None of us is immune to mistakes. Some of us make the same mistakes time and time again. If we are unable to learn from our mistakes, we are liable to inflict unnecessary stress on ourselves and lose the opportunity to grow. It’s the same in selling. Whether you are on the front line or in sales management, the challenge is – can you identify, own, analyse, and reframe your mistakes and then put lessons learned into practice, so that you improve your or your team’s performance?
Mistakes and solutions
We thought long and hard about what works in selling and the mistakes that we have made in our careers and the ones we consistently notice when we consult with organisations and train sales teams. We started with a long list and prioritised. What are the most significant mistakes, and what are some solutions that we believe make a positive difference?
Mistake 1: Winging it and poor preparation
Explanation: Too many salespeople pay scant attention to preparation and pre-suasion and believe that they can prosper by improvising and relying on their sales skills in meetings. (Pre-suasion is a concept introduced by Robert Cialdini, which is the art and science of capturing and challenging the attention of the people you seek to influence.)
Solution: In sales, a lot of ‘plans’ are targets. We might have a sales plan that relates to a revenue or margin figure, for example. We need to plan the aspects of our sales work so that we can achieve the results that we want. The major benefits of planning in a sales role include being more objective and thoughtful about what we need to do to achieve our goals, ensuring that we do not miss out important aspects that can make a difference and making it easier to adapt and improve.
Some planning and pre-suasion practical ideas:
- Research carefully before a discovery meeting so you are not asking unnecessary or lazy questions and so you add value from the get-go.
- Think through and communicate the outcome and agenda for all sales meetings
- Consider what you can share beforehand so that the various parties are persuaded and more amenable to your ideas and solutions at a meeting.
Mistake 2: A focus on selling, rather than influencing
Explanation: Most people don’t like being sold to, yet everyone is open to influence.
Solution: Avoid using outdated and manipulative sales techniques.
- First up – asking cliched or overtly persuasive questions. For example, ‘what’s keeping you up at night?’ Or ‘would offering you a discount change your mind?’.
- How about the sales tactic of overcoming objections? Who wants a genuine concern to be overcome by an overbearing salesperson? Instead, respect the hurdle, dig deep to truly understand it from the customer’s perspective, identify its importance and collaborate to get an agreement.
- Is there an issue in your business of overpromising and under-delivering? We often see this as a practical issue between sales and operations, and even more importantly, not a great way to build trust. Exaggerating a product or service capabilities, giving unrealistic delivery dates or even worse – hiding limitations or special conditions, will create initial problems as well as diminish the chances of a repeat sale.
- Finally, closing too early. This happens all the time on LinkedIn. Spray and pray – connect and then sell service/product. This behaviour just annoys most people.
What are the foundations of effective influencing? Confidence, credibility and connection. We trademarked this model 10 years ago – it is called the C3 Model of Influencing™.
Mistake 3: Inflexibility – just employing one communication style
Explanation: Adopting one style of communication which reduces your ability to influence people who are very different to you.
Solution: The person with the most flexibility controls the system. Practically, this means paying attention to the other party’s communication preferences and matching what you notice. For example, Adam Grant’s (Wharton) 2013 research report suggests that, despite the widespread assumption that extraverts are the most productive salespeople, research has shown weak and conflicting relationships between extraversion and sales performance.
Mistake 4: Going straight to a solution without identifying needs and wants
Explanation: Salespeople and ‘C’ Suite influencers spend too much time pitching and not enough time asking the right questions and nailing the needs of the client
Solution: Discover the client’s real concerns and issues. Ask great questions and you will demonstrate genuine interest (building both credibility AND connection), rather than a focus on making the sale. Questions encourage emotional involvement, and you will identify what really matters so that you can build greater levels of rapport and help address the key concerns of the buyer/organisation. Questions really are the answer.
Mistake 5: Forgetting to build long-lasting client relationships
Explanation: Too often salespeople can chase the excitement of new sales and forget to build long-lasting deep relationships with clients who have already said yes. Research from The Rain Group suggested in 2021 that it takes on average eight touchpoints to win a sale.
Solution: Having invested a lot of time in establishing a relationship with the customer that enables them to buy from us, it is important that we take time to maintain and develop the relationship if we have an interest in future sales. What can we do to build rapport and trust and add value? Any activities we engage in to manage customer relationships should demonstrate and develop these traits. Alternatively, you could just ask the customer! Two great questions to find out where you need to focus your efforts are:
- ‘What’s important to you about your relationship with a supplier?’
- ‘If I were doing a great job of managing our relationship with you, what would I be doing?’
5 common mistakes and some solutions that work. As a leader in your organisation – which ones resonate with you and what can you do to address these mistakes and deliver even greater levels of service from your sales team?
About the authors: Jeremy Cassell and Tom Bird are coaches, trainers, keynote speakers and co-authors of 5 business books, including Brilliant Selling, out now, published by Pearson.
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