Why even the most skilled salespeople are failing

David Freedman, director at Huthwaite International, looks at the mistakes even the best salespeople make.

With constant targets to meet and pressure to perform, the sales industry is by no means an easy one to succeed in. The difference between closing a deal and losing out often comes down to a tiny margin, and time and again, we see experienced salespeople making the same mistakes, that end up costing them dear. So, where are sales professionals letting themselves down?

Not listening enough

Being a good listener is probably the most overlooked sales skill of all. However, despite it being the backbone of SPIN® Selling, many salespeople spend far too much time talking and nowhere near enough time listening to what their customer truly wants. If you listen attentively and pay attention, the customer will tell you everything you need to know in order to genuinely understand their challenges and requirements, and ultimately, help you close the deal. Not asking enough questions

Linked to listening, is asking questions. This isn’t about revealing your lack of knowledge when it comes to the customer’s business, asking questions is, in fact, a way to start an open discussion around the challenges the customer is facing, allowing you to position yourself as a helpful adviser and problem solver. This also helps you to steer the conversation – meaning you can apply your research findings and start to build a valuable rapport with them, in turn helping to differentiate you from all that white noise. Our research shows successful salespeople ask more of certain types of questions too. Situation questions, for example, are used to uncover the facts and background of the customer’s existing situation, while problem questions are about customer’s problems, difficulties and dissatisfactions.

Not understanding your value proposition

Sales is all about creating value for the customer. Many salespeople don’t understand this concept, and the pressure of meeting strict targets can mean that they get overly aggressive, and try to force the customer into completing a transaction instead of building up the value of whatever it is they’re selling. In order to build value, you must understand the part of your product that solves your customer’s problem, or improves their situation, whether it’s saving them time, money, or helping grow their business in other ways. It’s crucial to be able to adequately communicate this in a clear statement, and in doing so, tell your customer why they should buy from you.

Being too timid

While the fast-talking, overbearing, salesperson annoys most customers beyond belief and is a relic from the past, a timid one won’t last longer than a few months in the profession. If you’re scared to call people, too shy to approach them, and don’t have the courage to ask for the business, you might as well dust off your CV and start searching for a new career.

Lack of follow-up

It’s amazing how many sales reps give up after only one or two follow-ups to a lead or a prospect that they’ve already pitched to. There is, of course, a fine line between legitimately following up with a prospect, and unnecessarily hassling them, but research has shown that it typically takes 8-12 follow-up calls to close a deal, so sales reps who don’t hit those numbers are doing themselves and their sales career a huge disservice.

Focusing too much on the negative

There can be a lot to complain about in sales; the leads aren’t any good, the industry is in a downturn, the bonus structure has changed for the worst. It’s easy to complain, but it gets you absolutely nowhere.

Successful sales reps put aside all negativity and excuses, and make things happen. Are the leads bad? Go out and find prospects yourself. The bonus structure has changed? Sell twice as much! No one has ever reached the top of any sales organisation by complaining.

Not knowing the product and the competition

To succeed in any industry, you absolutely have to understand your product inside and out, as well as what your competition is offering that you aren’t, and what you’re offering that they’re not. Of course, while you could try to get by on likability and wit alone, but the best and most effective buyers that you’ll inevitably run into will make the difference between being at the top of the board or somewhere towards the bottom.

David Freedman is director Huthwaite International

Owen Gough

Fred Morissette

Owen Gough is a reporter for SmallBusiness.co.uk. He has a background in small business marketing strategies and is responsible for writing content on subjects ranging from small business finance to technology...

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