by giving them his undivided attention.

Decades ago, I knew a lady who told me about a date she had with Frank Sinatra during a period when both of them were single.  The evening, arranged by mutual friends, featured a polite dinner in a crowded restaurant. No sparks ignited and they never saw each other again.  Yet . . .

“He made me feel like I was the only woman in the world,” she told me.  “He wasn’t looking to seduce me, but his eyes never left mine.  He had me believe that our conversation was the most important thing in the world to him.”

Years later, when I was learning to sell the new questions surfaced and the story’s potential meaning mushroomed. Did Sinatra become the greatest solo entertainer of his time because of his innate ability to connect with people, as he did with my friend?  Or, did he learn how to make casual acquaintances feel special, as a well as audiences of strangers, on the way to perfecting his art?

For salespeople, the ability to treat every customer and prospect like Sinatra treated my friend is critical.

Whether someone is buying a house, a car or a loaf of bread, his or her fundamental (often subconscious) question is: “What’s in it for me?”  The answer has more to with the buyer than the product.  When two people walk into a Wal-Mart at the same time on the same day and buy the same brand of mouthwash, they probably have different reasons for doing the same thing.  One person has always used nothing but Listerine, just ran out at home, and happened to pass Wal-Mart. The second person knew that Listerine was on sale, and went out-of-the-way to buy it at a bargain price.  Wal-Mart connected with them at the right time, for different reasons, and both went home happy.

As the product or service increases in price and the buying cycle becomes longer, the needs of the individual buyer become more important in the decision-making process than the actual features of the product.   In other words, the bigger the deal, the sales person who can make the prospect feel special — like the only person in the world who matters — has the greater advantage.  Just like a top sales salesperson has to know about the product, Sinatra had to know the lyrics and hit all the right notes, but his ability to connect with the audience — to make them feel special — was more essential to his greatness.  Salespeople who connect like that have customers lined up to buy from them.  They do not sweat out negotiations or worry if their price is higher than the other guys’.

When I started selling, it appeared that the top producers could work with more customers than the rest of us.  But, when I tried to pick up the pace and handle more customers my results got worse.  After watching me struggle, a colleague gave me some advice.

Stephen Stills

Stephen Stills' early 70s tip - "Love the one you're with" - has become a mantra for successful salespeople. (c) Henry Diltz

“You’ve got to love the one you’re with.” he said.  “It doesn’t matter whether you are with the customer for two minutes or five hours, you’ll lose the deal if they think you’re thinking about anything but them.”

Listening, not talking, is the key.  It takes very little time — if you ask the right questions the right way — to find out what the buyer wants, what is affordable and all the other things that make a deal probable. Even after you decide that a sale is unlikely, you pay attention only to this person until you have politely said goodbye.

That may have been the best single bit of sales advice I ever received.  Today, sales people who can focus on their customers have a distinct advantage during the current short attention span epidemic.   Too many sales people grade and judge prospects based on an ideal.  The customer in front of you is the only one you have. So, love the one you’re with.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Neil Wood August 15, 2012, 11:23 am

Terrific article and oh so true!! I practiced consultative selling for year which consists of asking questions and then listening/paying attend to the customer with 100% focus. It works because customers know how much you care about them as people as well as clients.

John Ribbler August 15, 2012, 12:27 pm

Neil, Thanks for your comment. Since I first wrote the article three years ago, the reality of our attention deficit society seems more or less taken for granted. That gives a particular advantage to the business person who can focus exclusively on an individual. In any era, Frank Sinatra would have more opportunities and excuses to be distracted — on a one-time date — than a salesperson whose living depends on converting a customer, but can’t resist peeking at every text message.

Doug Parrish September 22, 2009, 6:19 pm

I’m not in sales, although I did spend a few years in Real Estate, the key ingredients in your article can be applicable to almost any endeavor in life. . . . . Thanks