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Ten Sales Mistakes and
How Not to Make Them

By Al Simon
Sandler Sales Institute

Many people who are new to sales -- and new business owners as well -- make some of the same mistakes. Even some sales veterans can fall prey to bad habits and sloppy techniques. Here are some of the most common mistakes that salespeople and business owners make and how to avoid making them.

1. You are not as comfortable as you would like to be in your role as a salesperson.

Realistically, you haven't gotten this far in your career because you wanted to be a salesperson. No one ever wakes up and says to himself or herself, "Gee, now I'm in business for myself. I can't wait to knock on doors to ask strangers if they want to buy what I have." That's just not a reality for you.

The vast majority of new salespeople and new business owners are uncomfortable with their role as salesperson. Some of you may be comfortable, but you might not know exactly what to do to sell or attract new customers. Typically, you might see your role as someone who is supposed to answer questions and give information -- after all, isn't that what salespeople do?

When you go into a selling situation, you don't know how to shut off that switch. So you may be of the mindset that the only way to sell is to tell your prospective customer what you can do for him/her. If you've felt the pain of unsuccessful sales calls, you've already discovered that giving the information to the prospect isn't always in your best interest, unless you have qualified the prospect and the prospect has an emotional reason to make a change, not just an intellectual one.

You may have learned that selling is about helping the prospect with his/her needs. Well, it's a start. Right now, you are trying to find somebody who has needs, who needs what you have. That doesn't mean the person is going to buy; it just means the person has needs. The problem is that needs are intellectual, not emotional, and people don't buy intellectually; they buy emotionally. Your challenge is to turn your prospect's intellectual needs into emotional decisions.

2. You don't differentiate yourself from other businesses like yours.

You have differentiated yourself from your competition, but when you are face to face with a prospective customer, you also need to be different, act different and sound different. If you don't, then most likely the company with the lowest price wins the business.

Let's say you find yourself in a competitive situation in which you are one of three companies vying for the business. The prospect says, "By the way, I'm meeting with you and two other firms." You think, "Well, I'm going to impress the prospect with my knowledge," because that's the only thing you know how to do in relation to selling. But that's what the other companies are doing, too. Company A says, "We've been in the business 30 years, we are a quality service, we know what we are doing, we have industry-specific knowledge, we offer personalized service and we have competitive pricing." Company B says the same thing. So when the prospect looks at them and you, he reasons, "Well, I have A, B and C. All sound alike and look alike, and all seem to be good. Who am I going to pick?" And that's when the prospect starts negotiating price, because there are no other perceived differences between A, B and C. That's where you must look different from your competitors; otherwise, everything boils down to price. And who wants to eke out a living being the low bidder all the time?

Worse case scenario is finishing in second place. Second place means you spend as much time and resource on the deal as the winner, but you get absolutely no revenue! You are much better off knowing well in advance that you will probably not get the deal, and walk away to find a better prospect.

3. You give away your expertise.

Your prospective client has his/her unique system of finding out how much you cost, how much you know, how you can solve his/her problem and how wonderful your company is. In short, he/she takes your expertise and gets free consulting.

Most new salespeople and business owners do a lot of free consulting. You find out what the needs of the prospect are and then say, "Let me tell you how I can fix that for you." So that plays right into the prospect's system and, as soon as you begin talking about how wonderful your company is, the prospect knows that you are trying to close him/her. He/she doesn't want to be closed, so he/she says to you, "It looks good. It's one of the best presentations we have ever had, and you gave us a lot of really good information that I am sure we can put to good use. Let me talk it over with my partners." Next the prospect asks you to write up a proposal, and then the prospect has three proposals that all pretty much say the same things. The outcome is that one company beats the others on price, or the prospect decides to stay put and not make a change.

Find ways to get paid for your expertise, or don't give presentations and proposals without closing to the next step in advance. Don't let the prospect find out what you know, then disappear on you!

4. You fail to develop true bonding skills.

Imagine the old-fashioned salesperson who opens a sales interview with "Gee, nice office. How's the weather? Good-looking picture of your family." That, of course, is only one perception of what bonding means when you're interfacing with your prospects. Bonding and rapport go much deeper than that. It's your ability to make your prospective customers warm up to you and trust in your ability to heal their pains. People like to do business with people they like, plain and simple.

Endeavor to discern the way a prospect likes to communicate. Is their speech pattern fast or slow, high pitched or low, high volume or barely a whisper? Do they use body language that gives clues to their level of interest? If you practice "active listening" skills, you can gain an edge.

5. You try to get prospective customers to leave their existing suppliers.

Your prospective customers are comfortable with the relationships they have with their present vendors, so after your visit, they go back to the vendors and say, "Look, I've talked to some other people (that's you), and they told me they could do this and that." What do you think their current suppliers say? "Oh really? I can do that for you. No problem." And sensing they might be losing a good customer, the suppliers add, "Listen, George, you've been with me for 15 years. How can you do this to me? You were one of my first customers." Then your prospects don't have the guts to tell them it's really over, which means a lot of your potential new customers (or so you thought) disappear. They stay put.

