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10 Rookie Mistakes That Experienced Salespeople Still Make

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The longer you’ve been in sales, the more experience you pick up to fine-tune your process … and in some circumstances, the more ingrained bad habits become. Senior reps sometimes have a harder time identifying tactics that no longer work and weeding them out than junior salespeople, simply because they’re so used to those good old acquired habits that die hard.

The day a salesperson stops tweaking and refining their process is the day they stop being a rainmaker. No matter how long you’ve been selling, you might still be making one (or a couple) of these 10 mistakes.

1) Not developing rapport with the prospect.

This is a fundamental selling skill, and yet many experienced reps forget that they still need to do it -- and do it well. We all know that people buy from people they like -- and becoming liked is a function of building rapport from the very first interaction.

How to fix: If you’re in sales, it’s probably because you’re comfortable with and enjoy meeting new people and building relationships. You know when you’re forming a bond with someone, and when the connection is still a bit strained. The steps you take to building rapport aren’t a secret -- you just have to do them. Make a genuine effort, inquire about your prospects’ interests outside of work if appropriate, and follow your instincts. Don’t rely on comments about the weather -- you can do better than that.

2) Not asking questions.

Sales is all about asking the right discovery and qualification questions to understand the prospect, their pains, and if your product or service could act as the painkiller. Effective salespeople adopt the motto ABH (Always Be Helping) instead of ABC (Always Be Closing). And how can you help if you’re not asking the right questions?

How to fix: Talk less, and ask more questions. After you ask a question, stop talking and just listen. Remember, there’s a reason we have two ears but just one mouth.

3) Not working off the prospect’s answers and/or answering questions that were never asked.

It’s wise to ask good questions. However, many reps make the mistake of rattling through each and every feature of the product -- no matter whether the prospects’ answers showed interest in those particular features or not.

How to fix: You don’t have to stick to your demo script and feature list religiously. In fact, it's better to work off your prospect’s specific needs (which, if you've asked good questions, they've already told you about). Take the conversation only (only!) in the direction that’s important to them, not to you. If the prospect isn’t asking about something, why are you talking about it? Get rid of your assumptions about what the buyer cares about. Listen to their pain and then connect the dots only to the relevant parts of your offering.

4) Not hearing the question behind the question.

It’s easy to take the question “How much does it cost?” or “How long does it take to install?” at face value. But simply answering these questions without digging deeper is a grave mistake. There is a reason they're asking -- and it might not be the one you typically think of.

How to fix: Don’t just listen to the question -- listen to the question behind the question. For example, why is the prospect really asking about price? You might think it’s because they are worried about budget approval. However, could it be that they're trying to understand more about what they are getting? Or what if it’s because they want to fill out a purchase order right as they speak? If you don’t probe for the question behind the question, you won’t know how to best answer their inquiry.

5) Information overload.

Many reps talk too much. This is bad. Worse, however, is committing the cardinal sin of throwing out as much information as possible, and hoping something will stick. To me, this is one of the biggest sales killers. Does everyone have the same exact issues? No. Then why are you showing a canned, generic, template demo deck?

How to fix: If you’ve asked informed questions, and listened carefully to the prospect’s answers, you’ll understand their specific pain points. So don’t just trot out the standard demo with 20 slides -- customize your presentation to the two or three screens the buyer cares most about. You might even ask your prospect “What are your top three concerns?” or “What are you most interested in seeing live?” and then tailor your demo accordingly (even if that means you have to reschedule the call for a few days later so you have sufficient time to put together a more tailored presentation). This practice takes more time, but it significantly increases your win rate.

6) Giving a premature presentation.

Somewhat related to the previous point is a mistake I see all too often. Reps often want to show the demo right away -- even before they truly understand the prospect’s needs.

How to fix: A good rule of thumb is to never jump into a presentation or a demo before you understand the prospect’s pain and specific interests. Here is a quick gut check for yourself -- if you don’t know how you need to customize your deck, you shouldn’t be showing it at all.

7) Not practicing ABH.

“Always Be Helping” is fairly self-explanatory, but it has a less obvious connotation for sales reps: If you’re not helping, you shouldn’t be selling. Reps sweating quota will often sell to prospects they can’t truly help just to make their number. But what happens when the customer has a bad experience and churns? It takes a toll on your credibility and the company’s bottom line.

How to fix: Reps must practice ABH each and every day. If that's not your disposition, then learn how to do it. As Zig Ziglar said, you'll get whatever you want if you help enough people get what they want. All you have to do is ask yourself, “How can I help this prospect, and what do I need to do to be helpful?”

If you’ve asked the right questions and realize that you can’t genuinely help a buyer, then don’t go through with the sale. It’s more important to be helpful than to just sell for the sake of making a deal. Don’t sell to people you can’t help. It’ll come back to bite you in the end whether it’s through customers churning or your reputation becoming tarnished.

8) No next steps.

This is a sale you need, a deal in the making … yet many experienced reps let opportunities decay because they didn't agree on mutually agreed next steps! What’s next? Is it another call? A demo? A proposal? The salesperson doesn’t know because they didn’t ask. It’s a head scratcher, but sadly, a fairly common mistake.

How to fix: Make sure you leave enough time at the end of every call to discuss what happens next. And it’s critical to establish a follow up before you hang up the phone -- trying to track a prospect down after the call ends is next to impossible.

9) Selling based on price.

No matter how many times they’re instructed to sell on value, some reps still focus on -- or even lead with -- price. Many rookie reps will make a comment like “And by the way, this product is the cheapest on the market” before they’ve even talked about the prospect’s pain! This is simply shooting yourself in the foot. People have the perception that they get what they pay for, and by focusing on price, you devalue your product in your buyer's eyes.

How to fix: Never lead with price; let it come up on its own. People buy with emotion and justify their purchase with logic, so if you’ve established value and shown how the product can solve a pressing problem, price shouldn’t matter as much. You might be worrying about it more than your buyer is.

10) Not asking for the sale.

In sales training you learn that you need to ask for the sale. But even experienced reps sometimes forget to actually ask for the business either out of fear of rejection or not having qualified well enough to realize the deal is in the final stage and it's time to take that critical step. However, just remember that a clear “no” is far better than uncertainty that drags on and on. At least with a "no," you can purge the opportunity out of your pipeline and focus on high-probability opportunities rather than wasting time beating around the bush.

How to fix: If you followed your process, listened, helped the prospect, have the pain-killer product, and know it's the right fit, then have the confidence to ask for the sale. You have a quota to hit and your business to grow. You know this step is critical, so just do it!

What do you think of this list? What are some of the other selling mistakes you see experienced reps make?

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