5 Common Sales Mistakes to Avoid

5 Common Sales Mistakes to Avoid

Every lost sale starts with good intentions. While selling, the best intentions cannot counteract sales mistakes. No matter how great the product or service is, sales mistakes prevent reps from reaching their potential. When selling, sometimes prevention is the best cure.

Selling is not getting any easier. In complex sales, the sales rep often has one bite at the apple. Mishandle the opportunity, and it vanishes permanently. “Better than a thousand days of diligent study is one day with a great teacher,” is a Japanese proverb. In sales, experience is a great teacher. But learning from someone else’s mistakes is better than experiencing the pain yourself. In my two decades of sales experience, here are the five costly sales mistakes you want to ensure you and your sales team avoid.

Stop Trying to Be Perfect

A little bit of coaching and a few closed deals, and we believe it’s our job to have all the answers. Naturally, we don’t want to admit we don’t have the answer because it could be viewed as a sign of weakness with a new prospect. We were recruited because of our ability, and we are compensated for delivering results. Naturally, we want to provide answers to every question. Many sales professionals are indeed perfectionists, and this is a costly mistake.

In sales, perfectionism sets us up for failure. In life–and sales–perfect does not exist. Trying to be perfect leads to bad outcomes. The harder we try to be perfect, the more stress we feel every day. Chronic stress leads to poor performance, which can be avoided if we accept we will never be perfect.

Instead of trying to be perfect in front of prospects, focus on being real. In the real world, we are all imperfect, and prospects value transparency. Instead of telling prospects how perfect your solution is, share the challenges, mistakes, and lessons you learned. When a prospect hears you explain one of your mistakes and how you overcame it, it is more credible than a testimonial page.

For example, when a prospect raises an objection, the natural tendency is to jump into a rebuttal. This discounts the prospect’s concern and can create resistance. Alternatively, you can acknowledge the concern and share how another client faced a similar concern and how your company addressed it. Instead of telling the prospect your solution is perfect, share your mistakes and the lessons you’ve learned working in the industry. This is the type of knowledge clients can’t find on Google, which makes it valuable.

Spending Time with Non-Prospects

Investing time with prospects who are not ready to buy is a mistake most sales reps commit without even knowing. When we receive a new lead and qualify it, we instantly approve the lead as a product fit. We mentally conclude, “This is going to be a great account,” without any investigation. But approval before investigation is a mistake.

In sales, it is important to qualify but critical to disqualify. The surest way to underperform is to spend time with prospects who are not ready to buy. These prospects can turn into time vampires. They continue to suck information and free consulting yet never intend to make a purchase decision.

Every sales rep knows how to qualify a prospect, but recognizing the signs of a prospect needing more time to be ready to buy requires experience. Here are two significant signals your prospect is not ready to buy:

  1. They will not include others or give access to other stakeholders. Today’s sales are complex and rarely made by one individual. When a prospect remains isolated, it’s a sign there won’t be a decision soon.
  2. They fail to articulate a specific problem they need to solve. When researching new technology, buyers often want to educate themselves rather than make a purchase. Prospects never say, “We aren’t making a decision this year but are gathering information.” When a specific problem is missing, so is any urgency.

The solution is simple: create a sales process that includes strict qualification parameters and do not deviate. You don’t have to ignore the prospects who are not ready to purchase. Instead, create an automated follow-up cadence. What you don’t want to do is waste time calling and writing weekly emails. This requires the discipline of not putting every prospect on a pedestal. Be deliberate, not hopeful.

Talking Too Much

Telling is not selling. Early in my sales career, I recognized the more the prospect talked, the greater the likelihood of winning the business. There has been so much written on listening more than you talk; the topic feels unwarranted to mention it. However, with all the content, it’s still a prevalent sales mistake. If I were going to write a book about sales mistakes, talking too much would be the first chapter.

Silence compels salespeople to talk. When I observe new sales reps, I notice they get uncomfortable with silence. For new salespeople, there is a need to fill the void of silence. Instead of listening, new sales reps are looking for an opportunity to talk. The difference is subtle but crucial. Instead of actively listening, the sales rep is looking for a chance to interrupt.

For example, suppose the prospect mentions a concern. A talkative sales rep will have the urge to interrupt with, “That’s not a problem,” and jump into a rebuttal. Interrupting is a symptom of not actively listening. Active listening requires clarification. Clarification requires questions like, “Help me understand. Why do you say that?” or “Why is that important?” New sales reps are trained on what to say and are eager to share their knowledge. High-performing sales pros are trained on what to ask and are eager to listen.

No Story Telling

The paradox of talking too much is not sharing enough stories. As sales trainers, we’ve noticed that the bigger a company gets, the easier it is for the story to get lost. Storytelling hacks the brain and forces people to pay attention. Not including stories in your sale process is a mistake.

Generic sales scripts and pitches hinder performance. Why? Because they are boring, canned, and cringe-worthy. MRI scans show stories activate more parts of the brain than facts. In other words, listening to stories activates the brain better than features and benefits. Selling with stories provides a richer neural experience. Here’s the science:

Selling with stories triggers the brain to release the hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is commonly referred to as the “love drug” because it gives us that “warm and fuzzy” feeling. Oxytocin is why we cry for fictional characters in movies. Oxytocin creates a mental connection, which scientists call “neural coupling.”

When sales reps ignore stories, they miss the most powerful, proven, and effective form of communication known to man. Stories helped Elon Musk and Steve Jobs build their empires. For sales reps to ignore stories in their sales presentations is a mistake of gigantic proportions.

Not Making it Personal

If you want to be more persuasive, get more personal. Many sales reps mistake thinking they’re selling to companies for ignoring the person. There is a difference between selling to a company and selling to an individual. Not personalizing your message is a mistake sales reps often make when selling to enterprise customers.

When selling to enterprise clients, we believe we are selling to rational business leaders who are strictly concerned about cutting costs, adding value, and ROI. But we are selling to people who have concerns about their status, how they are viewed in the company, and their paycheck.

In school, we are taught about rational actors and efficient market theories. In real-world sales, we must navigate each department’s corporate politics and power dynamics. In enterprise sales, the best product only sometimes wins. The other times, the decision-makers were influenced by their personal bias. It happens more than you think, and ignoring this reality is a mistake.

When I say personal, it’s not about discussing golf with your prospect. That’s old-school rapport building and is often ineffective. Personal selling means gathering intelligence about your prospect’s background and experience, then building a framework to craft your message.

Sales reps will communicate better with prospects when they consider their backgrounds. For example, suppose you see your prospect has an MBA from Wharton and a decade of corporate accounting experience with the same company. In that case, you will want to communicate differently than the prospect with a marketing degree, two years of sales experience, and six months in the new role. When sales reps present to every prospect identically, that is a mistake.

In Conclusion

Mistakes are common in sales. For sales reps, it is a participant sport, and mistakes have to be figured out in the middle of the game. Some sales mistakes are easily corrected, while others require a deeper understanding and coaching.

For sales leaders, selling is more of a spectator sport, observing your sales rep’s behaviors and figuring out which mistakes to correct. How sales leaders handle this challenge is critical to ensuring the success of the sales team. Correcting mistakes is anything but passive. However, as long as the team continues to put in the effort to fix mistakes, sales success is not a question.