The 10 Biggest Sales Mistakes to Avoid

By Tom Hopkins

Following are the ten most common mistakes made in sales. You can learn from these mistakes so your journey to success in sales can be shorter and much more enjoyable.

Misunderstanding selling

In some cases, the primary contact a business has with the outside world is through its sales and service people — and the only reason those companies have salespeople is for them to sell the product or service. How this is evolving with technology is that everyone in the company is involved in selling the brand and its products. Everyone who does anything that touches buyers is technically in sales. Everyone needs to know the demographic audience for the company’s product and work to understand what they really want and need — not necessarily new features, but the benefits derived from those features.

You can’t know too much about why people do and don’t buy your product or service — and gaining that knowledge is a function of selling. It helps you not only succeed now, but also come up with new products and services to continue to grow your business for the future.

Thinking you’re a sales natural

Sales skills are not a gift of birth. They are learned skills that anyone can master with a little study and work. Start watching others in persuasive situations wherever you go. Ask yourself why some persuaders are good and why some are bad.

You will find that identifying why they are bad is much easier — when persuaders are bad, you can usually tell that they’re incompetent, that they don’t know what they’re talking about, or that they’re just making mistakes in general. But when salespeople are well trained and highly skilled, things seem to move forward so smoothly that spotting the sale happening is almost impossible. That’s why you tend to think of these people as naturals.

Even though they may be naturally comfortable talking with others, the actual skill of persuading must be learned, just as the ins and outs of the product or service must be learned in order to succeed.

Talking too much and not listening enough

Most people think that you have to be a good talker in order to persuade others. A typical “good talker” thinks that he can tell the customer enough about the product that he will automatically buy it. But the truth is just the opposite. When you’re talking, you’re only telling what you already know. You’re learning little about the buyer. Ask questions, and you discover what your potential clients want to own. Then, you can start selling them on the benefits of your product.

Professional sales training involves more questioning and listening techniques than it does speaking skills. It’s knowing the proper questions to ask, not just talking, that leads to closed sales. A salesperson who has been trained to ask questions leads the buyer down the path to the sale. He doesn’t push him down that path.

Using words that kill sales

In any presentation you make, your words paint pictures. And a few wrong word pictures can ruin the entire portrait you’re trying to paint.

How many presentations do you suppose are made daily that don’t succeed just because of the sales‐killing pictures that the presenter’s words paint, like referring to a “contract” someone has to “sign” to have a product installed? By using the wrong words, salespeople create negative pictures in the minds of the people they strive to serve — giving them more reasons not to go ahead than to get involved.

Not knowing when to close the sale

Most customers who leave a place of business without owning a product or service are shrugged off by untrained salespeople as being “just lookers.” or “be‐backs,” or any number of other euphemisms that hide the basic fact that the salesperson did not do the job as well as it could have been done. A professional salesperson, however, prefers to see such customers as what they really are: lost sales.

Ask for your prospect’s decision when you recognize his buying signs, such as asking more questions the answers to which he needs to know when he owns it or using language that shows an attitude of ownership, such as, “Yessir, that Van Gogh original certainly will enhance our living room.” Your prospect may ask questions that refer to delivery, such as “Is it in stock?” or “Is there a delivery charge?” When you see such signs, yes is usually right around the corner.

If you don’t close a sale when you recognize the buying signs, the prospect could very well cool off and give the purchase second thoughts that include not making a decision today.

Not knowing how to close the sale

In many cases, all you have to do to close the sale is ask. If a customer asks, “Do you have it in red?” and you say, “I believe I do have a red one,” what do you gain? Nothing.

Why not ask this instead:

If I have the red one, do you want to take it with you today, or shall I ship it?

Or this:

Let me check on our color selection. By the way, would you like it gift‐wrapped?

In other words, ask a question that moves the prospect into a position of having to make an either/or decision about ownership.

Being insincere

If you’re trying to persuade someone else to adopt your point of view, to own your product, or to start an account with your service, you must first help him to see that you’re talking with him for his benefit, not yours.

Never let greed get in the way of doing what’s right. If you don’t sincerely believe that what you have to offer is good for the other party, yet you still try to convince him to own, one of two things will happen:

  • He’ll recognize your insincerity, not get involved with you, and tell at least 11 other people how terrible his experience with you was, thus ruining your reputation.

  • He’ll be persuaded even though what you’re selling isn’t good for him, perceive you as nothing more than a con artist, and take every measure possible to see that you’re punished as one.

Failing to pay attention to details

When you wing it on your presentations, skim over details, and ignore ­important cues from others, you also skim over big potential wins for yourself. Lost or misplaced information and orders, correspondence with typographical errors, and missed appointments or delivery dates all ruin your credibility with your clients.

They also take away from the high level of competence professionals strive so hard to display. If your clients don’t have the impression that you’re doing your best for them, they’ll find someone who will — maybe even someone else in your own office. Ooh, that would hurt, wouldn’t it?

Letting yourself slump

Getting out of a slump takes a lot out of you, both mentally and physically. Why put yourself through hard times when with a little bit of diligence you can keep things on an even keel instead?

Most people have patterns to their selling cycles and efforts. Try charting your daily activities, productivity, and winning presentations on a graph or chart for not less than 30 days, preferably for 90. If you watch your cycles carefully, you’ll see a slump coming long before it hits and be able to correct the errors of your ways to even out your successes.

Neglecting to keep in touch

Most people who switch from your product, service, or idea to another do so because you’re being apathetic and someone else is paying them more attention. Someone else is keeping in contact on a regular basis and making them feel important. When all it takes is a bit of regular contact to keep people doing business with you, why would you ever get so lazy as to let them go?

All you need to do is schedule two or three quick phone calls to say, “Diane, this is Tom from ABC Company. I’m just calling to see if you’re still enjoying the increased productivity and cost savings with your new software. If all is well, I won’t keep you. I just wanted to touch base with you and thank you once again for your business.” These words take about 12 seconds to say, and that 12‐second investment is well worth it if it keeps a client happy.