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The ugly truth: 9 sales mistakes costing you deals


Every single sales rep has lost a deal. And unless you’re one of the lucky few, you’ve got dozens of lost deals under your belt.

It’s easy to blame the loss on outside influences. Could be problems with timing or the product, maybe the customer was too stubborn or their contact information changed, they picked the competition, they ghosted you — you name it, you’ve probably used it as an excuse during a Monday morning sales meeting.

There are a million and one factors you can blame the loss on. But it’s important to recognize the (sometimes) ugly truth and reflect on the sales mistakes you might’ve made to drop the ball.

Yes, I know this may be hard to believe, but you may be the problem!

According to Salesforce research, 76 percent of customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations.

However, 45 percent of B2B buyers say most companies fall short of their expectations for providing a great experience and 44 percent think the companies they’re buying from don’t have their best interest in mind.

Prospects have done their research and know what they want. When a rep doesn’t give them a good experience or understand their business problems, the customer will find someone else who does.

So what is it that sales reps are doing that falls below customer expectations? A survey by the Harvard Business Review reveals the top sales mistakes reps make that cause their B2B prospects to take their business elsewhere.

Here are the top sales mistakes and how to avoid them:

Sales Mistake #1. Not following a prospect’s buying process

Each company has their own set of guidelines, requirements and processes when buying a product, often with multiple people needing to sign off.

On average there are 6.8 decision makers. That’s more than six people who you have to convince that you, your company and your product are the right fit.

You may have found a very supportive champion, but at the end of the day, they would rather say ‘no’ to you than piss off their boss by not following purchasing protocol.

Sales reps need to be flexible, adaptable and fully understand the inner workings of the buying process or else they risk losing the deal.

Take the proper steps to educate yourself on your prospect’s purchasing process. Get information upfront about how many decision makers there are and what role they play in the buying center. Have your contact map out the steps you’ll need to take to get each decision maker on board and how long the process usually takes.

Sales Mistake #2. Not listening to a prospect’s needs

I would argue that having a clear understanding of the customer’s problem is the most important aspect of any sales conversation.

By 2020, 75 percent of buyers expect companies to anticipate their needs and have valuable suggestions before contact is even made. The importance of understanding customer needs is only going to increase, so sales reps need to listen now.

Start by first understanding possible problems; this can be based off industry, role or another factor specific to your product. Once contact is made, listen to what your customers are experiencing and offer solutions that show you’re working for their best interest. Scan their social media channels and follow other best practices for getting to know a customer’s pain points and general concerns.

Sales Mistake #3. Not properly explaining your product

Almost as vital as understanding their needs is understanding how your product is the solution to their problem.

Buyers say only 54 percent of salespeople they talk to clearly explain how their solution will impact their business.

A sales rep’s job is to be an expert on their product and an advocate for it. If you don’t properly explain all the features and benefits how can you expect someone to open up their wallet and pay for something you didn’t communicate the value of?

Take some extra time to fully understand the ins and outs of your product (check out marketing material or ask your boss for help) and map the benefits of your product to the pains of your customers. Verbalize this value and provide your prospect with materials that will help further prove that your product is worth buying.

Sales Mistake #4. Inaccurate claims and exaggerations

Nobody likes to be lied to. And even if that’s not what you mean to do, your customers feel lied to when you make promises you can’t keep.

Nearly 80 percent of B2B buyers say it’s vital that the sales reps they work with are a trusted advisor. If you lie (or stretch the truth) you are not seen as a trusted ally, but rather someone who is just looking to close a quick deal.

Whether it’s the ROI of your product, a price you can’t keep, or features that aren’t completely up-to-par yet, if you say something to a customer it’s important that you can deliver fully.

Be sure you’re fully aware of your product capabilities and dive into former customer testimonials to make sure you’re not promising anything you can’t deliver on. It’s better to exceed expectations rather falling short.

Sales Mistake #5. Lack of industry knowledge

Nearly every sales rep has read the Challenger Sale (and if you haven’t we highly recommend it) and one of the most important elements it touches on is having valuable industry knowledge to share with your prospects and customers.

Thirty-nine percent of top performing sales reps are Challengers — and a large part of their success comes from their knowledge.

It’s important to be an expert in your field. Whether you sell to marketers, teachers, doctors, plumbers or everything in between, you need to understand their workday, problems and motivations.

Position yourself as an advocate by giving new insight into their industry and how your product is a solution. If you fail to understand their industry, you risk looking like you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Sales Mistake #6. Lack of knowledge about the competition

The two biggest process challenges sales organizations face are: 1) meeting customer expectations and 2) dealing with concerns regarding the competition.

At one point in nearly every sales conversation, a competitive product is brought up. Be sure you’re able to differentiate your product (ie: what makes your product better).

It’s important to be properly prepared for when (not if) these conversations arise. Do your own research on the competition; know their features, benefits and setbacks just as well as you know your own. Tap you colleagues and marketing team for additional resources.

You will look ill-prepared and the competition will have an edge over you in the eyes of your prospect if you don’t have an answer for them, “How are you different than XX company?” question.

Sales Mistake #7. Not following up or being slow to respond

Prospects are busy, just like you. They may be interested, but emailing or calling you back is not their job, it’s yours!

Most sales take five follow-ups after initial contact to close, however, most sales reps give up after one. The key here is consistency and persistence (in a non-annoying way).

When it comes to inbound leads, having a quick response time is essential. Between 35 to 50 percent of sales go to the vendor that gets back to a prospect first and most want a response within the hour (if not the first five minutes).

Stay on top of your inbox and respond quickly. Set up a follow-up cadence (something as simple as a calendar reminder will work). Prevent deals from falling through the cracks by being organized and timely.

Sales Mistake #8. Being pushy, aggressive or disrespectful

B2B buyers ranked being “pushy” as the number one reason they didn’t make a personal connection with a sales rep. Forty-four percent say the main reason they don’t meet with salespeople is that they feel pressured by the rep’s agenda to sell.

When a sales rep is too pushy, the customer feels like their needs are being put second and that the rep is pushing their own agenda instead.

This is behavior that’s hard to correct, but there are small steps you can take to check yourself. Try recording your sales calls or having someone shadow your meetings to make sure you’re not falling into the habit of being overly eager to close the deal.

Build rapport with your customers and be a trusted advocate for them. This will gain their trust and gain their buy-in in the long term.

Sales Mistake #9. Acting too friendly

It’s also a turn-off when a sales reps act too friendly toward a prospect they hardly know. Customers perceive this behavior as insincere.

Sales reps are often looking to build relationships, but many B2B buyers simply don’t have time for that.

Only 10 percent said they have close relationship with the sales reps they do business with, while 74 percent have cordial relationships and 16 percent try to keep interactions with reps to a minimum.

Authenticity is key. Put their needs first, but don’t do this in a way that appears fake. Understand these people are busy and that their time is valuable. If they don’t want to build a relationship with you, try not to take it personally.

By Jessica Munday