As you might have noticed, HubSpot is on a mission to stop salespeople from using selfish, slimy, lazy, trust-destroying, profession-damaging sales tactics.
We've published a lot of articles recently that describe what salespeople should stop doing. They should stop sending self-serving prospecting emails and annoyingly persistent follow-up emails. They should stop spamming prospects on Linkedin and stop using these other underhanded social selling tricks to get appointments.
But we're not the only ones who want to help salespeople earn trust and respect from buyers, or fix our profession’s image problem. I asked salespeople and buyers alike what slimy sales behaviors they wished salespeople would ditch. As you can see below, there was no shortage of additional suggestions.
15 Sales Tactics That Destroy Trust
1) Pretending to Be a Prospect
John-Henry Scherck, a growth marketing manager at DocSend, says, "Don't pretend to be a sales lead with no intention of actually buying just so you can flip the script and try and sell them."
He's seen too many salespeople try and fail to pull this off.
"If you're going to try and sell to a company, the last thing you should do is tie up unrelated resources just so you can get your foot in the door," Scherk says. "Everyone's time is so valuable on the sales floor. Creating a fake sales opportunity is really selfish: It shows the seller is willing to try and make their quota at the expense of the organizations they are selling into. Once you're found out, your credibility and your company's reputation are sullied."
Never be dishonest about your intentions. It doesn't matter if you're approaching a C-level executive, a gatekeeper, or a sales development rep. Pretending to be a prospect is unethical and may get you in hot water. If you need to get your foot in the door, there are better ways to do it than tying up a rep's time with a bogus lead. Try a well-crafted, personalized, relevant prospecting email or just try being honest with whoever you connect.
2) Using "RE:" In Your Subject Line
"Lately, I've seen a rash of salespeople sending emails with subject lines that start with 'RE:'," says Paige Worthy, a writer and freelance marketing consultant.
Salespeople use this deceitful little trick to get prospect's attention because the "RE:" implies a prior relationship or previous communication. After all, most of us are a bit more likely to open and read an email response.
But salespeople need to do the work to form an actual relationship. As Worthy puts it, "If your product is solid, you don't need to engage in shady tactics to get my attention."
While not all prospects may be willing to engage just based on a product's merits, salespeople should stop employing this tactic because it destroys trust instantly. And experts agree.
"Nothing annoys me more than when I get a sales email from someone I’ve never spoken to in my life with “RE:” as the subject line," Jill Rowley writes. "This might earn you a few extra email opens, but it brands the salesperson as a liar and kills their credibility. And a salesperson with no credibility can’t sell much of anything at all -- no matter how many people open their emails."
3) Tricking Prospects Into Calling You Back
Just like tricking a prospect into opening an email, leaving a vague voicemail in an attempt to get a prospect to call back doesn't help salespeople gain trust either.
Rebecca Lehmann, a content marketing manager at Brad's Deals, says one of her biggest pet peeves is when reps "leave voicemails with just their name and phone number and no information about why they're calling or what company they represent."
By not sharing who they are or where they work, salespeople are trying to infer that they're a buyer or someone other than a salesperson. But most prospects are immune to this trick these days.
"If you are vague about why you're calling, I'll assume you're selling something," Lehmann says. "And I'm 100% guaranteed not to bother calling you back if I know nothing about you. Tell the truth and I might call back if I'm curious or interested. But if you hope to have a conversation with me, you need to let me decide if you're worth calling back."
4) Sending Unsolicited Calendar Invites
Recently I received a handful of calendar invites from people I didn't recognize. I asked around and found out I wasn't the only one who had recently experienced this. Salespeople seem to be using calendar invites to evade spam filters and get right on my calendar instead of calling or emailing first to connect.
Some of you are probably thinking, "That's a great idea!" Think again. I've been a victim of this tactic a few times. I got pissed that a salesperson could be so presumptuous, then even more so when I realized the rep clogged my calendar, preventing someone else (whom I wanted to meet with) from scheduling a call.
This shouldn’t have to be said, but salespeople should always get buy-in for a meeting before scheduling one.
5) Focusing Only on Yourself
Marc Wayshak, a top sales motivation speaker and Boston-based sales trainer, says, "Prospects don't care about you. Stop worrying about presenting yourself and your capabilities. Focus on them."
In the video below, Marc shares how this and six other deadly mistakes are costing salespeople sales in many ways, not just turning off prospects.
As HubSpot CRO Mark Roberge explains, the first step in building a buyer-focused sales process is to define the buyer's journey.
