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11 Mistakes Most Sales People Make

Author: Paul Trauth

Over the years, we have observed the mistakes of many salespeople in many different types of "selling situations" in trying to acquire and retain business. Although the actual approach or style will always vary, there are many common pitfalls that can trap salespeople. Here are the most prominent:


Has your business changed over the last couple of years? Are other companies actively prospecting your best customers or clients? What is your plan of attack to deal with stagnant sales growth? Have you lost or are about to lose market share? Over the years, we have observed the mistakes of many salespeople in many different types of "selling situations" in trying to acquire and retain business. Although the actual approach or style will always vary, there are many common pitfalls that can trap salespeople. Here are the most prominent:

1. Salespeople talk instead of listen. Too many salespeople monopolize the time they have in front of prospective clients, only allowing the prospect to listen. For every hour in front of a prospect, they spend five minutes selling their services and fifty-five minutes buying them back! Rule: The prospect should do approximately 70% of the talking. We only have one mouth, but we have two ears!

2. Salespeople presume instead of asking questions. Some salespeople seem to have all the solutions. In fact, many companies no longer offer services, but are in the business of "providing solutions." The disadvantage with this strategy is that too many salespeople are trying to sell solutions without knowing what the prospect's problems are. Questions should be asked up-front to set the ground rules insuring a complete understanding of the prospect's perspective.

3. Salespeople answer unasked questions. Example: A client makes a statement such as, "Your prices are too high," most salespeople retreat to a defensive mode. They often begin a rehearsed speech on quality, value, or experience of their product or service. Most often, they respond with a price concession or a fee reduction. If a client can get a discount by merely making a statement, then maybe he shouldn't buy until he tries something more powerful to get an even greater price reduction. "Your prices are too high" is not a question! It does not require an answer. Rather, ask the prospective client, "Why do you think some companies charge higher prices than others?"

4. Salespeople fail to get the prospective client to reveal budgets up front. Knowing whether there is money planned for a project will help the salesperson to distinguish between the client who is ready to solve a problem from one who is not as committed with regard to money or budget. At this juncture, the salesperson should evaluate if price will be the only consideration in making the sale. Rule: If you get the business on price, you will lose the business on price.

5. Salespeople make too many follow-up calls when the engagement is actually dead. It could be a stubborn attitude to turn every prospect into a customer or ignorance of the fact that the process is truly dead. Far too much time is expended chasing prospects who just don't qualify. There are methods to detect this situation far earlier in the selling process.

6. Salespeople fail to get a commitment to buy before doing a proposal. Salespeople are often very willing to jump at the opportunity to do proposals and commonly end up wasting their most precious commodity: time. They miss their true goal in acquiring a client and become an unwitting unpaid consultant, merely teaching their prospects enough to help them buy cheaper from a favorite supplier. How many dead bids and proposals has your firm sent out over the last twelve months? How much has this cost your company?

7. Salespeople chat about everything and avoid beginning the sales process. Building rapport is always necessary and desirable in establishing long-term business relationships. Too often, the salesperson does not know when to stop this early step and move to the next step in the process.

8. Salespeople prefer "maybe" instead of getting to "no." Prospects are constantly ending the engagement with the ever-too-prevalent "think it over" response. The salesperson accepts this indecision, and even sympathizes with the prospect. It is easier to bring back the message to a sales manager or partner that the prospect might use the company's services "sometime in the future," rather than saying that this prospect is not a candidate for your services. After all, wasn't it the salesperson's responsibility to go out and get prospects to say "yes"? Also, hearing "no" a lot can produce feelings of personal rejection on the part of the salesperson.

9. Salespeople see themselves as beggars instead of doctors. Salespeople don't view their time with a prospect as being spent conducting an interview to see if the prospect qualifies to do business with their company. All too often a "prospect" really is a "suspect" and never gets to a more qualified level of prospective client, or client. Salespeople find themselves hoping, wishing, and even begging for an opportunity to show their expertise, with the false hope that a sale can be consummated (remember unpaid consulting!). This is unlike the physician who examines the patient thoroughly before making a recommendation. A doctor uses various instruments to conduct an examination of the patient. A salesperson should view questions as the equivalent to the doctor's tools, when conducting his or her examination of the client.

10. Salespeople work without a systematic approach to selling. Salespeople find themselves ad-libbing or "going with the flow" all too often in trying to make a sale. They allow the prospect to control the selling process. Salespeople often leave the sales interview without knowing where they are because they don't know where they've been, and what the next step is in the sales engagement. The need to follow a specific systematic sequence and control the steps through this process is vital to the salesperson's success in acquiring new clients and obtaining more business from existing clients.

11. Salespeople look, act, and sound like their competition. What happens when the prospective client is faced with salespeople who look, act, and sound alike in a multiple selection process? How might the prospect make a decision in that situation? By who has the lowest cost? By personality? A random process? In order to outsell the competition and avoid losing prospective and current clients, the salesperson needs to develop an approach to selling the services that differentiate him or her from the competition. An effective way of doing this is by developing a questioning strategy looking for the prospect's "pain," not by performing a traditional "features-and benefits" circus presentation that often ends up wasting everyone's precious time. "Pain" is the underlying emotional reason why people buy anything. They are trying to move away from "pain" when they are looking for a new vendor, or need a new application for an assembly problem, or need a better designed business form.

Marketing and selling skill development is essential! The salesperson who is serious about his or her profession keeps pace with the times. No longer can one merely hand out a business card and expect business to come beating a path to one's door. Successful sales organizations realize the necessity of investing in marketing plans, consultative selling skill development, and ongoing reinforcement of these skills to enroll and develop new clients as well as sell add-on services.

Copyright © 1996, Paul Trauth, CMS, Effective Sales Development, 17325 Thunder Spring Road, Saint Louis, MO 63025-2222. Tel: 314-414-0524 / Fax: 314-938-3393 / Email:

Copyright 1996 by Paul Trauth. Used with permission.

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