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Herding Cats & Selling


If you could follow around a group of outstanding salespeople and presenters with a camera over a long period of time, you would discover practices common to them all. These would likely range from small behaviors, like how they greet someone to broader skills, like how they link features to value in presentations.  But, what would their “herding cats” behaviors be?

This “herding cats” phrase comes from an article by NY Times columnist David Brooks, writing about Doug Lemov, Managing Director of Teach Like a Champion. Lemov studies excellent teachers, as measured by student achievement, to determine the shared  behaviors of outstanding educators. It turns out that the most successful teacher in a study of 6000 teachers was previously unheralded and that her key success skills were small and largely “invisible.”

“In part,” writes Brooks, “Lemov is talking about the skill of ‘herding cats.’ The master of cat herding senses when attention is about to wander, knows how fast to move a diverse group, senses the rhythm between lecturing and class participation, varies the emotional tone. This is a performance skill that surely is relevant beyond education.”

In Sales, Demos, & Presentations

Brooks is right. These sensitivity and situational skills extend way beyond the classroom. They are critical in selling, presenting, marriage, parenting, negotiating, consulting, managing, leading—any interaction where influence and persuasion are involved.

In sales, “herding cats” includes

  • Being  really present with , and responsive to, prospects and clients: listening, focus, attention
  • Having  the courage to ask questions for clarity, understanding , and inconsistencies
  • Being sufficiently mindful and flexible to respond to both listener interest and fatigue
  • Reading and responding to another person’s time and information preferences,  and
  • Using the best language that resonates with listeners: specific words, phrases, metaphors, & analogies

Final Thought

Technology makes us more efficient and productive and that is certainly good. It would be hard to find too many people who want to go back to electric typewriters and white-out. But technology will never replace those invisible “herding cats” skills that build relationships and smooth the way to long-term agreement and business.

Anne Miller is a leading presentation and demo specialist, speaker, and coach who helps people in high stakes situations win business, sell ideas, and rally others to a cause. For more information and free ebook, visit &

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