Most Common Sales Mistakes Sales Reps Make & How to Avoid Them
There are many ways to be a good salesperson.
On the flip side, there are even more ways to be a poor sales rep.
Somewhere in between these extremities lie the good salespeople with poor technique.
Sales, by its inherent nature, is a dance of rejection. However, there are some individuals that attract more of it than their due. This constant state of rejection is an indication of a few fatal sales mistakes that they may be making, without realizing its effect on their selling abilities. They may acquire a billion other sales skills, but the result remains the same – a cold lead.
While it is important to identify your strengths and work on them, it is equally important to improve on areas where you fall short. As a wise man once said, “To become stronger, you must first face your weakness.”
In this post, we will talk about some of the commonest sales mistakes and how you can avoid them.
Sales Mistakes That Equate to Cardinal Sins
“The only real mistake is the one from which we learn nothing.”
We have compiled some of the commonest and hard-hitting sales mistakes that you should avoid at all costs. At the same time, we also have a solution to these issues, which will put you in an authoritative spot to handle them better. Read on to know more:
Problem #1: Not Qualifying Leads
“If you don’t know where you are going, you’ll end up someplace else.” ~ Yogi Berra
Naturally, before you start selling, you need to know who you are selling to and how likely they are to make the purchase. Whether the client approaches you or you reach out to prospects, it is crucial to qualify them.
Failure to qualify leads will result in you chasing prospects that have a very little chance of converting into buyers. More importantly, in this futile pursuance of unqualified leads, you will end up ignoring actual clients who are more likely to purchase from you!
Clearly, not qualifying leads is one of the most deadly sales mistakes that you can make.
The Fix: Qualify, Qualify, Qualify
Qualifying your leads offers insight into what your customer wants when they want it, and the price they are ready to pay for it. Therefore, the first step of qualifying leads is creating an ideal customer profile.
Once you make the first contact with the individual, start qualifying them by asking them open-ended questions regarding their requirements, budget, and timeline. If they look like they fit your buyer’s persona, go ahead and direct them through your sales funnel. On the other hand, if they fail to qualify, you should let them go.
Lead qualification also sheds light on who is the decision-making authority for the organization. With this knowledge, you are in a better position to pitch directly to the top dogs that have the final say in the matter.
Problem #2: Showing Up Late to Meetings
“It takes months to find a customer and seconds to lose one.” ~ Vince Lombardi
Arriving late to a meeting is not only unprofessional but a glaring red flag. It indicates that you do not respect or value your client’s time and would rather prioritize something or someone else. Not just meetings, being late for scheduled sales calls can also give the impression that your client is not important to you.
The Fix: Stay Punctual
As William Shakespeare said: “Better three hours too soon than a minute too late.”
It is always a good practice to arrive before time. In fact, it should be an ingrained priority to show up 15 to 20 minutes early. If you are to get on a sales call, keep your schedule free prior to the event. On the other hand, if you are to travel to meet your clients, keep some buffer time for exigencies like traffic jams or route diversions, etc.
At the same time, on the off-chance, when you are late or held up due to unavoidable and unforeseen circumstances, you can always drop a polite text or a mail to the client apologizing for the expected delay.
Problem #3: Fiddly Phone Fingers During Meetings
“Pretend that every single person you meet has a sign around his or her neck that says, ‘Make me feel important.’ Not only will you succeed in sales, you will succeed in life.” ~ Mary Kay Ash
Imagine this: You are in a meeting with a qualified prospect, who promises a groundbreaking deal. Everything is going well; you are funny, witty, charming, and keeping the client engaged. You are thoroughly prepared to tackle all objections and already feel like you are killing it.
BUT the prospect will not stop checking their phone constantly!
Sounds frustrating, right?
Now imagine if the tables turned. Do you realize the sales mistake here?
Right across you, you have a client eager to do business with you, but you fail to make them feel important. No email or message is more important than your client, who is giving you their valuable time. Even then, if you are guilty of ignoring your client for a phone call or an email, you are downright disrespectful!
The Fix: Switch Off Your Phone
Your non-verbal cues scream louder than what you express through words. Body language plays a very important role in sales. All you need to do to appear interested is maintain eye contact and speak with confidence – it’s that easy. To avoid getting distracted by your phone, you must simply switch it off before the meeting.
The only acceptable time to check your phone during a meeting is when you are accessing something that is directly in connection with what you are discussing with them. That too, you must do it only when utterly necessary.