"Legacy sales teams build their sales process around their own needs, not their buyers’," Roberge writes. "As a result, the seller and buyer feel misaligned. Furthermore, this self-serving process delivers minimal value to the buyer. Inbound sales teams avoid this issue by starting with the Buyer’s Journey. Before they ever pick up a phone or send an email, they make it a priority to understand their buyer’s world."
6) Showing Up to Meetings Unprepared
"Salespeople need to stop showing up to sales meetings unprepared," Dave Brock, a seasoned sales executive turned sales consultant, says. "Being unprepared is the ultimate display of disrespect to a prospect. It shows you don't value their time."
Before going to any meeting, Brock suggests asking yourself, "What value am I going to create for the customer in this meeting?"
If you can't answer Brock's question in terms relevant and important to the customer, cancel the meeting, or call back and establish better goals for the call.
Without a plan, calls are inefficient at best and a waste of time at worst. When setting an agenda, make sure your goals and the customer's goals are both covered, if not fully aligned. Salespeople must show up to sales calls with a plan and communicate it to their prospects by setting an agenda.
If a prospect wants to take a call in a different direction, that’s fine. But salespeople shouldn’t dive right into the call without an agenda or stray from a set plan, as prospects won’t be able to follow along if they can’t see the path ahead of them.
7) Not Listening
In his blog post '12 Most Annoying Behaviors of Salespeople,' sales analyst and internet marketer Douglas Rice put "not listening" as the number one most annoying thing salespeople do.
In fact, he has been instructed to ignore objections raised by prospects and to continue pitching.
"If you don’t acknowledge the customer’s concern, I’ve been told, they will forget about it," Rice writes. "I completely disagree with this approach. It is a major turn-off to the customer when you ignore them. They want to be heard before they want to be sold in the same way that a patient would want to be heard before being diagnosed."
It's important to listen to customers whether they're just shooting the breeze, sharing their ideas or expressing concerns. If someone's telling you not to, tell them to shut up and read my guide to active listening.
8) Trying to Upsell Right Away
Sometimes, prospects come in ready to buy. For companies that have a well-known brand, are in retail, and/or who effectively generate leads through inbound marketing, their prospects may show up informed about their company's offerings. They might even know which product or which type of product they're looking to buy. In fact, HubSpot Research's new study, Buyers Speak Out: How Sales Needs to Evolve, revealed that 58% and 54% of prospects wanted to talk about pricing and how a product works on their first call, respectively.
The problem? Salespeople are usually too eager to upsell on the first call. Just because a prospect talks price and product features doesn't mean they are ready to buy, let alone buy the high-priced product. Instead, focus on helping prospects choose the right product for them, even if it's the cheaper option.
This advice doesn't only apply to salespeople. Tyler Brooks, founder of digital strategy firm Analytive, almost inadvertently signed up to pay for a website membership as he was registering for his first half marathon. The website managing the registration for the event had a final screen on the checkout that looked like a simple terms of service with an 'I agree' box, but the fine print revealed he was agreeing to become a member of the site and pay an additional $70 per year.
“If you're going to make an offer, don't try and disguise it as a terms of service agreement," Brooks says. "It should be clear what the ask is. I bet [the company] makes a lot of money with this tactic but upsets a lot of people in the process."
9) The "Bait and Switch"
Steve Richard, founder of sales process improvement technology provider ExecVision, hates "the bait and switch." In software especially, Richard says, too many companies hook prospects by saying their product or service is free (or has a free trial period), then reveal on their first call that the product is paid "from day one," or that salesperson is allowed to control or shorten the trial period. In a professional services business, a different kind of bait and switch happens when a salesperson says they will personally be providing the service, then someone else shows up to provide it.
These lies damage trust and aren't even necessary. If you sell a service delivered by someone else, take the time to explain the credentials of the person delivering the service. (If they aren't qualified, you have a problem bigger than sales tactics.) If you advertise a free trial, provide one. I recently started a free trial for a service only to find that I needed to pay to do anything more than look at the interface. Meanwhile, I was barraged by phone calls and emails from the sales rep who was unwilling to answer my questions over email and desperate to get me on a phone call to sell me their enterprise plan.
Whenever you're tempted to try a bait and switch, remember Richard's advice: "Say what you are going to do. Do what you say."
10) Trash-Talking Prospects to Peers
Another one of Dave Brock's pet peeves is when salespeople insult their prospects.
"Too often, I hear salespeople talking to their peers about how clueless and incompetent the customer is," Brock says. "Their disdain for the customer is huge. They think they can mask this when they see the customer. But if they have that internal disdain and disrespect for the customers, they are probably not."
First things first, if you do this -- stop. Additionally, find joy in helping people progress. Remember, the fact that prospects don't know what we know is what pays our bills.
