Key learning outcomes:
- Acknowledge that all sales opportunities should be nurtured, regardless of the length of the sales process.
- Understand that a deal should be completed only once the customer is fully informed.
- Recognise that generating new business is as important as closing the deals.
- Implement a strategy of continually updating your skills and knowledge so you can keep up with customers’ changing needs.
Having worked with salespeople for over 20 years, we have a unique insight into what it takes to be a success and the pitfalls to avoid. There are some common mistakes that salespeople make which work against them, holding them back from reaching their peak potential. In this article we will take you through the most common mistakes we see. Use the article as a checklist to ensure you or your team are not falling into any of these traps and bad habits.
Making it personal
Often a salesperson will make a negotiation personal, thinking that they need to win at all costs, even being prepared to walk away or sabotage a deal just to make a point. This is shortsighted thinking which can mean a loss of income for the salesperson, and more importantly lost income for the business. Be wary when you hear comments like “I did not want that deal anyway” or “that guy was a real nightmare to deal with”. The deal should be about just that. The deal and high-performance salespeople are able to separate their personal feelings from business, knowing that every time the customer happily pays their fee or buys their product that they have ultimately won.
Focusing only on the immediate
Salespeople by their nature tend to focus on the customers and deals that are likely to produce the quickest and most positive outcome. Let’s take the purchase of a car as an example. If you talk to five salespeople and tell them you are ready to buy today, they are all likely to be enthusiastic, keen and will offer you a high level of service. If you repeat the exercise, but say that you are only vaguely interested in buying their product and will not be able to make a decision for several weeks or months, you will find the level of enthusiasm and customer service drops off dramatically. To be successful, it is essential to adopt bigger picture thinking in sales. You should understand that someone who does not buy today is still an opportunity for the future or might influence others to buy from you.
Being too impatient
Often salespeople can be too trigger-happy. They try to close a deal before they have done all of the necessary hard work in the sales process. It is important to understand that a customer buys when they feel comfortable with you and your product or service offering. It is important to confirm the customer is ready before trying to close the deal, otherwise you are likely to get a “no” when a “yes” or “maybe” was possible. Learning to work to the pace of the customer and following a set sales process will lead to higher conversion rates. If you do not have a standard sales process that all salespeople follow, we have an article in this section of the website that will assist you to build one.
Too often we see salespeople whose results resemble a roller-coaster ride; they are either riding a spectacular high or have fallen to the lowest of lows. This is not only difficult to manage as a business with income levels fluctuating dramatically, but it is also very hard emotionally for the salesperson. This problem usually occurs because during the periods of high activity, the salesperson is focused on the activities directly associated with the deals, and they fail to work on any generation activities that would ensure a steady flow of future business. It is only once they fall into a low period that they start prospecting and generating again. Once these activities start to generate some results, the cycle begins once again with the salesperson refocusing on their deal-making. A consistent, all-year generation strategy works to flatten out the peaks and troughs and will tend to produce better overall results.
Looking for a helicopter ride
There are always two ways to the top of the mountain: you can either put in the hard work day in and day out while climbing your way up, or you can look for a helicopter ride to the top. Often salespeople look for a short cut, seeking out ways to catch that helicopter ride; however, the reality is that for long-term and sustainable success, the only way up is by putting in the hard yards. We will often hear a poorly performing salesperson comment that someone else has better luck, a better territory or better customers. The reality is, almost always without exception that the person they are referring to just works harder, more consistently and they make their own luck.
Not asking the question
Without doubt, one of the mistakes we see salespeople make over and over again is that that they fail to ask for the business. It sounds crazy, but routinely salespeople will leave a presentation without actually trying to close the deal. It is important to remember that asking a customer if they have any questions or asking if there is anything else the customer would like you to cover is not closing the sale. A salesperson needs to ask a closing question such as “based on everything we have discussed today, are you ready to move forward?” If the customer does not answer with “yes”, then this allows the salesperson to ask why, and uncover and deal with whatever the objection or obstacle the customer may have. We have an article that outlines how to close a deal in this section of the website.
A lot of salespeople have personalities that are high on emotion; they tend to be outgoing and can be sensitive with high levels of empathy. These traits are positive in a sales environment, allowing the salesperson to build rapport with customers and to better understand their needs. The downside is that the things that can help to make a salesperson successful can also hold them back. There are very few salespeople that have a 100 per cent conversion rate of sales prospects to paying customers, and rejections can dent the confidence and resilience of even the best salespeople. The key to remaining upbeat and positive is to understand what your conversion ratio is and to work with these averages. If the conversion ratio is 60 per cent, then six out of every ten prospects are going to say “yes” and four out of ten are going to say “no”. By understanding this concept the salesperson can look at any “no” more positively knowing that it is bringing them closer to the next yes.
Focusing on results
A salesperson’s success is ultimately measured by the results that they achieve. While this is necessary at a business level, it is also important for salespeople to focus on the activities required for them to get those results. For example, a salesperson may have a target to achieve four sales per month. Rather than focusing just on the four sales, the salesperson needs to focus on the activities required to achieve that result; for example, to achieve a 50% conversion rate, the salesperson would need to present or deal with eight potential customers each month, and to find these eight potential customers they may need to send 1,000 generation letters or make 200 phone calls. They key is to focus on completing these activities each day, week and month, and ultimately the results will come.
Too often we see salespeople that have a closed mind to new ideas or alternative ways of doing things. One of our favourite quotes is from Albert Einstein: “The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result”. It is important to always look for ways to improve and fine-tune what you are doing through research, reading, going to seminars and by seeking out advice from others that might currently be performing to a higher level than you. Consumer behaviours are evolving at a rapid pace that the way a sales or business person operated ten, five or even just one or two years ago is likely to be outdated and less effective than it could be. Of course, not everything that you try will work, but it is essential to have a mindset of continual improvement to be successful.
They do not know their numbers
One of the common mistakes that salespeople make is that they do not have a high enough level of self-awareness and accountability. They do not know or track their productivity numbers regularly and sometimes not at all. For example, when you ask a salesperson how many calls they have made for the week and they answer “I am not sure, it must be at least 80 or 100”, you know that they are not keeping themselves accountable to a target or goal. Great salespeople can tell you that they made 87 calls out of their target of 100, and from that they identified 15 opportunities to follow up, made 6 firm appointments and 1 sale. Knowledge is power in sales, and knowing your numbers is one of the most important steps towards success.
Something to note about the common mistakes discussed above is that they are very easy habits to fall into, but at the same time they are all very easy things to rectify. So many of the issues fall into the category of being easy to do and easy not to do. If you or someone in your team is underperforming, use this list as a checklist to see where the key areas of improvement might be. We have a number of other articles in this section of the website that will help you to build high-performing sales skills, under the “Sales training” tab.
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