Sales and Sales Management Blog

February 26, 2008

Book Review: “High Probability Selling,” by Jacques Werth and Nicholas E Ruben

Why in the world would I be reviewing a book that’s been on the market for more than 15 years?  Why not stick with far more recently published items? 

Legitimate questions.  Ones I asked myself when I began to think seriously about writing a review of the book.  I had read the book a number of years ago.  When I received a new copy of High Probability Selling (Abba Publishing, 2000) by Jacques Werth and Nicholas Ruben, I had no intention of writing a review—wanted to keep the reviews to more recently published stuff, after all the book has had a decade and a half to prove itself. 

Yet, when I began to skim the book, I was reminded of some of the influences it has had on my thinking over the years, so I decided to read it again in detail.  As I did, the idea of writing a current review became stronger and stronger until—well, here it is.

When I first picked this book up several years ago, I almost didn’t get past the first couple of pages.  It had, in my opinion, too many things going against it:  it was self-published (at a time when self-publishing was worse than not being published at all); the text was presented as a conversation between a salesperson just learning High Probability selling and others in his company (sorry, this format still drives me nuts); and the print was too large for a ‘serious’ book (not “See Jane Run’ big, but almost twice the size of a standard business book big). 

A trite basis to make a judgment on a book?  Of course.  But I was only judging whether or not to read it, not whether it was good or not.  Hay, I was young and foolish.  Now, I’m much older—and still foolish, but now I have the laugh and frown lines to indicate my foolishness has been well earned. 

Nevertheless, despite what I saw as the book’s immediate drawbacks, I read it.  And I’m certainly glad I did.

The basic thesis of High Probability Selling is—sell prospects who want to buy what you are selling and don’t bother with the others.  Earth shattering, right?  Hardly.  Yet, how many selling processes try to do just what High Probability Selling advocates against?  How many processes are geared toward trying to convince prospects that they really need or want what you’re selling, whether they really do or not?

As common sense as High Probability Selling is, it goes against the grain of so much that is commonly taught in sales.  There’s no overcoming objections, no closing, no wrestling an appointment out of a prospect, no pressure to buy, no confrontation, no rejection. 

So, what is there?  There’s a progression of process that is constantly examining the prospect to determine whether the chance of making a sale is high or low.  If the chances are low, the salesperson politely goes his or her own way, seeking a more high probability prospect. 

The basic idea is a good one, though probably not appropriate for all industries and situations.  High Probability Selling makes a few assumptions: 
•  There are so many prospects available who want to purchase your product or service now that you need not waste time with prospects who aren’t currently ready to buy
•  All prospects will qualify, more correctly disqualify, themselves quickly.  Those who don’t answer your questions appropriately are low probability prospects, so move on. 
•  Persuasion of any kind, in any situation is bad, bad, bad.  Worse than bad.  Hannible Lechner-evil bad.
•  Allowing the prospect to disqualify himself quickly is good for the prospect as it is for the salesperson.

Most everyone can think of situations where the above assumptions are wrong.  However, in most situations we salespeople find ourselves, they are quite reasonable.  The exceptions are rare and most are situation specific exceptions rather than industry specific—with the obvious exception of the first assumption where there are many industries with a very limited and often tightly knit group of prospects. 

The above attributes of High Probability Selling are not what I consider the books greatest contribution.  As I mentioned earlier, the book has had a good deal of influence on my thinking.  That influence comes from a concept the book describes as establishing a customer’s Conditions of Satisfaction. 

For the last decade or two, more and more companies and individual salespeople have been touting their ability to exceed their client’s expectations.  So many companies and salespeople spout the words that you’d think there couldn’t possibly be a dissatisfied customer in America.  Nevertheless, few if any of these companies and salespeople can possibly exceed their client’s expectations because they have no idea what the client expects.  Why?  They never ask.

No so with High Probability Selling.  More than anything else in the book, I appreciate Werth’s and Ruben’s emphasis on establishing in writing exactly what the customer wants and expects.  Exceeding a customer’s expectations?  Finally, yes you can.  You can if you implement the Conditions of Satisfaction section of the book because you will be one of the few salespeople or companies who really know what your customer expects.  You can because you know, where your competitors can claim but always fail because they have no earthly idea what an individual customer expects.

Not only does establishing the client’s Conditions of Satisfaction allow you to finally meet your client’s expectations, more importantly, it flushes out any unrealistic expectations.  No longer will you discover to your dismay in the middle of the process that your customer had expectations that you could not possibly meet.  Those days of sales falling apart or leaving a customer angry can be over.

Whether you fully adopt the process or not, few will be able to walk away from High Probability Selling without having to seriously consider their current sales process in light of what is presented. 

Older book?  Yes.  Still worth the time and effort?  Absolutely.

Paul McCord may be reached at


1 Comment »

  1. You mention this book assumes there are so many prospects available who want to purchase your product or service now that you need not waste time with prospects who aren’t currently ready to buy. I agree that this definitely depends on the industry you are selling to. In my case my company sells to a finite amount of prospects; about 6,000 nationwide. Consequently, my salespeople also have a fixed amount of assigned accounts to sell to. So the luxury of moving on to the next prospect doesn’t really exist. However, I have come to learn that timing is key. The prospect that’s not ready or willing to buy today often times changes their mind a few months later. Their circumstances change, their needs change, their current vendor lets them down, etc. What more, the contact that was historically uncooperative sometimes ends of leaving their job only to be replaced by somebody very open minded. It’s for these reasons that we consider every uncooperative prospect a sale we simply haven’t yet made. That may sound a bit unrealistic or arrogant, but it works pretty well for us.

    Comment by SalesSage — February 26, 2008 @ 9:13 pm | Reply

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