One of the best things about sales is that it is a skill. Like typing or golf, it can be learned. Now, does it help if you are a so-called “natural”? Sure, but it’s not required. With some training and practice, almost anyone can improve their sales sills.
In his great book, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey talks about the importance of “sharpening your saw,” that is, the importance of continuously working to improve your skills. In that vein then, here are 12 mistakes business people commonly make when it comes to sales. So go ahead, sharpen your saw, and cut a few of these out of your shtick:
1. Thinking product instead of customer. Mediocre sales come from thinking, “I have a product I need to sell to this customer.” Superior sales come from thinking, “I have this customer and how can my product help him?”
2. Trying to convince. You may convince someone to buy something once, but you will not earn a long-term customer because people don’t become long-term customers by being talked into things. High-pressure sales are one-off deals. If you want to create a loyal customer, you work to inform, not coerce.
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3. Judging. I have a pal who loves to share the cautionary tale of when he used to sell phone systems. A good sale could easily be $50,000. When he called on a business once and was met by a man in overalls and a southern accent, my friend blew the guy off. That “hick” ended up giving my friend’s biggest competitor a six-figure sale. He never judged like that again.
4. Thinking the customer is dumb. A correlation to 3 is endemic in many organizations: Thinking you are smarter than the customer. The truth is, they know their business better than you. If you take the time to listen, be humble, and learn, you will be better able to serve them, and, sell them in the process.
5. Not being ready. A correlation to 4 occurs when you underestimate your need to prepare. Of course you need to know your product cold, but the more you know about to whom you are selling, the better equipped you will be to convey info, answer questions, and handle objections.
6. Not qualifying a lead. You can waste a lot of time if you try and sell something to someone who really cannot afford—or does not need—what you are selling. Make sure the prospect has the money, sincere desire, ability, and the authority to purchase.
7. Dealing with price before benefits. People do not know whether the price you quoted is a fair one until they know what they are getting for that. Stop. Reverse it. Benefits first, price second. By discussing benefits before price, you establish the value in the product and the price will make more sense.
8. Not realizing that no sometimes really does mean no. Salespeople love to say that ‘no’ really means ‘maybe.’ Well, yes, but ‘no’ also can just mean no and you need to learn to decipher the difference.
9. Know when to hold ‘em, know when to fold ‘em. Recently, I spent many months trying to reel in a new customer while reason after reason was given as to why they “could not commit at this time.” I wanted the deal so bad, I kept on going. Six months in and they still gave no commitment. After eight months, they said no.
10. Not asking for the sale. Yes, this is Sales 101, but it bears repeating. At some point you have to ask for the sale. Sure you risk getting a no at that point. But you also risk getting a yes. And at least you won’t waste eight months.
11. Forgetting to ask for a referral. When I became a professional speaker, one of the best tips I ever got was to have in my contract a clause that says something like, “After the event, if you are thrilled with the speech I gave, you agree to write me a letter of recommendation or will refer me to another potential client.” That clause has gotten me a lot of work and referrals over the years, and it’s an idea that can be used by almost anyone in any industry. Ask for referrals.
12. Failing to follow up with leads. Leads are valuable, referrals are valuable, and both sure beat cold calling. Follow up, follow up, follow up.