By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE
Like Hollywood actors, sales professionals put themselves and their companies on the line with every word—taking a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome. Just like actors, even the best, most experienced salesperson benefits from script review, rehearsal, and coaching.
Here are the 10 most common mistakes seen on the sales stage and ways to avoid them:
- Unclear Thinking: Imagine that a busy executive says, “You have exactly ten minutes to tell me I need to know about your company.” You should know in advance what your prospect is really asking. The real question is, “What do I need to know about how your company can improve our company? Will your products or services solve a problem, create new opportunities, increase savings, maximize earnings, simplify our processes, develop our human capital, or increase market share?” Accomplish this, and you can present your options more formally.
- Talking Too Much: The key to connecting with a client is conversation and asking questions. The quality of information received depends on the quality of your questions and waiting for and listening to the answers! A successful encounter early in the sales process should be mostly open-ended questions—the kind that require essay answers rather than just yes and no. And never rush on with preprogrammed questions that ignore the answer you’ve just received!
- Wrong Structure: Do not build your talking points and presentation structure around your company. Structure them around your prospect’s interests, challenges, or opportunities. Put their words into your presentation. Yes, you will be talking about your company, your satisfied clients, and your uniqueness to prove that you can appeal to their interests, solve their challenges, and maximize their opportunities.
- No Memorable Stories: People rarely remember your exact words. They remember the mental images your words create. Support your key points with vivid, relevant client success stories. Create a movie in their minds by using satisfied clients as memorable characters. What was their starting situation? Their problem that your prospect can relate to? What are their results since you worked with them?
- No Emotional Connection: Your customer or client justifies working with you for analytical reasons. What gives you the edge—what I call the unfair advantage—is an emotional connection. Build an emotional connection by incorporating stories with characters they can relate to, by using the word you as often as possible, and by talking from their point of view. Congratulate them on their success. Thank them, not for their time, but for the opportunity to present your solution. Don’t say, “I will talk about . . .” Say, “What you will hear is . . .” Remember, their unspoken question is, “What’s in this for us?”
- No Pauses: Good music and good communication both contain changes of pace and pauses. As counterintuitive as it may seem, you actually connect in the silence. This is when your audience digests what they have heard. If you rush to squeeze in as much information as possible, your prospects will remember less. Remember the rule: “Say less, say it well.” Give your clients enough time to ask a question or reflect.
- Hmm, Ah, Err, You Know, So, Right: Non-words and low quality words often fill spaces where silence is needed. How often have you heard a presenter begin each new thought with “Now!” or “Um” or “So” as they figure out what comes next. Rehearse in front of your sales manager or colleagues, asking them to call out whenever you hem or haw. Audio-record yourself, and note any digressions. You will never improve what you are not aware of.
- Weak Opening: Engage your audience with a powerful, relevant opening that includes them. For example, “You have an awesome responsibility,” or “Congratulations on your company’s recent success.” Then focus on their needs: increasing sales, reducing errors, cutting overhead, expanding their market, increasing their digital footprint, or perfecting their sales presentations. How can your product help?
- Weak Closing: After reviewing your key ideas, answering their questions, making suggestions for the next logical step, and thanking them for the opportunity, make your last words linger. Conclude with a strong, positive sentence that will be embedded in their minds. Do not introduce a new idea. Reinforce one of your main advantages or benefits; e.g., “Remember, 157 profitable quarters,” or “99% of the Fortune 100 do business with us,” or “We are large enough to satisfy all your requirements and small enough that you will be a valued client.”
- Lack of Specificity: Specificity builds credibility and helps position you above your competition. Tons and bunches? Can you really get a ton of ideas? Do you leave the trade show with bunches of business cards? Don’t say, “With our program, you will really grow your business.” Instead, “There are no guarantees; however, our last three clients increased sales an average of 32% in seven months.”
Avoid these, and you’re on your way to being a sales star, delivering a dazzling performance every time.