Your Business: Avoid These Sales Mistakes

April 7, 2015
A look at common errors from your customer’s point of view

For some clients, salespeople invoke immediate pretenses and assumptions — they automatically get a really bad rap. But is it deserved? I have been on both sides of the table, but I will look at it from the customer’s point of view.

A top salesperson can be an extraordinarily valuable asset by offering new insights, strategic options, commanding and directing pools of resources and reducing risk on investments that otherwise might not have been foreseen. In the post-sale phase, we know that no product is perfect — there will be issues; but what is how the salesperson reacts in support of the client’s continued success. A truly top-notch salesperson must be able to garner his executives’ support for the appropriate visibility, resources and remediation so clients are not “in it alone” and so the salesperson can deliver on what was committed.

Getting to this level doesn’t happen overnight. There is no standardized methodology, training and certification for becoming a salesperson. Yes, there are many philosophies and texts on the topic, but they open up a range of practices and potential confusion about what a good salesperson is (or how to become one). It comes down to organizational cultures, experience, mentorship and, most importantly, the individual realizing that in a complex sales cycle, you are only as useful as your contributions to the client’s objectives — not your own.

Evaluating Sales Skills

Unfortunately, when sales managers measure their teams, individuals are typically evaluated by their achievement in numbers — not by how many clients are achieving their objectives. They are not afforded the same patience as other professionals; instead, they hear “close another deal,” “sell something else” or “don’t make excuses.”

The sad part is that salespeople with poor or even mediocre skills confirm what executives think they already know about salespeople — thus further preventing the two from becoming equal collaborators and perpetuating pretenses and assumptions for others. Having done some sales in the past, I can attest that having this perception precede you when first meeting with potential clients is quite a burden that many do not deserve.

Being on the other side of the table serving as an advisor to executives, it has rounded my views quite a bit. I stay behind when salespeople leave the meetings and get the full view on how it went. The sales meeting post-mortem is a process that would benefit many salespeople with insights to properly assess their effectiveness; but few will get this opportunity to participate due to the nature of the process itself.

Top Sales Mistakes

Clients probably won’t tell your salespeople this to their faces, but there are several surefire ways to annoy them. Here are the 10 most common sales behaviors to avoid (if possible):

1. Cold cold calls. I get it — nobody enjoys getting them or even making them, but some salespeople still have to make cold calls. I have a rule, and it has served me well when I call people I don’t know: Briefly tell me the punchline upfront — what you want and why should I care — and then recognize that you likely disrupted my day and ask for a brief moment of my time to continue. Now shut up and act like you meant it by really respecting the client’s free will. Cold calling doesn’t mean rambling, talking over someone, and telling them what they need. Be respectful and realize that sometimes cold calls just don’t work out.

2. Not understanding their business. Don’t pick the phone or head to meetings with prospects without knowing about their business. There are few things that turn clients off more than a salesperson telling them what decisions to make when they have not even taken the time to read a 10k before they show up.

3. Not understanding their problem. Don’t turn attention to products, services and recommendations before knowing what they need to solve. Also, understand what the overall impact may be to solving such challenges.

4. Being awkwardly friendly. Clients want sales professionals who add value, not ones who are so friendly that it feels, well, odd. Clients want pleasant, but foremost a contributor who provides insights each time they speak or meet.

5. Parrot behavior. When salespeople respond to questions with general statements and cannot get into the details of their rationale, it becomes apparent that it was their brilliant product marketing colleagues who gave them the Cliff’s Notes —which is disingenuous and immediately undercuts credibility. Make sure you can go a couple of levels deep into countering an objection with details that make sense. Most importantly, say things that reflect your own assessment, not someone else’s.

6. “I’m just the salesperson.” Few things undermine credibility more quickly than a salesperson offering a technical product or service and being unable to answer detailed questions. Often when this happens, the salesperson steps back, smiles and says, “I’m just the sales guy,” turning it over to an engineer to engage with the client as a peer.

7. Not focused on the solution. Sometimes clients will just tell you their problem to understand what the solution would be, and salespeople get caught up in talking about the vision or features. Focus on how they can consume the vision – that’s your immediate contribution.

8. Demoing too early. Just because you have a product doesn’t mean you have show it to a client right away. While sometimes this makes sense, other times it is unproductive because you won’t know what to show clients, and they won’t care until they know you can likely solve their problem (and care).

9. Claiming to be a leader. Clients care that your company isn’t a risky investment, but beating your chest doesn’t win deals, and putting competitors down doesn’t win respect. If you are going to make this claim, put it in context — such as how are you measuring it or how third parties validate this conclusion.

10. Assuming the C-level always makes the decisions. While top executives have the power to make unilateral decisions, much of the time they don’t want to. They have built a team of varying experts and value their opinions. Seeing their team as “gatekeepers” rather than valuable team members is not only insulting to the team members but also to their leaders who respect their opinion. This doesn’t mean to always start low and work your way up (salespeople’s dreaded path) but rather not seeing people (and treating them) as decision-makers versus non-decision-makers. Complex deals typically need everyone to say yes and very few people to say no.

In the end, clients understand that you are in sales and have quotas to meet; but making your numbers is your problem. Realize that the ideal solution is not pressuring the customer to buy on your timeline but rather being more successful and in control of building a much larger pipeline where you are less reliant on the volume of deals; thus, you will respect your clients’ timeline, and in the process be more focused on their goals.

Terry Gold is the founder of iDanalyst (, a vendor-neutral research and advisory firm that provides information on strategy, best practices, methodology, and analysis for security, identity and privacy. 

About the Author

Terry Gold

Terry Gold is Founder of IDanalyst, a vendor-neutral research and advisory firm focused on security, identity and privacy. He is an expert in advanced authentication, digital identity and services over connected devices and has developed core methodologies that assist corporate clients and investors simplify complex technology initiatives and investments.