7 Common Sales Mistakes to Avoid

Though your sales staff probably isn’t as inept as this bumbling salesman, they could still be making one of the seven mistakes he makes. Find out what they are as you follow “Arnie” on a sales call.

Arnie entered the reception area hurriedly, and found just enough breath to tell Mary Lucille, the Executive Assistant that “the traffic was awful out there today. That’s why I’m ten minutes late, which I’m sure you and Stewart will understand.”

That’s Arnie’s first common sales call mistake. No, neither Mary Lucille nor Stewart will understand or excuse Arnie’s tardiness. He should have allowed ample time to combat traffic congestion, bad weather, getting lost, car trouble, and anything else that would prevent prompt, or preferably early, arrival.

Mary Lucille didn’t respond to Arnie’s statement. Instead, she told him that Stewart Evans was ready to see him now, and led him to the door.

Stewart looked at his watch, rose, shook hands with Arnie, and then shut the door. “Welcome to our headquarters,” Stewart said.

“Glad to be here,” Arnie responded. “I’ll say this-you have a great secretary out there. Mary Louise made me feel welcomed right away.”

Stewart said, “Her name is Mary Lucille.”

Now we have witnessed common mistakes number two and three. Number two–getting the gatekeeper’s name wrong–demonstrates poor listening skills, and suggests that Arnie might respect only those in top positions. The third mistake was using the outmoded title “secretary.” So when Stewart and Mary Lucille compare notes afterward, they will agree that Arnie lacked basic skills for opening a sales conversation.

“We’re glad you feel welcome, Arnie,” Stewart continued. “Of course, our time is limited, and will be even shorter since we’re starting ten minutes after the scheduled time. So please tell me why you are here.”

“Sure, but if I have trouble concentrating today, maybe it will be good for you to know that yesterday I took our dog Sparky to the veterinarian. Sparky is like a part of the family, you know. Been real sick lately. I’m worried about what the vet will tell us.”

There’s common mistake number four. Stewart didn’t agree to an appointment with Arnie to discuss Arnie’s problems. The reverse was the case. Stewart wanted to talk about his own company’s problems, and then give Arnie a chance to offer solutions.

“Uh, too bad. Hope your news will be surprisingly good. Now let’s get to what you came here to discuss.”

“Well,” Arnie responded, “I understand that your business has used Sure-Fire Pest Control Company for the last few years. As you know, I represent Ultimate Protection Pest Control. This seemed like a good time for me to come and talk with you.”

“Why now especially?”

“Oh, because I’m sure you’ve read the newspaper stories about the lawsuit a local restaurant filed against Sure-Fire Pest Control. Radio and TV covered the story too, so it’s unlikely you missed it. The restaurant lost its sanitation rating because customers complained of rats and roaches running under the tables. I’m sure you don’t want to do business with Sure-Fire any longer.”

Not only is mistake number five more common than you’d guess, it is also a colossal blunder. Citing bad news about your competitor will not gain positive ground for you. The opposite happens. Why? It appears that your company has no clear advantages to offer, because you haven’t mentioned them yet. If your only benefit is that someone else is worse, you’re doomed to lose the sale.

“We’ve had no problems at all with their service,” Stewart said. “So no, we are not in the market for a different vendor.”

Now Arnie feels deflated. So he counters with, “Hey, speaking of restaurants, did you hear about what comedian Henny Youngman said to the maitre d’ every time Henny entered his favorite New York restaurant as a customer?”

Checking his watch quite noticeably, as he had at the outset, Stewart wanted to protest, but Arnie cut him off.

“Well, you gotta hear the punch line.”

No, he doesn’t gotta. This is mistake number six. Alert sales professionals pick up on nonverbal cues. They consider them valid indicators of a prospect’s feelings, and they change their strategy immediately. Arnie didn’t do that, so he kept talking.

“Without fail, Henny would say ‘Get me a table near a waiter.'” Arnie slapped his knee and started laughing raucously. “Isn’t that hilarious?”

Mistake number seven: Arnie relied on an obsolete sales approach, using humor to move away from a sensitive topic. Maybe sales calls tolerated that smoke screen during less sophisticated times, but not in this generation. In fact, jokes are taboo in most sales settings. Heavily scheduled executives might view them as time wasters. Even if that’s not the case, can everyone tell a story with the skill of Letterman or Leno? And with the prevalence of the Internet, how sure is anyone that he or she can tell a joke your prospect hasn’t heard or read? Plus, most jokes have a fall guy. Suppose your prospective client has a special fondness for someone you have derided?

“Arnie, we’ll have to end this conversation now. My company intends to continue our contract with Sure-Fire.” Standing, he headed for the door.

Waving goodbye, Arnie turned his gaze toward the Executive Assistant, saying, “Thanks again, Mary Louise.”

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