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Are DEAD IDEAS Undermining Your Company's Sales Effort?

The 10 Most Common Mistakes Professionals Make in Sales and Marketing

Developing new clients isn't getting any easier. The majority of today’s buyers are cynical at best, rude at worst, and approaching them properly is a challenge.

It’s disappointing to constantly wait for more business to materialize. It's discouraging when people you know you can help won’t even give you a brief conversation. It's demoralizing to know, day after day, that your eggs are in too few baskets – that you’re relying on just a few clients to see you through -- and that there’s no real, ongoing, optimal sales effort in place.

It's not necessary!

In a slow economy, we need to become increasingly sales-oriented, and be sure that our prospecting and selling skills are state-of-the-art. What should you work to shore up? My guess: your biggest weakness is out-of-date sales and closing skills.

It’s a classic mistake to set aggressive sales goals, but then fail to get the updated sales skills necessary to achieve those goals – and this is even more true in a weak economy. Be open to learning new approaches rather than relying on your old ones – unless your old ones are working very well!

State-of-the-art selling and closing skills are easy to learn and powerful tools. Use them. Researchers around the world are reporting on vast quantities of data – data on what’s actually working now in selling.

Significant contributions to the field have been made by Andrew Sobel, Neil Rackham, David Maister, Charles Greene, Robert Galford, Tom Searcy, Rick Page, Dr. Deborah Tannen, Stephan Schiffman, Dianna Booher, Dr. Genie LaBorde, Dr. Ivan Meisner, Anthony Robbins, Dr. Mahan Khalsa, Tom Peters, Philippa Davies, Guy Kawasaki, Josh Gordon, Jay Conrad Levinson, Harry Beckwith, and Stephen Covey, among many others.

Their findings? Old ideas about selling are DEAD! Here are the Top 10 Dead Ideas about selling services today:

Dead Idea 1: Use aggressive in-your-face selling.

With few exceptions, people find this old-style approach distasteful and a turn-off. Instead, begin with a provocative statement that asks for a response, and maintain a Clean Heart Position – a sincere desire to see your prospect get what he wants, whether or not he gets it from you!

For example, you might say, “Mary, have you had a chance to look into some of the means of protecting your family financially that are available now?” Depending on what comes back to you, respond using the word “options”, as in “What options have you considered, Mary, to address that concern you have?” or “What options have you taken advantage of, Mary?”

Dead Idea 2: Selling can just be a pleasant conversation and an interested person will let you know.

Many prospects are afraid to admit they're interested – for fear that the salesperson has been trained in the "don't take NO for an answer" school of salesmanship, and will never leave them alone! Hear the NO, gently say something like, “So you’re not interested right now in talking about ways that may make sense for you to protect your family, Fred? Did I get that right?” See what comes back to you. If it’s “not right now,” keep in touch, and remember to ask for the commitment you want.

Dead Idea 3: Selling is “educating the prospect.”

We cannot educate anyone who doesn’t want to be educated. So don’t assume that your task is to educate. Often, instead, our task is to provoke interest where none currently exists. And we need to do that while treating our prospect’s EGO very carefully. Egos are very fragile – and you’re damaging them when you make remarks about aspects of planning for their financial future that your prospect may not have dealt with yet.

Dead Idea 4: Salespeople must be in control of sales conversations.

The prospect has the bag of money so, by definition, he or she is in control. The desire to control should be replaced by a heartfelt desire to serve.

Dead Idea 5: One can simply be "good at sales" and succeed in business.

More than anything else, people report that they want those who sell them to know what they're talking about. So you have to have a good understanding of what you’re selling, and how those things benefit people. But that’s not the same as having good sales training. You need both product and sales training that are up-to-date.

Dead Idea 6: Look for the prospect’s wants and needs when selling.

We know, now, that many people aren’t clear what they need, and don’t know enough about what’s available to have any idea of what they want. So now we look for PAIN. By pain, in this context, we mean:

a. Things that are going wrong for the prospect right now.
b. Things that have gone wrong for the prospect in the past.
c. Things that the prospect is afraid are going to go wrong in the future.
d. Or things that the prospect has heard have gone wrong for other people in circumstances similar to his.

In modern selling we look for pain. When we hear pain, we inquire about it, we talk about it, we focus on it … and ultimately we link working with us to the lessening or removal of pain our prospect admits having.

Dead Idea 7: A great brochure/website/illustration/proposal or publicity will sell your services. You personally have the greatest power to influence buying decisions – written materials can’t stand in for you! Lengthy brochures are everywhere – but there's little evidence that they help create interest where none previously existed. When you want to create interest, your message must be short and provocative – not a laundry list of what you can do. Careful, systematic development of that short, provocative message is called Positioning, and you need it.

If you don’t have a Positioning Statement, work with an expert in Positioning and get one now. Here’s a test: if you ask everyone in your company, “What is the single most powerful, provocative message we can get into the mind of a prospect?” and you get as many answers as the number of people you ask, you have no Positioning. Does that matter? Yes! If you and your colleagues deliver lots of messages, it’s likely that none will stick. Powerful messages need to be reinforced; that’s why it’s important to agree on them!

Dead Idea 8: Neglecting systematic follow-up with prospects and clients or not spending enough time reaching out to new prospects.

We know that time spent face-to-face and phone-to-phone with prospects (which we call “F2F and P2P time”) correlates directly with closed business. Most of us don’t spend nearly enough time in conversation with prospects! Decide what percentage of your workweek you should be spending F2F and P2P with prospects (including clients whom you feel have additional business potential) and then measure the actual time you spend in such conversations.

Look at the percentage of a 40 hour workweek you are spending face-to-face and phone-to-phone with prospects, and drive that number UP to improve your results. Do systematic, methodical follow-up on all clients and every prospect. Take the time to learn the frequency of follow-up that's most effective, develop a program for regular follow-up, and start exceeding your sales targets on a regular basis.

Dead Idea 9: Forgetting to ask for referrals.

When to ask? When your client – or even your prospect – is happy with you. A simple way to do this is to ask, “Mary, who else do you know who can benefit from the work I do?”

Dead Idea 10: Keep your head in the sand and hope your selling skills are adequate.

Get information on what's working in selling now, apply it consistently, and reap the rewards.

Lenann McGookey Gardner is a Harvard MBA and sales coach to providers of services in the U.S., the U.K., Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Africa and South America. She’s the author of Got Sales? The Complete Guide to Today’s Proven Methods for Selling Services, which was nominated for the Axiom Business Book Award as the best sales book of 2008. She won her state’s "Professional Services Marketer of the Year" award from the American Marketing Association, and is a former #1 sales rep worldwide at Xerox Corporation. Her web site is www.YouCanSell.com.