Problem #4: No Timely Follow-Ups
“Not following up with your prospects is the same as filling up your bathtub without first putting the stopper in the drain.” ~ Michelle Moore
Following up with a prospect is a double-edged sword. You are damned if you do it, and you are damned if you don’t. Do too little, and you will soon lose them in the mix. Do too much of it, and you will have to bear their ire.
It is a fact that not all sales decisions can be made in a day. Thus, several companies may take time to think things over before reaching a decision on whether they wish to purchase your product or service. However, forgetting about them entirely and not following up with a solid prospect may give room for your competitors to swoop in and steal your deal. Following up could indicate your proactive responsiveness, which may tip the scales in your favor.
Conversely, hounding the prospect with several calls and emails would just make you appear too excited and desperate. Once the prospect gets a whiff of the fact that you need the sale, you automatically transfer them the control. In doing so, they know that you are ready to do anything to close the deal, which will eventually make you lower your value or give too much for nothing. In some cases, a prospect may simply get too annoyed and avoid you at all costs.
The Fix: Establish a Timeline
The best thing to do after a meeting is to set up a schedule for future actions. Even if you have to plan for something that is ten months down the road, do it. Outline the next steps and ascribe it to a reasonable timeframe.
In place of allowing the client to “get back to you,” make them an offer to take control of the situation and propose a schedule and the plan of action.
Alternatively, in the event that the client insists on discussing the matters at a later time, you can shoot them a courtesy email or make a brief phone call after the meeting. Remember to keep it quick and concise, thank them for their interest and time, and let them know that you are available for any further clarification.
With regards to the frequency, sales expert Jeff Hoffman suggests this infallible cadence, as outlined below:
|Day 0||First Touchpoint|
|Day 14||Second Touchpoint|
|Day 21||Third Touchpoint|
|Day 25||Fourth Touchpoint|
|Day 27||Fifth Touchpoint|
|Day 28||Sixth Touchpoint|
|Day 29 (Forenoon)||Seventh Touchpoint|
|Day 29 (Afternoon)||Eighth Touchpoint|
Problem #5: Being Clueless About the Customer
“Know yourself – and know your audience.” ~ Tennessee Ernie Ford
Meeting for sales is as good as appearing for a job interview or worse – an exam. You are fortunate to have landed this opportunity, so don’t blow it by showing up unprepared!
If you do not read up on the client before the meeting, it will show during your interaction. Considering that nearly 94% of B2B buyers research companies online before making any purchase, having a client who knows more about you than you know about them will lead to a major embarrassment.
Further, not knowing the customer essentially means that you are making use of your old, boring, tried-and-tested sales pitch. As a result, you could be making use of sales-killing words and sound like a salesperson (more on that later).
The Fix: Do Your Homework
One cannot emphasize this enough – Research on your prospects!
Pull up their LinkedIn profiles, read up about any upcoming industry trends, research on your point of contact (POC). In this age of information overload, it would be a crime to let such an opportunity pass you by. Your knowledge about your prospect should be acquired before you walk into the meeting rather than discovering opportunities in the middle of a presentation.
Knowing your customer organization, their functioning, requirements, pain points, sales triggers, etc. puts you in a better position to present your product or service as an appropriate solution to their problem. It not only affirms a positive impression but also allows you to personalize and modify your pitch in accordance with your client. When you strike a chord with your client, you improve your chances of making the sale.
In addition to professional background, having a little knowledge of your POC’s personal background is also a great way to build personal rapport and connections. Investing a little time and effort into these trust-building activities will go a long way.
Problem #6: Winging It
“If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” ~ Albert Einstein
Do you have a gameplan, or do you like to go with the flow?
Whether it is a sales call or a presentation or a meeting, not gearing up enough and winging it can cost you dearly. Your lack of knowledge could set off alarm beacon in your prospect’s mind. Every “let me get back to you on that” or “I guess” is eating into the trust that the client places on you. So, avoid this sales mistake at all costs.
The Fix: Get Your Basics Right
Everyone knows the saying: “If you fail to prepare, you are preparing to fail.”
So be prepared.
Before you are ready to pitch your product or service as a solution, you have to believe in it as well. For cementing this belief, you need to have an in-depth understanding of what your product or service is capable of achieving. You need to spend time to understand the nuances of what you sell and extract maximum product knowledge.
When it comes to meetings, as cliche as it may sound, be over-prepared. Keep a Plan B in place in case Plan A fizzles out. Maintain a checklist of all that you need during the meeting: the pricing, samples, testimonials, company policies, facts, figures, and sample questions that you can ask to steer the sales conversation. Review this checklist periodically, update the information, and go over it before every meeting. It does not matter how many times you have run these lines; all it takes is one fumble to ruin your first impression.
