Five sales disasters you need to avoid

It may be a new year, but the news remains fairly grim for retailers. It appears that consumers are in a seemingly-permanent saving mode, unwilling to splash the cash without good reason.


Sales remained flat in November, according to recent figures, raising fears over the health of consumer spending during the key Christmas period.


But it’s not only consumers who are reticent.


If you sell business-to-business, it’s likely that you’ve had to work extra hard for every sale.


Given this environment, as well as the perennial challenge of convincing clients to hand their money over to a start-up, it’s more important than ever to not stuff up your sales pitch.


However, even the best salespeople have endured disasters. We asked five of Australia’s leading sales gurus to share their tales of woe, and the lessons they learned in the process.



Marcia Griffin



Marcia was CEO of Pola Cosmetics in Australia and New Zealand for 15 years before launching her own business, griffin + row. She’s also a motivational speaker and start-up mentor.


Lesson: Don’t forget to listen



A common mistake salespeople make is that they forget they have ears as well as a mouth. After all, “asking” and “listening” come well before “telling” in the dictionary.


I’ve seen many salespeople talk their way into, and then out of, a sale.


It comes down to the questions you ask and how you ask them.


Be curious and interested but not intrusive. Also, be subtle. People hate being sold something but they love to buy.


If you know what your customers’ interests and needs are, you can get them to buy the product from you.


There have been times I have been enthusiastic about my products and talked about them in glowing terms, but missed the point with a customer.


They may have been interested in just one of the products I was selling, but not all of them.


That’s when I needed to stop talking. I should have found out what they’re interested in.


Start with a great opening sentence followed by asking them “does that sound interesting to you?”


Once they identify their interests, you need to understand your product’s benefits. Identify which one of these benefits is most suited to your customer’s needs.


If you can demonstrate an immediate benefit, do it. Rather than talk about it, show it.


Even give them the phone number of another customer with similar needs – it cuts through a lot of stuff. But you can only say that when you understand what they’re interested in.


There are so many ways to reassure people but you can’t reassure them until you know what they’re interested in. Ask, listen, then tell.





Sue Barrett




Sue is the founder and managing director of Barrett, one of Australia’s leading sales consultancies. She also regularly writes for SmartCompany.


Lesson: Where are your notes?


A personal horror story of mine occurred way back in my very early says of selling. I learnt a very salient, if not embarrassing, lesson.


When I was in my first consulting role, I turned up to a sales meeting with a prospective client, with no note-taking materials.


Up until that time, I had never been told to take notes by my managers. I hadn’t thought about taking notes myself. I relied on my memory.


However, this time was different. I sat down and proceeded to ask the client questions without taking notes.


The client stopped me in my tracks and asked “why aren’t you taking notes? How can you possibly understand me and my business if you do not take notes?”


“Bloody salespeople never take notes. What do they teach you anyway?”


I didn’t know what to say. I was in shock.


After a long silence, the client handed me a notepad and pen, and we picked up where we left off with me taking notes.


I have taken notes ever since for a good reason – it really works.


It never ceases to amaze me how many salespeople (of all ages) still do not take notes when they are speaking to clients over the phone or face-to-face.


Over the past 10 years, we have been running a true-to-life sales fitness simulation exercise where we have tested thousands of salespeople.


Part of the exercise requires people to listen to a body of text which has vital information in it.


Sadly, the vast majority of people (over 90%) do not take notes, which severely impacts their ability to successfully complete the exercise.


When we debrief afterwards, many confess that they don’t take notes in the field either. Point made.



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