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9 Dumb Ways to Blow an Initial Sales Call

It's never been harder for a sales pro to get an appointment with a prospect. The pace of business has increased to such a fever pitch that few people have time to meet with anybody, much less a sales pro.

Needless to say, when you do have a first meeting with a customer, you want be certain that you don't blow it. This post contains the 9 dumb (but very common) errors that screw up initial customer meetings -- along with advice on how to avoid them.

CLICK HERE for the first dumb error

This post is based upon conversations with the following sales gurus:
  • Jeffrey Seeley, CEO of the sales training firm Carew International.
  • Mark Shonka and Dan Kosch, co-authors of "Beyond Selling Value"
  • Mark Sellers author of the book "The Funnel Principle."
RELATED POSTS: Illustrations by Brad Collett
ERROR #1. Treating It Like a Social Call
  • Why It Happens: Sales reps wrongly believe that social chit-chat will build rapport with the customer, thereby leading to a better long term relationship.
  • Why It Doesn't Work: Too much emphasis on the social makes you seem like a pop-in visitor rather than a professional whose time is valuable.
  • What Results: The fact that you've positioned yourself as a intrusive social visitor makes it all the more more difficult to build trust, credibility and rapport.
  • What To Do Instead: Make a good first impression, show interest in the prospect, then ask a question or make a remark that leads to discussion of business issues. Note: the amount of interest that you should show varies according to the country in which you're doing business.
ERROR #2. Letting It Become a Therapy Session.
  • Why It Happens: Sales reps trained in "solution selling" and other consultative methodologies often believe that the point of the sales call is simply getting the customer to "open up" and talk.
  • Why It Doesn't Work: If you too become passive during the conversation, the customer runs on and on, providing irrelevant data.
  • What Results: You spend time learning about things that are irrelevant to the situation at hand. Meanwhile, you lose the opportunity to contribute substance to the discussion, thus losing credibility.
  • What To Do Instead: Rather than asking questions, have a conversation where you add value by sharing your experience. Actively listen to the customer, but guide the conversation so that it remains focused on business issues.
ERROR #3. Giving the Prospect the Third Degree.
  • Why It Happens: Some sales reps become so aggressive in their quest to uncover information about prospect's needs that they come off like a detective interrogating a suspect.
  • Why It Doesn't Work: Prospects are already predisposed to dislike salespeople. Peppering them with questions simply creates resistance and irritation.
  • What Results: The prospect feels pressured, with a consequent loss of trust and rapport, while your credibility goes immediately out the window, never to be recovered.
  • What To Do Instead: Don't be too ambitious about what you want to learn during the meeting. Guide the conversation towards achieving a limited goal.
ERROR #4. Giving a Sales Pitch.
  • Why It Happens: Sales pros are often trained to give customers a canned PowerPoint presentation full of product details, solution detail, case studies, diagrams, and so forth.
  • Why It Doesn't Work: Unless you're selling a commodity product, whatever you're presenting is likely to have only minimal relevance to actual customer needs.
  • What Results: The prospect rightly concludes that you don't really believe that his or her needs are unique and are just focused on making a sale.
  • What To Do Instead: Gather information about the customer's unique situation while further qualifying the opportunity. Then, if appropriate, customize a presentation that matches their needs.
ERROR #5. Trying to Close.
  • Why It Happens: Sales pros who are highly goal-oriented often want to close the deal quickly in order to move onto the next opportunity.
  • Why It Doesn't Work: Hard sell tactics don't work any longer... if indeed they ever did work. Customers who feel railroaded will simply not buy. Period.
  • What Results: Because you're focused exclusively on making the sale, the customer feels manipulated and, worst case, simply decides that you're a pest.
  • What To Do Instead: Use the initial meeting to up a situation where the customer actively brings up business and opportunities and asks for your help. Develop a strong feeling of trust, credibility and rapport through conversations that have substance and balance.
ERROR #6: Asking Obvious Questions.
  • Why It Happens: The sales pro wants to learn about the buying process and business model, and therefore asks questions about the identity of top management.
  • Why It Doesn't Work: In today's wired-up world, there's wealth of information available online about nearly every company.
  • What Results: The prospect rightly concludes that you didn't care enough about the opportunity to do some research prior to the sales call.
  • What To Do Instead: Never ask a customer a question that you can get answered somewhere else. Before your first customer meeting, dredge through news stories on the web, the company's SEC filings, and the company's Hoover's listing. Familiarize yourself with the basics of the customer's finances and memorize the names of key individuals.
ERROR #7: Asking Repetitive Questions.
  • Why It Happens: As the sales rep works to uncover the buying process, question like "and he reports to who?" starts sounding like a scratched CD.
  • Why It Doesn't Work: Reporting structures are among the most boring information on earth and the prospect rightly starts becoming bored explaining them.
  • What Results: The conversation lags and you end up finding out only the least important elements of the buying process.
  • What To Do Instead: To keep the conversation interesting, sprinkle it with questions that have built-in, positive assumptions, like: "Your industry is in tough economic times, but your company seems to be doing better than everyone else. How do you guys do that so consistently?" or "You've obviously developed a wealth of business contacts. What's your secret?"
ERROR #8: Overscheduling the Meeting
  • Why It Happens: Sales pros naturally hope that they'll have a productive meeting, where they'll learn everything they need to know, so they try to schedule a large block of time.
  • Why It Doesn't Work: Prospects are reluctant to give sales professionals large blocks of time. Also, you're setting yourself up for an awkward situation if you find out that the prospect isn't a potential customer and need to leave.
  • What Results: It's harder to get that initial meeting, and you run the risk of wasting your time, and the prospect's time.
  • What To Do Instead: Ask for a short amount of time, but schedule extra time on your calendar to accommodate an extension of the meeting. If you are nearing the end of your allotted time, and the meeting is going smoothly, remind the contact that your time is nearly up. Then ask if he or she would mind extending the meeting a little, as you are fascinated by what you're learning. In most cases, the contact will let meeting continue.
ERROR #9: Failing to Qualify the Lead
  • Why It Happens: Sales pros wrongly believe that the purpose of the initial meeting is to move the sales process forward by finding out about the buying process.
  • What It Doesn't Work: It's useless to gather buying information without first confirming that the customer has a need that justifies investment and that the customer has money to invest.
  • What Results: You end up spending your time on a false opportunity, thereby missing other real opportunities that might eventually close.
  • What To Do Instead: The first area of conversation should always be a clarification of the problem and an assessment of the financial impact of the problem. Then confirm that the company is actually ready to spend money to solve the problem. Only then should you be interested in HOW the company might go about making a decision.
READERS: Any other common errors to add?