Regardless of how much you prepare, there may be a few questions that may take you by surprise. Rather than making something up on the spot, you could respond with something along the lines of “That’s actually a great question. To give you the correct answer to it, I may have to refer to the experts at our company. Would that be okay with you?” More importantly, follow-through on this promise and let them know the correct answer as soon as you find it.
Problem #7: Sounding “Salesy”
“Stop selling. Start helping.” ~ Zig Ziglar
Are you ready for the tip that’s going to change your life? Do you know the advantage that your competitors have over you?
It is…. *drumrolls* being human!
The high-pitch, overly-enthusiastic, speaking-in-rhetoric manner of talking to entice your clients is such a passe. Prospects can clearly recognize your “salesy” voice and, in response, will have their guards up. Among the many sales mistakes that you can commit, it is fairly easy to slip up on your tonality and nature of the interaction. You do not have to be loud to gain your prospect’s attention; you only have to be impactful.
The Fix: Have Natural Conversations
To understand your “salesy” voice, start by recording your calls and listen to it later. Pay close attention to the modulations in your voice and work towards maintaining a low tone and a comfortable tempo.
Take on the role of an active listener and engage with your clients to explore their pain points and discuss them at length. Having authentic conversations will enable you to build stronger interpersonal relationships with the client, which lays the foundation for trust. Once you have qualified the client and they have warmed up to you, it is just a matter of steering the discussion to introduce your product or service as a solution for their problems.
Problem #8: Unprepared for Objections
“An objection is not a rejection; it is simply a request for more information.” ~ Bo Bennett
In sales, when a client says “No,” they actually present you with an opportunity to address the issues that may be holding them back from actually making a purchase. However, handling objections requires a fair amount of skill, experience, and salesmanship.
Irrespective of the kind of objection that you face, your response to it can be the determining factor that seals the fate of this deal. Your body language will speak louder than your ability to handle these sales objections. For example, if you find yourself losing your calm and fumbling for words, you are sending out the message that you are under-prepared and lack the requisite information. On the other hand, if you lump up the objection in a broad category or act dismissive towards it, you are indirectly conveying that you have not been listening to the prospect or do not care about their concerns.
The Fix: Handle Objections Like a Pro
The best way to handle objections through practice. You can roleplay with other sales reps and get them to ask you questions that a client would. Companies should also invest in training their sales team to handle the various types of objections.
In practical situations, the best response to an objection is to maintain your composure and empathetically understand the client’s concern. Echo these back to them and follow it up with an honest response. In addition to being polite and respectful, it should also be succinct. A dash of humor can also lighten the atmosphere while you make an excellent point.
Remember that a “Yes” that comes after dealing with several “No,” would carry more weight and value. So a smart hack for upselling while also handling objections is to keep the best option for the last. As a result, after the client has said no or raised objection several times, finding the apt solution will come as a relief to them, making them more likely to buy.
Finally, acknowledge every question or objection even though the client may be repeating it. The most important thing to avoid here is getting into an argument with your potential customer, no matter how much it may frustrate or annoy you. A little patience now will reward you handsomely later on.
Problem #9: Not Listening to Customers
“Most people think ‘selling’ is the same as ‘talking.’ But the most effective salespeople know that listening is the most important part of their job.” ~ Roy Bartell
How many times have you been so excited about your offering that you just can’t seem to stop talking about it? What about the times when you feel that you are on a roll, and a pause right now would only deteriorate your chances.
Unfortunately, what may be a passionate dialogue for you could be a pushy monologue for your prospects. You may be blessed with the gift of the gab, but you don’t necessarily have to display all your skills in a single meeting!
To truly portray your solution as a viable option for the client, you need to first understand what they want. And to understand what they expect, you need to listen and listen good! For your client, you are a salesperson who is offering them a solution to their pain points, not an employee that is trying to meet their quota. So act your part by being a patient listener.
The Fix: First Listen, Then Talk
There is a reason we have two ears and one mouth – to listen more and talk less.
Several studies have highlighted that successful salespeople do not speak for more than 72 seconds straight. So keep a benchmark of not speaking for more than a minute (or 60 seconds) without looping the client back into the conversation. Hand over cues or make them feel involved by inserting “Does it make sense?” or “Can you see what I’m saying here?” to grab their attention in the exchange.
