Nine Easily Avoidable Selling Mistakes

Selling isn’t complicated.  When quotas get missed, when opportunities are lost, and when careers go sour, most of the time it’s because the sales pro made a tiny mistake. A mistake that could have been easily avoided.

Mistake #1: Failing to Keep Your Pipeline Primed

  • Definition: Not having enough prospects at the beginning of the sales cycle.
  • Why It’s Easy to Make: Filling the pipeline often involves cold-calling and often plenty of “rejection.”
  • Why It’s a Big Mistake: If you don’t have enough prospects at the beginning of your pipeline, you’ll probably not have enough coming out the other end as real live customers.
  • The Unintended Consequence: You may end up spending extra time on the accounts that you DO have in the pipeline and put unconscious pressure on those prospects to buy, thereby creating resistance and EVEN FEWER sales.
  • Why It’s Easy to Avoid: You can easily schedule quality time for cold-calling, asking for referrals and other lead generation activities.

Mistake #2: Failing to Research the Prospect

  • Definition: Going on a cold call or going to a face-to-face meeting without knowing much about the prospective customer.
  • Why It’s Easy To Make: Your primary job is to sell, not to dig around and find out things, right?
  • Why It’s a Big Mistake: You have a limited amount of time with each prospect.  If you spend it finding out things that you could find out elsewhere, that’s less time you have to actually move the sale forward.
  • The Unintended Consequence: The prospect will know you’re unprepared and (worse) take it as a sign of disrespect.
  • Why It’s Easy To Avoid: You can use the web to discover where your offering fits before contacting the prospect.

Mistake #3: Failing to Qualify the Lead

  • Definition: Putting a sales lead into your pipeline without being certain that they have a need for your offering or the money to buy it.
  • Why It’s Easy to Make: If you get some prospects in the pipeline, your manager will finally get off your back, right? And, who knows, maybe they’ll buy…
  • What It’s a Big Mistake: Every second that you spend on a prospect that won’t and can’t buy is time you could be spending on prospects that will and can.
  • The Unintended Consequence: You’ll make a few sales… but your numbers at the end of the quarter will look weak compared to your peers who bothered to qualify their leads.
  • Why It’s Easy to Avoid: Have a list of qualification questions and ask them early in the sales cycle.

Mistake #4: Failing to Discover the Buying Process

  • Definition: Going through the sales cycle assuming that your sales activities will drive the sale from inception to closing.
  • Why It’s Easy to Make: The illusion that you can control the sales through persuasion and manipulation is comforting in an essentially chaotic world.
  • Why It’s a Big Mistake: Every firm has its own way to make buying decisions, with its own timetable for making them.  When your sales activities get out of sync, you end up working a cross-purposes.
  • The Unintended Consequence: Surprises at the end of the sales cycle… like contracts and P.O.s that get signed late, or never get signed at all.
  • Why It’s Easy to Avoid: During your initial conversations, you can work with your customer contact to define the buying process.  You then adapt your sales activity to match.

Mistake #5: Giving a Generic Sales Pitch

  • Definition: Pulling out your slides and going through a canned list of features and benefits.
  • Why It’s Easy to Make: Marketing gave you this pitch and said it would WOW the customer.  And rumor is that it does work sometimes.  Or so you’ve heard.
  • Why It’s a Big Mistake: Canned presentations are not only boring, they’re vaguely insulting.  plus, you’re force-fitting whatever you’ve got to sell into something that the customer should buy, whether or not he really wants or needs it.
  • The Unintended Consequence: Best case, this “spray and pray” behavior simple wastes the customer’s time, but the prospect will forgive you and move on and perhaps even buy.  Worst case, you can antagonize the prospect to the point where he’s not going to buy from you, period.
  • Why It’s Easy to Avoid: Simple.  Just remember that you should never fire up PowerPoint unless you’re presenting to a room full of people… and then only after you’ve customized the presentation to match the prospect’s requirements.

Mistake #6: Trying to Close Too Soon

  • Definition: Asking for the business before the prospect is convinced that there is a real need for what you are offering.
  • Why It’s Easy to Make: You’re already counting your commission in your imagination, so you misread the cues that the prospect is giving.
  • Why It’s a Big Mistake: You end up looking hungry and like you’re really only trying to cut a deal – for your own reasons, not because you want to help the customer.
  • The Unintended Consequence: The sale will take longer, because you’ll need to step back and work to re-establish trust.  And if you flub it again, you can probably kiss the sale goodbye, because the prospect now sees you as a “used car salesman.”
  • Why It’s Easy to Avoid: You can ask confirming questions.  Listen to the customer’s answers carefully. If there’s still resistance, it’s too soon to close.

Mistake #7: Waiting Too Long to Close

  • Definition: Letting the sales process go on and on, without ever asking for the business.
  • Why It’s Easy to Make: You’re afraid of getting a “NO!” and finding out that the customer doesn’t really like you, even though you’ve spent all this time on the account.
  • Why It’s a Big Mistake: The time you spend unnecessarily on one prospect is time that you’re not spending developing another.  And that’s money out of your pocket.
  • The Unintended Consequence: You’ll end up hustling like crazy at the end of the quarter to close… and you probably won’t close because you missed the window of opportunity.
  • Why It’s Easy to Avoid: You can ask confirming questions.  Listen to the customer’s answers.  When you’re getting all green lights, ask for the business.

Mistake #8: Failure to Follow-up

  • Definition: You make a commitment to a prospect, but don’t find the time to fulfill it; or you forget to check on a customer after you’ve made the sale.
  • Why It’s Easy To Make: Hey, you’re busy, right?  You’ve got lots of things that need doing. And there are always other deals in the pipeline, eh?
  • Why It’s a Big Mistake: If it’s a prospect, you just proved that you’re unreliable and untrustworthy.  If it’s a customer, you just proved that you were really just trying to make a sale and “so long, Mr. Customer…”
  • The Unintended Consequence: You’re clobbering your reputation and making it impossible to sell to those people. And you can forget about ever getting a referral.
  • Why It’s Easy to Avoid: With a little forethought, you can schedule follow-up activities immediately after the contact. And schedule a series of follow-up phone calls and email to check on each customer’s status. Then do it.

Mistake #9: Forgetting to Get a Referral

  • Definition: Not getting “warm leads” from your existing customers.
  • Why It’s Easy to Make: You were told that the best time to ask for a referral is when you close the deal.  That seldom works, so you stopped bothering.
  • Why It’s a Big Mistake: Referrals are the easiest leads to qualify and the easiest prospects to convert to customers because you enter the sales cycle without having to work as hard to establish trust.
  • The Unintended Consequence: You end up starting from scratch on every sale, which takes time, which means that you’ll ultimately be making fewer sales than if you had some “warmer” prospects entering the pipeline.
  • Why It’s Easy to Avoid: You can make it part of your regular routine.  At closing, you can obtain a promise of a referral if, after delivery, the customer is delighted.  Then, after delivery, you follow up, and ask for the referral.

BNET Insight [Internet]. San Francisco (CA): Geoffrey James – [cited 2010 February 2]. Available from