Let’s face it: some of the best advice you can get comes in the form of “What NOT to do.” It may sound a little cynical or negative, but it’s really the best way to learn from other people’s mistakes and avoid repeating them in your own day-to-day selling activities.
So we’ve put together a list of the 10 of the 20 biggest mistakes that we’ve seen salespeople make over almost 3 decades of being in the sales consulting business. These are things that are absolutely guaranteed to derail your career. These ideas are so important – so vital to your success – that we’re going to discuss each one in detail. So, we’ll look at ten of them this month and then we’ll pick up where we left off next month.
1. They don’t become a student of their craft
Did you know Tiger Woods spends a million dollars a year on his swing coach? A million dollars working on his swing, every single year! He is always working to get better…and look where he is!
That’s why it’s so amazing to see salespeople who refuse to spend more than five or ten dollars a year on their own professional growth.
Professional selling is a world that’s changing by leaps and bounds, especially with the ease with which prospects and customers can access information about the marketplace – and your competitors! So, if you take your career seriously, you’d better study your craft. You can’t go to sleep at the switch and expect to keep getting results. You’ve got to constantly reinvigorate yourself.
The best salespeople go to the bookstore every month or so and buy all the latest books, CDs or DVDs on sales and marketing. They also attend seminars, read articles, follow business blogs, listen to podcasts, read industry publications and watch business news every day and every single year of their selling careers. Look at it this way: if you pick up even just one idea that you didn’t think about before or something new that you can integrate into what you’re already doing – it’s well worth the investment of time and money.
2. They don’t “narrowcast” their offering
Mediocre salespeople remain generalists. In other words, they don’t become specialists in a segment or specialists in a particular type of market, or specialists that are delivering a specific type of product.
Think about it. In medicine, the real money and prestige go to medical specialists. The specialist has “narrowcasted” his or her offering. The most successful salespeople do the same thing. They really master the art of narrowcasting their offerings. They become well-known specialists in selling one thing, and people come to them for that one thing.
3. They fail to position themselves correctly
People pay attention to people who they perceive as having something important to say to them.
So you need to position yourself as an expert in something. You can write for trade journals or offer speeches or seminars within an association or organization – but you’ve got to have a positioning strategy that’s designed to create “pull.”
Here’s a great example. There’s a consultant we know who does a phenomenal job of positioning and narrowcasting. He holds seminars for senior-level decision makers on the topic of “How to Get The Most out of Your Consultants.” He says “If you have a Consultant working for you, here are some things that you need to know to get maximum value and return out of your Consultants.”
It’s genius. He gets a ton of business. He was probably a consultant who said “If I could talk to my client and give them advice for getting the most out of my services, this is what I’d tell them to do.” He put it together, then reversed it, and went out and sold it! And in doing so, he positioned himself very accurately and “narrowcasted” his offering effectively.
4. They fail to prospect
Pay attention to this one, because the single biggest cause of failure for salespeople is an inadequate supply of qualified prospects. This point is a lot like #1 on this list. Salespeople tend to study the craft and do a whole lot of prospecting early in their careers. But later on, they get so involved and caught up in the routine activities of selling and servicing that they neglect to invest time and energy in growth strategies like improving their skills and hunting for new business.
But neglecting to prospect is even dumber than you might think. Remember, your best customer is someone else’s best prospect. Despite your best efforts to keep them satisfied, your customers are never guaranteed to stay with you. Statistics indicate that most businesses lose about 20% of their customers each year, which unfortunately is just the natural level of “churn” in the marketplace. That makes it pretty obvious that you’ve got to prospect pretty heavily just to KEEP the same level of business that you currently have. If you want to actually GROW your sales, you’ll need to do even more prospecting.
Think of it this way, you are constantly losing the very blood that keeps your sales career alive. You can’t survive very long without a transfusion. The fact is, if you want to have someone to work with tomorrow or next week or next year, you’ve got to actively engage in prospecting today – and every single day – for the rest of your selling career.
5. They get in front of the wrong people
You simply can’t find success selling to the wrong people.
You had better be in front of people who:
* Have the authority and ability to make a decision
* Have a need and are aware of it
* Have a perceived problem, or a pain
* Are willing to listen to you
It’s true that activity drives results…but only the right activity drives the right results. In other words, it doesn’t matter how many people you call on if none of them are the right people. In fact, approaching the wrong people may be to your detriment. It can position you poorly and if you enter at the wrong level, it’s very hard to work yourself up! You may alienate the people you approached originally, and the people who are at the top won’t see you as having something valuable to say, because you didn’t get to them in the first place.