Alternatively, you can follow the 60:40 rule that stipulates that a salesperson may speak only 40% of the time and encourage the client to speak 60% of the time. For this to work, you must be present physically and mentally and pay close attention to everything that your client says. Encourage them to talk more by asking leading, open-ended, targeted questions. Most importantly, listening will simplify one of your biggest tasks – qualifying a lead!
Problem #10: Not Asking Questions to Customers
“The questions you ask are more important than the things you could ever say.” ~ Thomas Freese
This sales mistake is in continuation with the previous point of talking too much. It is about under-utilizing your 40% talking time by not asking questions!
If you are not asking questions, you are not giving the customer the opportunity to unpack. At the same time, you may be asking too many back-to-back questions, which makes the situation more of an interrogation and less or a meeting. Not asking questions or asking too many questions can harm your chances of making the sale happen. So it is important to find the optimum balance for asking questions, which will allow you to extract maximum value from the interaction.
The Fix: Ask and Ye Shall Receive
You need to display that you are genuinely interested in the client’s business, and what is a better way to express your curiosity than through questions? An average salesperson asks about 6.3 questions, while top sales reps have set a benchmark for asking nearly 10 to 14 questions. However, pay heed to the fact that beyond 14 questions lies a dangerous territory where more may not necessarily be better!
In addition to the number of questions, you must also consider the quality of your questions. Ask open-ended questions to get more than a “Yes” or “No” answer. Moreover, you should be unafraid to ask the hard questions as it will give you an insight into the customer’s mindset and future roadmap. Questions like “How do you feel about the terms and conditions or pricing of our solution?” will evoke an honest and unfiltered response from the prospect. It is always better to deal with an objection than allow your efforts to fade into nothing.
Finally, the best practice for asking questions during a meeting involves interleaving these questions with connection-building cues to engage the customer.
Problem #11: Features > Values
“The more you focus on the value of your product or service, the less important the price becomes.” ~ Brian Tracy
Focusing on features over the value addition offered by your solution is an unforgivable sales mistake! The customer is not attracted to your product or service because you are offering a long list of impressive features or technologies. They have chosen you primarily because you are giving them a solution to their pain points.
If you go on and on about your product, you will lose the interest of the prospect and subsequently lose the sale – now that’s something you absolutely do not want!
The Fix: Values >>> Features
The solution to this sales mistake may be as old as time: Talk about value.
The logic behind it is simple – By talking about value over features, you are giving exactly what the client wants and what concerns them.
Rather than raving about the bells and whistles of your product/service, talk about the value that it adds to the customer’s business. Present your offering in line with their end-goals, obstacles, needs, and wants – and make them realize that your solution is a perfect fit for their business. Describe the various KPIs that would indicate the effectiveness of your solution and how it helps the company overcome the issues that they are currently facing.
Your prospects do not care much about the working of how you can give them the desired results. Rather, they are more concerned about what value you can add to their business. When they know that the product or service will benefit them, they will naturally be more willing to make the purchase.
Start selling the value than telling the features! Top salespeople are doing it, and you should too!
Problem #12: Promise the Moon and Deliver Cheese
“Quickest way to build trust: Keep promises you make, don’t over-promise. Over-deliver, don’t under-deliver. If you say you’ll do something, make sure you do but if things then run late or go wrong, tell your client at the earliest opportunity.” ~ Phil Harding
If you commit the sales mistake of over-promising and under-delivering, you are basically building a customer relationship that rests on lies. And the funny thing about lying is that it won’t take you far. It will damage your credibility as a salesperson and cost your company. In the worst case, such a gimmick may result in a lawsuit!
Do you really need that?
Irrespective of how pressured you may be to make sales happen, over-promising is one of the most terrible means to achieve it. Hiding your product or service’s limitations or blowing their capacities out of proportion will only set the base for expectations that will eventually crash. Nobody would like to spend on something that is going to let them down.
The Fix: Make Promises Sparingly and Wisely
To have a promising and long-lasting career in sales, you need to first acknowledge that everything in sales is based on trust and ethics. Rather than over-promising, consider giving the prospect a chance to sell your product to themselves. Gently nudge them in the right direction through a set of clever questions, and the prospect will automatically realize realistically what your solution can do for them. Subsequently, they will have a grassroots understanding of the limitations of your solution, and now it is entirely up to them as to whether they should proceed with the sale or otherwise.
Alternatively, you can offer them a free trial version of your product or service, if that is a possibility. It grants them the opportunity to test out your solution in practical applications. In this case, it is smart to under-promise as the over-delivery upon usage will come as a pleasant surprise to your prospect. When your product exceeds your client’s expectation, you have already won them over!