Also remember not to shoot the messenger. Sometimes prospects are victims of external or internal factors that prevent them from knowing or doing better. To be a great salesperson, you must be empathetic -- ask questions and use active listening so you can understand a prospect's challenges instead of judging them. This will lead to opportunities for you to help, which will lead to sales.
11) Refusing to Take "No" For an Answer
Matthew Cook, CEO of sales and marketing agency SalesHub, suggests that salespeople should be more willing to accept a "no."
Many sales experts suggest that salespeople should never take a no. That approach worked well for a while, of course. But things are different today. Buyers aren't dependent on salespeople for buying decisions. Today, persistence may lead to a sale, but applied without skill and thoughtfulness, it is just as likely to lead to a restraining order.
"If the answer is no, take it and move on," Cook writes. "Otherwise, you’ll just be wasting time, effort, and resources on a lead that is never going to buy instead of focusing on other prospects who actually will."
12) Being Too Accommodating
While you should be careful of being too pushy, salespeople can also be too accommodating. Prospects, whether they admit it or not, want to talk to experts who can open their eyes to new solutions to their challenges.
But when reps are desperate to close deals, they often don't want to rock the boat by asking tougher questions. These salespeople just focus on answering questions and accommodating requests, which rarely leads the prospect to any new insights. Salespeople must ask questions that make a prospect think critically about their situation.
13) Telling Prospects What They Want to Hear
Some salespeople don't just accommodate their prospects. They pander to them by telling them what they want to hear.
"Salespeople need to tell prospects what they need to know, not just want they want to hear," Mike Lieberman, HubSpot partner and co-founder of Square 2 Marketing, said. "In today's world, the hardest part of selling is making prospects feel like they are making a safe decision. To do this effectively, salespeople need to give prospects all the information they need, so they can make a good decision for their business even if it means not getting them as a client."
You might be tempted to cut corners when setting proper expectations for customers. Your victory will be short-lived, though -- in fact, I recently fired a company for not setting proper expectations just 30 days into our agreement. Moral of the story: Salespeople should stop skipping expectation-setting steps just to get the sale more quickly.
Author, speaker, and top sales expert Geoffrey James writes that a bad habit many salespeople have is "underestimating the complexity of the opportunity and closing the deal by promising something their firm can't deliver."
This behavior is toxic to customer relationships. James recommends sales compensation be, at least partially, tied to customer satisfaction.
"That way, you encourage a long-term view and keep the sales team from indulging in behaviors that make quarterly figures look good -- but create problems down the line," he writes.
15) Making Prospects Feel Guilty if They Don't Buy
Marie-Helene Mahy, a key account manager at sales intelligence platform CompanyBook shared a personal experience with me about a recruiter that was upset when Marie-Helene cancelled a scheduled interview. Here's her story:
A year ago, I spoke to a handful of recruiters as I was actively looking for a new job selling digital marketing to SMEs. I finally found a company and role that I knew I'd love, so I notified one of the recruiters that I was narrowing down my choices. One of the recruiters -- who had previously told me they had no relevant role for me -- lined up five other interviews through her recruitment agency.
Even though I was pretty certain I'd get an offer from the company I liked, she hounded me every hour, on the hour, to get these scheduled. When I received the offer from the company I had found on my own, I called the recruiter to tell her I didn’t want to waste the interviewers' time, since I had already made up my mind. Instead of congratulating me and suggesting to keep in touch, she decided to trash-talk the company I chose and told me that I'd regret my decision and that I'd probably call her back soon.
Mahy was shocked by the recruiter's reaction. She wondered, "Did she really think that what she was saying was going to make me change my mind?"
If the recruiter had taken the time to build a relationship with Mahy, she might have been able to source more relevant interviews or convince her to proceed with the interviews and consider another offer. But because of the recruiter's unprofessional behavior, Mahy is unlikely to take her phone call in the future.
This type of guilt certainly has no place in recruiting or any other sales role. I recently tried to buy a mattress, and the in-store rep tried a number of selfish sales tactics to get me to make a purchase, the last of which was trying to make me feel guilty for not buying an expensive option. As you can read in my post, it did nothing other than piss me off. I’ll never go back to that store, just out of spite.
We Can Do Better
All 15 of these slimy sales tactics help reps lose sales more often than they advance them. So it's a real mystery to me why salespeople keep doing this stuff. Salespeople aren't just shooting themselves in the foot, though -- one bad egg can change a buyer's perception of all salespeople. These 15 behaviors must stop if our profession is to regain the respect it deserves. We can do better. I implore you to try.
If you need help adapting your sales process to the modern buyer, take HubSpot’s free on-demand sales training course.