Common sales mistakes

Want to know what NOT to do in sales? Here are some pointers.

As markets tighten I thought we could reflect on some lessons learnt in the past by highly experienced, successful sales people.


The following lessons are from some of the participants of my “Sell Like a Woman” research project and make for interesting reading in “what not to do” in sales.


Here is the first part of a three part series on common sales mistakes.



Arrogance and hubris


Sometimes when you are on a roll with a product or brand (or even with your own success as a sales person), it’s way too easy to lose sight of the client’s real needs.


You can easily get caught up in your own mythology. Especially when first starting out as a young rep, I made some disastrous blunders – stopped treating clients as individuals, broke a few core promises because “our brand is so successful now that clients have to understand that we need to do this to keep growing” – and I look back now with shame.


The big changes I made was to go back to basics, remember that I am only as good as last month’s results, and be very, very grateful to both my company AND my client base for paying my wages. [Trudy]



Putting all your eggs in one basket


Probably the biggest mistake I made was to win a contract, and spend the next year developing and growing it, and then over next two and a half years perfecting it. This then made this customer dominate our business. It consumed quite a lot of focus and resource.


Since then, I have ensured that I balance new sales with additional business. I have to keep myself in check, as I tend to give away far too much of myself, in terms of time and company investment, with no guarantee of return. It’s a new process of self discipline, matching output to need without sacrificing value-add. [Helen]


Restricting your contact to one or two in the organisation – the broader the contact, the better understanding you will have of their business. [Libby]



Under-rating your competitors (or believing your own sales story)


Believing everything you read publically about your competitors and what a customer tells you. They do not always match up to what is real and actually happens in the market place. [Stacy]


Selling a service that was not backed up by excellent customer service as I believed it would be. I had to tell the customer that I would do everything to change the internal culture of the organisation, but I couldn’t. I learnt that I need to influence much more than the sales function and since then I have chosen companies that I work for and positions within those companies more wisely. [Hilary]


Bagging the competitors. Oh my, did I have to eat humble pie when I did this early in my career. One of my biggest customers was related to one of my competitors and I nearly lost the whole deal because I shot off my mouth about that competitor company and the person concerned being dodgy. I had no real evidence they were dodgy at all. I just was going on hearsay from the gossip in the field. BIG BIG mistake. [Sally]



Not understanding your customer’s real needs (business and personal)


Not having a broad enough product knowledge and trying to fit my square product into the client round hole. Not understanding the business problem – such as when selling training services and the HR person says they need a certain skill and I didn’t know what the business context was. As a result the service I delivered was a waste of time and money. I learnt to trust my gut instinct; if I didn’t understand why the client wanted to buy I wouldn’t sell anything until I did understand. [Jill]



Selling the client the “Rolls Royce” solution they can’t afford.


The client insisted they required the “big” solution, then I discovered the competitor’s “Holden” was all they could have afforded. Always a trap for young players, especially with government customers. It is always depressing to be told by a client that you were the one they wanted but… [Kate]


Not asking the money questions or doing credit checks to see if your clients can afford it. Then wasting so much time on “no sale” when I could have asked more specific questions to determine the real situation. [Sue]



Sue Barrett is founder and managing director of BARRETT, a boutique consultancy firm. Sue is an experienced consultant, public speaker, coach and facilitator. Sue and her team are best known for their work in creating high performing people and teams. Key to their success is working with the whole person and integrating emotional intelligence, skill, knowledge, behaviour, process and strategy via effective training and coaching programs. Click here to find out more

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