Ultimately, it is always better to not make a sale, than to make a dishonest one.
Problem #13: Diverting From the Agenda
“Focus. Otherwise, you will find life becomes a blur.” ~ Anonymous
Your customer’s attention is invaluable and will ebb and flow during the meeting. If you are going to blow it away by getting off track, then you are making a grave sales mistake. You simply cannot afford to have a meandering conversation that will eventually get to the main agenda of the meeting.
When you spend chit-chatting about irrelevant things, you may lose the undivided attention of your prospect. You can always reserve the friendly banter for the end of the meeting, and use it to forge more personal bonds. However, the first part of your meeting should be primarily focused on driving your point home.
The Fix: Follow One Course Until Successful
Stop beating about the bush and get straight to the point.
In fact, start the meeting by outlining the agenda for it, and strictly stick to the script. Introduce yourself, stay polite, friendly, and throughout the meeting. Most importantly, don’t lose sight of your goal, that is, to make the sales happen.
And if time permits, you can take the opportunity to know your prospects better. However, refrain from appearing over-friendly. You have met the client to share a solution, not for a lifelong friendship!
Problem #14: Not Making Notes
“I take notes like some people take drugs…:” ~ Tim Ferriss
Imagine a scenario where you place an order at a restaurant. The waiter does not note down your order, and as a consequence, you get served the wrong dish!
Sounds infuriating, doesn’t it?
This incident alone highlights how not making notes can emerge as a sales mistake.
Unless you are someone with an eidetic memory and can recall everything exactly as it happened, you are missing out on a valuable sales resource. Not making notes could result in you forgetting information of immense importance.
The Fix: Take Notes for Inspiration
We get it; you do not like taking notes. We’ve all been there.
But get this – preparing notes can not only capture buying clues, but they can also help you save time! Further, you can refer to the notes to analyze your prospect after a call or a meeting.
However, before you get jotting down these notes, it is important to understand what is a “good” note from a sales perspective. Obviously, you do not have to take down the transcript of the entire meeting, presentation, or call. So, the first thing to do is to determine the key points that you would want to capture. Next, keep your notes brief and to the point. Record any insightful or actionable points that are of value. Also note the timelines, if any. Make use of technology to store these notes in a centralized location so that you can have access to it at all times.
Finally, once you have your notes ready, you can always refer to them to refresh your mind on the agenda or discussion of the previous interaction.
Problem #15: Overstaying Your Welcome
“Make sure you have finished speaking before your audience has finished listening.” ~ Dorothy Sarnoff
When you say that your meeting or call will last X hours/minutes long, ensure that it stays that way. Something that overstays its welcome will only annoy and breed resentment within your prospect.
The Fix: Go Out With a Bang
Your customer’s time is a valuable resource. You do not want to extract too much from it, for you may exhaust it when you actually need it.
There are a billion other things that your client could be doing rather than spending time with you, so make it worth it. So, assign a time limit for the interaction and stick to it.
In fact, it is a good practice to conclude your meeting, call, or presentation about 20 minutes in advance to open the floor for any doubts and questions. If you believe that you may not have covered all the necessary points, note them down and carry it forward for the next agenda.
Problem #16: Not Closing the Sale
“A goal without a plan is just a wish” ~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery
63% of sales interactions end with the sales rep not even asking for sale!!!
Not asking for the sale is one of the worst
because it essentially negates all your efforts and brings you to square one.
You may give killer presentations and present exemplary oratory skills, but what are they leading to? Nothing!
The Fix: ABC of Sales – Always Be Closing
When you are selling something, you must ask your client for a commitment.
How do you do that? It’s simple – be blunt and ask!
Of course, your approach for the ask should be non-threatening, non-pushy, cheerful, and confident. Don’t allow anything to steal away this sale by practicing urgency. Also, this ask must come after you have seen the buying signs.
Now is the time to make use of an excellent sales closing technique and transform the looker into a booker!
Take Charge and Make the Change
“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.” ~ Bruce Lee
Sales are not about having several tricks up your sleeve. It is about having a select few while dodging the practices that could dilute its efficacy as a result of sales mistakes.
We all make mistakes from time to time, even the most seasoned sales reps. However, when you keep the above sales mistakes in mind, you are less likely to make a serious blunder.
Simply follow the “Prevention is better than cure” approach, especially when, as a salesperson, your “cures” are highly limited.