What you need to do is deal with these sensitive issues up front, and that will be difficult for you to do at first (as it will be for your prospective customers). Go ahead and ask the prospect if it is probable that they will stay with their current supplier, even if you offer a better deal. If the answer is yes, then ask them what it would take to get them to change to your product or service. You might be surprised at the answer!

6. Your prospect doesn't feel they need your product or service.

People either know they need what you offer, or they don't. Your job is to help people recognize (on an emotional level, not an intellectual one) the pains associated with not having your product, service or expertise.

7. You give a price too early in the cycle simply because you don't know what else to do.

Does this sound familiar? You talk to prospective customers who underestimate their problems. They paint a simplistic picture of what their "needs" are and say, "Well, I think I'm paying too much. What can you do for me?" The problem, as you know firsthand, is that you don't really know how much it's going to cost up front until you get in and look. Most of the time when you quote a price, it ends up being too low. But because prospects aren't straight with you and underestimate their needs, you have the problem of saying to a new customer, "I know I told you $5,000, but it's really going to be 7 or 8." You feel the pressure to quote a number, so you come up with a number too soon.

Try this instead: "Based on what you have shared with me, it sounds as though it should run somewhere between $4,000 and $5,000. Now, do you have any idea what the problem is when I give you a number like that?" (The prospect says no.) "The problem is that it's just an estimate. Let me tell you what typically happens when people ask me for a "ballpark" figure. After we get more information, it can turn out that there are some other things you need, and it's going to cost extra. So if we ever get to that point, and I say to you, 'Remember the conversation we had about the estimate?' you will remember, right?"

Yes, it's a gutsy thing to say. But that's what running a business is all about. It's about not being taken advantage of just because you are new in business, new in sales and new to the industry. Charge what you are worth, get your price and make it stick.

8. You fail to tell your prospective customers how you get paid and that you have to get paid on time.

Collections are a touchy area in most companies, and this holds true for most service firms as well. Wouldn't it be wonderful if you could say, "Sam, let me share with you how we get paid. If we decide to do business, you're going to need to give me an up-front retainer of $3,000, and then we will expect a payment on the first of the month, whatever that number turns out to be. If that's a problem, let's deal with it now, because if it is, it may not make sense getting started together."

What most new business owners and salespeople might say is "It's going to cost $5,000," but they never tell customers how much they must pay up front. So when it's time to "close," the money becomes awkward for salespeople and business owners because they must ask for "the check." They never talked about the amount of the check, although they talked about their method of doing business; they never talked about expectations as to how they were going to get paid.

9 and 10. You fail to effectively generate referrals and introductions from present customers and other professionals, and you don't set them up properly.

The biggest resource any company has, including service companies, is their customer base. You may be uncomfortable going to your customers and asking for referrals. Of course, if you've just opened up your doors, you may not even have any customers yet, but you are still expected to actively seek others out and ask them for help -- for referrals -- and that may well be an uncomfortable behavior for you.

You may be able to approach other professionals, like accountants, attorneys and bankers and say, "If you have some prospective customers, can you send them our way?" Or you might take a customer to lunch and say, "And by the way, if you would send some people our way, we'd appreciate it." Then, when nothing happens, you don't know what to do. You think you're doing the right activities (the "schmoozing") because you have gone to the Chamber meetings, the lunches, etc., but nothing materializes.

Wouldn't it be nice if, somewhere in your conversation, you could easily and honestly say, "My experience has been that either one or two things is going to happen. We will decide we either have a fit, or we don't have a fit. If we decide we don't have a fit, that's OK. Any time during lunch, you can stop and say, 'Sam, I don't think we can help each other. Why don't we just enjoy lunch?' It's OK to say 'no fit'. In order for us to work together, it has to be a win-win situation. So it might make sense for me to tell you about the types of people I'm looking for and what you might be able to do for me. Then you can tell me a little about the types of people you do business with and what I might be able to do for you. And then we can decide whether or not we can help each other. Does that make sense?"

Then, simply ask "who do you know that might benefit from my product (or service)?" When they give you a name, ask "would you mind calling them right now and introduce me?"

Wouldn't it also be nice if you could get comfortable with a system that feels natural to you in approaching your present customers and giving them a reason to help you, without feeling like a beggar?

Welcome to the world of stress-free professional selling. That's right, selling, in a manner that is congruent with how you view your new profession -- and yourself -- with integrity. And welcome to the world of more customers.

© 2002 Sandler Systems, Inc. The Sandler Sales Institute is an international sales & management training/consulting firm since 1967, a Franchisor since 1983 and an IFA member since 1992.