For many small business owners and entrepreneurs, the passion for their products and services is what inspired them to start their business. Business owners can be intimidated by selling or tend to oversimplify a high-skill profession. Particularly for businesses that sell products and services to other businesses, it is critical that business owners gain healthy appreciation for selling. What follows is a list of the five most common mistakes I observe with sales people:
- Failure to Gain Interest – The first contact with a prospective customer is the most crucial. Executives and buyers today are constantly being solicited to buy products and services. Sales people can differentiate themselves by demonstrating a clear interest in prospects and an understanding of the issues that concern them. The most common error is turning the conversation away from being about the prospect to pitching products.
- Chasing Latent Needs – Customers have latent and active needs. Latent needs are problems that the customer recognizes but has insufficient interest in fixing. Sales people are prone to hearing a prospect express a latent need and then using that interaction to qualify the lead. Experienced sales people will probe deeper to understand the value the prospect places on a solution and to see if additional information will change that valuation.
- Not identifying all the Influencers and Issues – It is critical to understand who is minding the purse, what that person wants, and who that person listens to when making decisions. Sales people representing consumer products can mistakenly assume that the male half of the couple will make the decision. Executives can have trusted advisors that are not impacted by a purchase, but are called upon for advice. Patience and commitment to understanding the buyer is imperative.
- Missing the “want” – There are times a sales person will miss discovering what a buyer wants. I have seen instances where executives want to buy the most expensive, glitzy computer or phone; just to send a message about how they want to be seen. An executive looking to retire might be more interested in minimizing change or changes that can make his or her succession happen faster.
- No follow up after an order – Like Yogi Berra said, “It ain’t over until it’s over.” With capital goods, there is usually a significant lead time between shipment and the order. Sometimes competitors will see an order as reason to inject a “better and final” offer. This is also the time when suppliers with the better understanding of the “want” can get an upper hand. Be vigilant.
I’d love to hear your comments regarding the lessons you have learned from the competitive world of sales.