How has your business changed over the last few of years?  Are other companies actively pursuing your best customers or clients?  What is your plan of attack to deal with stagnant sales growth?  Have you lost or are you about to lose market share?  Over the years, we have observed the mistakes of many sales people in many different types of “selling situations”.  Although the actual approach or style will always vary, there are many common pitfalls that can trap sales people.  Here are the most prominent.

Sales people talk instead of listen.  Too many sales people 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!

Sales people presume instead of asking questions.  Some sales people seem to have all the solutions.  In fact, many companies no longer “sell” services, they tout they are in the business of “providing solutions.”  The disadvantage of this strategy is that too many sales people are trying to sell solutions without knowing the prospect’s problems.  

Professional sales people ask good, tough questions up-front to set ground rules for the sales process, then develop a complete understanding of the prospect’s situation.

Sales people answer unasked questions.  Example:  A prospect makes a statement such as, “Your price is too high.”  

Most sales people retreat to a defensive mode.  They often begin a rehearsed speech on quality, service, value or experience.  Most often, they respond with a price concession or a fee reduction.  If a prospect can get a discount by merely making a statement, he will then think “Maybe if I try another move I’ll get a bigger discount!”.  The statement “Your price is too high” is not a question!  It does not require an answer.  Rather, ask the prospect, “Why do you think our customers pay us higher prices?”.

Sales people fail to get the prospective client to reveal budgets up front.  By knowing whether there is money set aside for a project, the salesperson can separate the prospect who is ready to solve a problem from one who is unwilling or unable to spend money.  At this step, the sales person should also 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.

Sales people make too many follow-up calls when the engagement is actually dead.  Rule:  Sales people hang it too long, or bail out too early.  Maybe they’re too stubborn (after all, someone told them ‘persistence pays off’) or they’re unwilling to admit the process is truly dead.  The average sales person spends way too much time chasing prospects who just don’t qualify.  The best sales people use advanced strategies to detect and avoid this predicament very early in the selling process.

Sales people fail to get their prospect’s commitment to buy before doing a proposal.  Sales people are too often willing to jump at any opportunity to do proposals. As a result, most end up wasting their most precious commodity:  time.  They unwittingly become unpaid consultants, merely teaching their prospect enough to help them buy cheaper from a favorite supplier.  How many dead bids and proposals has your company sent out over the last twelve months?  How much has this cost you?

Sales people chat about everything and avoid beginning the sales process.  Building rapport is necessary and important in establishing long-term business relationships.  However, too many sales people don’t know when to stop chatting and move to the next step in the process.

Sales people prefer “maybe” rather than getting to “no”.  Prospects are constantly ending the sales call by telling the salesperson some form of “I want to think it over”.  The sales person accepts indecision, sometimes even sympathizing with the prospect.  Most salespeople would rather tell their boss they have a fuzzy future rather than admitting they have no future at all.  After all, wasn’t it the sales person’s responsibility to go out and get the prospect to say “yes”?  

When managers put pressure on sales people to get prospects to say “Yes”, they’ll respond by bringing back a lot of “maybes”.  Break the trance…get the  prospects to tell you “No”, instead of “think it over”.  You’ll discover prospects won’t want to say “No”.

Sales people see themselves as beggars rather than doctors.  Sales people don’t position their time with a prospect as a qualification interview.  A lot of  “prospects” are honestly nothing more than “suspects”. They don’t deserve any more time.  However, sales people find themselves hoping, wishing and even begging for an opportunity to show their expertise with the false hope that they can make a sale by dumping lots of information on the prospect. (We call this “Show-up, Throw-up Selling”).  

This is unlike the physician who examines the patient thoroughly before making a recommendation.  A doctor uses various instruments to examine the patient.  A sales person should use questions to qualify prospects just as precisely as a doctor uses his or her instruments to examine a patient.

Sales people work without a systematic approach to selling.  Sales people 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.  Sales people often leave the sales interview without knowing what happens next in the sales process.  Sales superstars follow a specific systematic sequence to control each step through the process.  A strong system is vital to sales success.

Sales people look, act, and sound like their competition.  What happens when the prospect is faced with sales people who look, act and sound alike in a multiple choice selection process?  How does the prospect decide?  Lowest price? Best personality?  A random process?  In order to outsell the competition and avoid losing business, successful people  develop an approach to selling which differentiates them from the competition.  

Sales superstars develop a questioning strategy looking for the prospect’s “pain,” not by performing a traditional “features-and-benefits, dog and pony shows”.  “Pain” is the underlying emotional reason by which people buy anything.  Prospects move away from “pain” when they search for a new vendor; or look for a new application for an assembly problem; or need a better designed business form.  “Pain” is the key to selling.  Master it, and master sales!

Sales skill development is essential!  The sales person who is serious about his or her profession practices their craft continuously.  No longer can one merely show up and begin presenting their “pitch” and expect today’s sophisticated consumers to “sign-up” after a litany of “trial closes”.  Successful small business owners realize the necessity of investing in their people, sales skill development and ongoing skills reinforcement.

Eleven Mistakes Most Small Businesses Make When Marketing Their Products or Services