Nothing is worse than embarrassing yourself in front of a potential client. As a business owner, you know any slip up can damage your reputation and lose the sale. Here are four of the most common blunders, and the best ways to avoid them.
Guessing the wrong gender. During a morning meeting at Sales Huddle Group, a sports consulting company in New York City, an associate got on a conference call with the client, Jean Williams. When Williams picked up, the associate asked for "Mr. Williams." Sales Huddle founder Sam Caucci recalls that the client, a woman, was not happy.
"There was a pause, then the woman on the other line snapped, ‘Mr. Williams has nothing to do with your company; if you want to speak with me, Jean Williams, you will have to call back later,’” Caucci says. “I’m pretty sure we lost that sale.”
If your client has an androgynous name such as Alex, Cameron, Riley or Pat, and you’ve never met or spoken with them on the phone, don’t assume anything. Caucci recommends re-reading e-mails to look for a reference to gender before the call.
Arguing with the customer.
Kat Rucker, a sales professional in Hayward, Calif., witnessed a disastrous disagreement at a previous company she worked for, resulting in the loss of a sale. The rep was explaining a product when the client interrupted and challenged the validity of the rep’s statement. This intrusion bothered the rep and an argument ensued, ending with the client hanging up mid-conversation.
Listen intently to the customer, recommends Rucker. “If they are wrong, let them be wrong,” she says. “Proving them wrong won’t get you a sale.” Respectfully steer the conversation in another direction, and continue to deliver your points.
Misidentifying the boss. Becky Sheetz-Runkle and a co-worker walked into a sales meeting. In front of them sat a gray-haired older gentleman and a woman in her mid-30s. The co-worker immediately started selling to the man, not realizing that the woman was in charge. The mix-up was pointed out, the sale was lost and the co-worker left red-faced.
“Don’t assume anything,” says Sheetz-Runkle, author of Sun Tzu for Women, a book on business success tips. The mistake is all too common and can be avoided by asking questions early on, not going straight for the elevator pitch.
Telling inappropriate jokes. As a consumer, Sheetz-Runkle was put on hold by a sales associate and told it would be a long wait. When the man came back on the phone less than a minute later, she commented on his speed. His response was highly inappropriate.
“I think he thought he was being funny. I didn’t appreciate the comment and got off the phone as quickly as I could.”
Informal humor can go terribly wrong. “Humor is great, but make sure it is appropriate.” she says.
What are some of your most embarrassing sales call moments? What advice can you offer new business owners before their first call?
Learn more in OPEN Forum's Sales Check-In 2012 series.
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