Robert Bell: How To Be a Professional Dummy

advice from optical sales consultant Robert Bell

Being very knowledgeable about what you do can hurt your sales.

This article originally appeared in the March 2015 edition of INVISION.

The Dummy Curve. It shows us all, no matter where we are in our careers, how we start off as Dummies, matriculate to Morons and (hopefully) graduate to what I like to call a Professional Dummy.

This story will illustrate my point:

Dan, a 19-year-old young man, gets his first job in a large department store. (Think Sears, Walmart, J.C. Penney.) Since Dan has no prior experience, the store manager isn’t quite sure what to do with him. The manager, shrugging his shoulders, decides to have Dan sell air conditioners. “But I don’t know anything about air conditioners,” Dan tells the manager. The manager replies, “Do the best you can.”

On his first day, an older woman comes into the air conditioner department. “Hi, may I help you?” Dan asks. “Yes, do you know anything about air conditioners? I’d like to buy one.”

Dan says “Not really, this is my first day, but I know we keep them over here.” He walks her over to the aisle where there are 50 different types of air conditioners. “Here they are,” Dan exclaims. Dan notices that the older woman seems a bit overwhelmed by all the choices.

“Let’s see here,” Dan says approaching the first box and reading off the label, “It says here that this air conditioner has 18,000 BTUs, three cooling modes and three air speeds, cools a room of 1,000 square feet, has a temperature sensing remote and is $950.” He looks at the next two boxes and reads off the features and benefits of each and quotes a price. Each one with a complete list of technical jargon longer than his arm.

He looks at his customer. She’s obviously frustrated and confused. “Um, can you tell me why you want to buy an air conditioner?” he asks. “I have this small room that I watch TV in and it gets very hot in there in the summertime. I just need something that will keep me cool. That’s it,” she says. “Ah, OK,” Dan replies. He scans some more boxes and says, “This one here just says it will keep an entire room cool. It’s $150. Do you want me to bring this up to the cash register for you?” “Yes, thank you.”

"To become a Professional Dummy, like me, ask lots of (pain) questions before telling everyone what you know.”

A few weeks go by and manager sees that the sales of air conditioners are skyrocketing. He runs down to the department, finds Dan and exclaims, “You don’t know anything about air conditioners and you’re outselling everyone in the department. We’re sending you to air conditioner school. Can you imagine what your sales are going to be like after you learn all about them?”

Dan goes to school. Learns everything one can learn about air conditioners.

He returns to work. A customer walks in, “Hi, do you know anything about air conditioners? I need one.”

Dan beams, “Do I know anything about air conditioners? I know everything about air conditioners!” And, he begins to tell all the customers who come in to buy an air conditioner everything about them. People are walking out, sales plummet. Dan, unfortunately, becomes a Moron.

The manager, befuddled by these results, yells at Dan, “What the hell happened?”

You already know what the hell happened!

Knowledge is great and you should absolutely know everything about the products you sell and the services you provide. It’s essential! But, if you want to aspire to the ranks of Professional Dummy, like me, and increase your sales, ask lots of (pain) questions before telling everyone what you know.

Robert Bell is a Professional Dummy and has trained salespeople for over 30 years, throughout North America, to become Professional Dummies, too. He has created The EyeCoach Selling System specifically for ECPs. In addition, he is head of Vision Services at Project Homeless Connect. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..