6. They listen to their peers
Chances are 80% of your peers are delivering only 20% of the results – so when it comes to listening to the people around you, choose carefully. When you start hearing things like, “That’s not the way to sell…you can’t make more than ‘X’ amount of dollars in this business…The company is really bad; they’re always out to get us…We’ve got an inferior product…Our delivery is bad…Our prices are out of line…The commission structure on prices is unfair…The future’s bleak, the economy is bad…The boss is a jerk…” You’ve got to stop and consider the source.
Listen to positive, upbeat ideas and take heed of what the most successful people say, but don’t waste your mental energy on the rest.
7. They don’t understand the economics of their product
Would you sell something for a dollar that cost you a dollar and fifty cents? You wouldn’t? Well, the interesting thing is lots of salespeople are busy doing just that – and they don’t realize it. They’re completely caught up in “making the sale” but they’re totally out of touch with what it costs to get that product or service into a customer’s hands: manufacturing, marketing, advertising, administrative support, facilities, utilities, taxes…the figures are staggering. Unless you account for every cent that goes into the entire process, it’s very easy to end up giving the product away.
One of our clients – a CEO – told us a story about one of his sales professionals who came to him and said “Look. We can beat these guys. If we just lower our price to this.” And the CEO looked at it and said “The price that you want to sell it for is less than our variable cost on that particular unit.” The response from the salesperson was, “Yeah, but we can make it up in volume.” Here’s a quick review from Economics 101: If you’re losing money on every deal, you can’t make it up in volume! In fact, the more you sell, the closer you move in the direction of bankruptcy. And if your company goes out of business, you’re not going to have anything to sell.
The salesperson may not be concerned because it’s the company that’s losing the money and they still earn the commission. But in the long run, the company’s money comes from selling product at a profit. Period. The whole purpose of having a sales force is to sell, and to sell at a profit. If you can’t do that for your organization, they’re not going to have a reason or a means to keep you employed.
8. They mentally spend their income – before they earn it
There are the mundane issues like delivery problems, delays, cancellations, internal changes within the organization, but that’s just the tip of the iceberg. No matter how sure the sale seems, none of us can see into the future. What if the organization you just sold to has its assets seized by the IRS tomorrow? What if the executive who just signed the papers is indicted on embezzlement charges next week? Are they really going to pay that invoice?
One of our clients told us that 10 years ago they had a purchase order for one of America’s largest companies – for literally millions of dollars worth of business – and they never exercised the purchase order. Just because you receive a purchase order doesn’t mean anybody has to exercise it!
The Sale is not made until you have received your commission check and it’s gone into the bank, and it’s absolutely sure, put away, guaranteed in that bank account. That’s when the sale is consummated. It’s very easy to forget this fact, particularly if you’re relatively new to selling or if you’re down-and-out and you’re trying to make things better. Remember, just because someone said they’ll buy it – even if they signed all the paperwork – it doesn’t mean a thing until the check clears in the bank.
9. They fail to ask the *right* questions
In fact, not only would we say that they failed to ask the right questions – but maybe they failed to ask questions at all. Or worse, they did ask questions but didn’t listen to the answers. So the bottom line is:
* Are they the right questions?
* Do you listen to the answers?
* Do you write the answers down?
* Do you ask questions in the right way?
* Do you ask them in the right sequence?
* Can you extrapolate fromone question to the next?
* Are you really listening to what they say? Or are you anticipating what you’re going to say next?
We’ve discovered that the one silver lining in this problem is that many salespeople recognize that this is a weakness they need to address. Whenever we ask salespeople what skills they would like toimprove, questioning skills is always at the top of the list.
Our general observation is that sales professionals don’t dig deep enough. They may plan their questions ahead of time and are able to ask a few questions that scratch the surface of their prospect’s problem or desire…but they don’t ask questions about the answer to each question…and then more questions about the answer to that question…the problem is that most salespeople stop digging long before they strike gold.
You’ll need to practice this skill with specific examples from your industry and your prospects. Ask your sales manager and successful sales professionals to help you role play some questioning sequences. Time and effort that you put into sharpening your questioning skills is always well-spent because this is the skill that makes the sale
10. They are either Digitally Compulsive or Digitally Impaired
Surely you’ve seen them both – the salesperson who’s so compulsive about digital technology, that they spend all of their time on the internet, on their PDA or in a Sales Force Automation program – and the one who’s so impaired that they’re unable to function in the digital world.
Bottom line: You should not be sitting in front of your computer screen all day long nor should you stubbornly resist changes that can make you more effective at selling. You need to be eyeball to eyeball (or headset to receiver) with prospects and customers. Technology is a tool. You should use it to drive business. It should not drive you.
When somebody is out building a house, they don’t use a hammer for everything. They use a hammer for specific tasks they’ve got to do. When you’ve got a tool like a contact management software program – it’s a hammer. Pull it out, use it when you need it, and then put it back in your belt. Go on and do what you do…don’t live in front of this thing. But, also, don’t go out and try to build a house without a hammer in your tool belt. Use it, when it’s appropriate.