Salesmen talking: The 7 worst mistakes

By Kristin Zhivago on Aug 1, 2008

They're supposed to be selling. In other words, they are supposed to be making it easy for customers to understand what they have to offer, to get their questions answered, and to make a buying decision.

But, unfortunately, as good as many of them think they are - and as good as you may think they are - what they are saying actually makes it difficult for the customer to understand what your company has to offer, and make a buying decision. The answers raise more questions than they answer - while leaving the original questions unanswered. And, they force the customer, who had been almost ready to buy, to back away from buying because of all the new doubts that the salesperson raised during the call. If you listened in on the calls - you would be shocked by what you heard.

This is what I hear, over and over and over, as I evaluate salescalls for clients. I'm focusing a lot on this lately, because so many companies are managing to get leads in the virtual door, but their salespeople just aren't closing them at a rate that is appropriate for their product and their market. And, fixing this one aspect of your business makes a huge difference in your revenue growth. You've already paid to get the customer to your doorstep, and to get that customer excited enough about your product to be willing to face a salesperson. If your salesperson were doing the right thing, all that previous effort wouldn't be going to waste.

How do salespeople prevent the sale from happening? Here are the most common ways. I'll write this as if talking to your salespeople, so you can pass it along:

1) You talk too fast. Yes, you have to make a bunch of calls today. Yes, you've said it all before, hundreds of times, and you're tired of hearing yourself say it. But every call is a NEW call to the customer. All of the information is NEW - to the customer. This is the first time the customer has heard your pitch. Besides, what's the point of talking if you're talking too fast to be understood? The point of saying anything is to communicate, not regurgitate. If you're talking faster than they can absorb it, you're wasting your time and their time. You may as well hang up the phone and let them call a more helpful competitor, which is what they will do as soon as they can get you off the phone.

2) You say things, in passing, that raise a BIG RED FLAG. "I'm not an engineer, usually I sell to engineers, but you're not an engineer either, so we can skip all that engineering spiel and just talk about basics." This is something - almost word for word - that I just heard on a call.

That is what the salesman said. Here's what the customer heard: "I'm not really qualified to sell this software, but I do it anyway, all day long. I'm really just a glib sales guy who does the same old spiel all day. I don't think very highly of myself, but I do it anyway. It's a job. And, since you don't understand this stuff either, I'll make this as simple-minded as I can for you."

The salesperson has sent a very clear message: "I don't respect myself, and I don't respect you either, but you called, so I'll talk."

3) You constantly rush the customer. "Yep." "Right." "OK." "Gotcha." "Uh-huh." These are just a few of the words that you are probably using to interrupt the customer so you can talk. You think you know what they are going to say, and you have lots of calls to make, so you want to save time by interrupting them and given them the answer you think they want.

Well, you're making a big mistake. You're removing one of the most essential aspects of a successful sales call: The customer's feeling that he has been heard and understood. Remember, he's bringing up all these issues because he has done a lot of investigation already, and now he has a couple of very specific questions for you.

Again, even if you think you have heard that question before, shut the heck up and let him ask the question. The entire question. Wait until you know that he feels he has stated his question in its entirety, THEN answer it.

4) You don't answer the question the customer asked. You may not know the answer to the question. You may not understand the question, and you're too proud or embarrassed to ask for clarification. You may think you know what he asked, but you really didn't listen well enough to pick up on the subtleties (yes, that means you CAN'T do your email while you are "listening"). You may think, "I've heard this question 5,795 times before. I know what he is worried about" - and then you launch into your boilerplate "answer."

So now, the customer has tried to ask a question, you have not heard or understood it, and you deliver an "answer" that doesn't answer the question at all. Talk about wasting his time! Not to mention how insulting this is.

And, guess what? This ONE little interaction, this seemingly tiny little infraction, could easily cause the customer to shut the door in your face. It happens all the time. "Well, obviously, this guy hasn't heard what I've said, or he's trying to avoid answering my real question, so now I can't trust this company to meet my needs. Time to call the next vendor." This is what he'll be thinking while you are yammering away with your non-answer. You'll be thinking, "I'm delivering a great pitch!" and he'll be thinking, "I'm outta here!"

