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Achievement of selling "excellence" is most often earned rather than learned. Outstanding professionals continuously seek to hone their skills from mistakes made and from lessons learned in pursuit of success.  Professional sales people in search of extraordinary selling competence are no exception. There has been an ongoing philosophical argument among sales professionals as to whether extraordinary sales people are born or made. Most think born because few people can maintain consistent sales generation performance within the same span of time needed to achieve financial and motivational stability.

Since most sales people’s compensation is based on actual sales orders obtained (and not good intentions or positive attitudes), the selling profession’s relatively high rate of job turnover is often validated with intense frustration and an insurmountable learning curve that crosses many industries, products and services.

Selling "skill" is best achieved via real world practice (not sales training theory)…supported by guidance from others who have taken the same career path previously and are generous enough to share their learnings.  This article attempts to guide you past the "potholes" on the road to selling success. Like most professions, the most common mistakes made can be boiled down to a short list of avoidable choices many of us naturally make in our pursuit to make a living.

10 Selling Mistakes You Don’t Have to Make!

1.  Exhibiting Little Self Confidence
There is no place to send you to gain more self-confidence. The more you have in selling the better. Most importantly, the more you exhibit to your existing or potential customer, the better your product or service is perceived by them, the greater your probability of continued selling success.

2.  Stretching the Truth
No one likes to get lied to, especially someone who is about to spend their hard earned money based on factual liberties told to them from the sales representative. Maintain your reputation first and foremost; it supersedes you in every sales call. Honesty should be the first adjective by which you want most of your customers to describe you.

3.  Not Saying "I Don’t Know" When You Don’t Know
This is a classic selling mistake! Discipline yourself to admit to your customer that you don’t know about something/anything! It is more credible to say, "I don’t know, but I will find out for you," than to try to sound like you know what you’re talking about when you don’t. As you continue to practice this principle, your knowledge base and your client’s perception of your expertise will increase.

4.  Not "Looking the Part"
Selling involves approaching strangers; people who have never met you before. People naturally base purchase decisions on first impressions. Look the part you are playing, or better yet, exceed the common "image" expectations in your industry. Always dress and groom one level above your targeted audience. It portrays success and gives you an opening edge over your competition. The least you can do is look like you know what you are doing!

5.  Not Knowing Your Competition
Any business owner, much less a sales person, should know this common mistake! Think about it: all you have to be is slightly better than your most effective competitor to get the order. Proactively research your competitive companies; but more importantly, master your knowledge of the specific sales representative you actually compete with — their habits, strengths, weaknesses, pricing history and selling tendencies.

6.  Not Knowing Your Product or Service
Believe it or not, depending most on your product or service knowledge to get the order is one of the most common mistakes made in selling. Understanding the common application benefits and associated features of your offerings is critical, but constantly regurgitating nebulous product and service details to a customer will quickly send them to your competitor. Mastering knowledge of your competitor’s offerings is also critical to selling success.

7.  Not "Filling Your Sales Pipeline"
No matter what you sell, there evolves a consistent selling time cycle that must become an integral part of your selling process. Knowing how long it typically takes to get a sales order from initial contact with the target customer equals your sales pipeline. To maintain a consistent earnings flow you need to have a constant injection of the correct number of new sales opportunities going into the front end of your sales pipeline to get the desired percentage of orders that close.

8.  Not Clearly Understanding "Rejection"
Selling is rejection-intensive. It is critical to understand and appreciate that a larger percentage of potential new customers will reject you and your offering than will accept it. Selling is a numbers game and to be successful at it you have to learn that customer rejection is not personal and that "no’s" can be as valuable as "yes’s".

9.  Ineffective Use of Your "Selling Time"
Many average sales people spend most of their prime selling time every day "getting ready to get ready" — filing, driving, typing, or sitting in meetings. From 8AM to 5PM a sales person has only approximately eight hours to be in front of customers or doing what is necessary to get in front of customers. Anything that can be done "after business hours" should be done then and not during prime selling time.

10.  Not Having a "Selling System"
Selling is a DIS-qualification process. If you have not developed a methodical selling process of disqualifying potential customers by systematically defining their problems, their level of commitment, financial resources to solve the problem, and addressing the purchase decision process involved, you should stay home!  Develop and use a selling system, refine it continuously, and eventually master it so you can leverage it over and over without needing to think about it!

Many seasoned sales professionals believe learning from your own "real time" selling mistakes contributes more to eventual career success than anything that can be learned from someone else’s experience or teachings. That may or may not be true; but if you avoid these 10 common selling mistakes, your path to selling success will be much shorter!


Our colleague Wayne Clements (Clements Consulting Group, Toronto) is a well-known sales success coach. His comments are of value for sales professionals as well as anyone who is in the business of selling concepts and ideas to others.