Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts

Chairperson (Advisor 1)

Dr. Kimora Kachelmyer

Reader (Advisor 2)

Craig Lien, MBA


The skills, habits, and attitudes of successful sales people have received much attention in recent decades. They have been studied, analyzed, and organized in an attempt to teach them to others wishing to succeed in the profession. Companies invest huge amounts of money training their salespeople to be more effective at selling. The stakes are high for both the company and the salesperson as they both strive to survive in a world where everyone wants a piece of the customer's business.

The philosophy about how to sell and what a salesperson must do to be successful has changed over time as well, further complicating the success formula. Bookstores have entire sections, with multiple shelves of books on the subject of selling. One thing has remained the same through the years however; people tend to buy from salespeople who they like and trust.

Traditional sales training has centered on several steps: how to introduce yourself to the potential customer, how to go about uncovering any needs and attitudes or a problem he/she may have, helping the customer solve the problem or fill a need with a product or service, how to answer objections, and how to ask for the order. Salespeople have traditionally been taught that if they can ask the right questions, fill a need or solve a problem, answer the objections, and assertively ask for the order, they should be able to make a sale. In this process the salesperson was coached to take charge of the conversation and be like the doctor who could diagnose problems, prescribe remedies, and persuade the potential customer that the product or solution recommended was the best one to buy.

A different approach was advanced by a clinical psychologist, Dr. Thomas Gordon in the 1960's (Zaiss & Gordon, 1993). The essence of his approach to teaching salespeople was to put less emphasis on persuading buyers and more emphasis on listening to buyers. Instead of solving the problems for the customer, the salesperson should be taught the counselor's art of listening and acceptance of the buyer's feelings. Since then, this approach has gained wide acceptance and has appeared in different forms in many other sales courses. Good empathetic listening skills are still the exception among salespeople however, due in part to the difficulty of the skill and to the nature of humans, especially men, to want to be problem solvers (Zaiss & Gordon, 1993).

As a sales manager for 29 years, the author of this thesis is in the midst of a career change from that of sales manager to a sales training consultant. This thesis will research the fundamentals of adult education, the design of effective sales training courses, and evaluate Dr. Gordon's recent release of Synergistic Selling, a course that attempts to teach the skills of empathetic listening and conflict resolution to salespeople. Because the author has worked in the agricultural industry throughout his career, he would like to be able to successfully offer this course to salespeople selling agricultural products to farmers. Although he has experience in training and coaching salespeople in basic selling skills, he has not had specific training in teaching adults or in course design or delivery. The goal of this study is to gain a background in the literature and research in these areas that will help to make him a better sales trainer.


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