5) You go on and on and on and on.... Salespeople often go into sales because they like being the expert. They learn something well enough to talk about it, and then they talk about it all day long. They like hearing themselves talk like an expert, so they overdo it.

A customer wants a thin smart phone. So he asks, "How thick is it?" You should say, "It's 10 millimeters thick. You say you have a Motorola RAZR now? That's 13.9 millimeters. So it's 28% thinner than your RAZR."

That is a good answer. It contains the actual measurement, and a specific, easy-to-understand comparison.

The long-winded, look-how-much-I-know version would be: "It's one of the thinnest smart phones on the market, and the lightest, too. It's only 10 millimeters thick. It's thinner than an iPhone. And, the body is made out of high-density plastic and stainless steel...." I could go on - and the salesman will - but you get the point. What if this person has never held an iPhone? Why provide all this information? Why tell him things he probably already found out on his own? You're wasting your time and his.

If you listen, you will know what the client knows already (such as knowing they have a RAZR in hand), and you will make your answer relevant to the customer.

6) You really don't care about the customer, and the customer knows it. All you care about is making a sale. All the customer cares about is solving his problem.

If you make a genuine effort to focus on solving that customer's problem - whether you make a sale or not - the customer will appreciate it and reward you, any way he can. Even if he doesn't buy from you (because you couldn't really solve his problem) he will refer others to you, others who will come to you pre-sold, simply because you tried to help him. And, he will come back when he has another problem, one that he thinks you might be able to solve.

We all tend to remember the people who helped us in some way.

7) You talk more than you listen. If I could get one message across to ALL salespeople in the world, the message would be this: Sales come from listening, not talking.

If you don't listen to "where they are," you can't take them to "where they want to go." If you don't listen to "what they've already tried," you can't suggest the correct next step. If you don't listen to the question, you won't be giving them the right answer, and they will know it.

If you don't listen to the subtle (or even the not-so-subtle) hints they're dropping, you will fail one of their tests, and you will lose the sale.

During every conversation with every customer, you are being tested.
Underlying every single question is really a battery of tests:

Is this guy hearing me?

Is this guy answering my question?

Is this guy being honest?

Is this guy treating me like an intelligent person - or an idiot?

Is this guy trying to show me how smart he is - at the expense of solving my problem, or is he really trying hard to help me?

Is this guy rambling on about stuff I don't care about, or does he give me a straight answer and then let me ask my next question?

Does he really not know the answer? And, instead of saying, "I don't know, but I'll find out," he's serving up a bunch of BS?

Is he talking too fast, faster than I can absorb it or take notes, or is he talking at a respectful speed?

Does he really care if I am 'getting it' or not?

If I were you, I'd print out this list, and tape it up next to my phone.

Each of your answers either passes these tests or fails.
Your customer will allow you one failure - after all, we all make mistakes - but when he catches you in a second one, you're toast.

In his mind, you've switched from someone who made an honest mistake to a liar who can't be trusted. He will start to make his exit.

He will still be smiling and nodding; that's what you will "hear." But he will also be walking backwards toward the exit, pretending he is still interested. He's doing that so you will stop talking and let him go, because you are fooled into thinking that he will be taking the next step.


If your salespeople stopped making these 7 mistakes, your sales would improve. Unfortunately, seeing one article won't do the trick. Salespeople are creatures of habit who need constant reminding and coaching from someone in-house who knows how to motivate salespeople to do the right thing.

I just helped a client find such a supervisor. It took some doing, because the effective ones are very, very rare. Every mildly ambitious salesperson wants to be a sales manager, but very few have what it takes. They can talk the talk - making you believe they could be an effective manager. But, they can't walk the walk - without a near-impossible, deliberate and violent shift in character.

Today's buyers are researching on the Web, then calling. At this stage, they are already far along in their buying process. They want to give you their money. Are your salespeople making that easy, or preventing it?

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