How to Avoid 3 Common Sales Call Errors

Earlier this week, I explained "How to Have a Perfect Customer Meeting" -- a simple six-step process to ensure that your face-to-face meetings move the opportunity forward. While that post provides a complete method, there's always room for a little troubleshooting.

There are three VERY common errors that novice sales reps make when meeting with customers one-on-one. They are:

  • Treating the sales call like a social call. Some sales reps keep conversations at an superficial level in the mistaken belief that chatting will build a relationship. What results is that the sales rep becomes an acquaintance of the customer, without building up any trust, credibility or rapport.
  • Confusing the questioning process with therapy. Some sales reps get so into questioning that they become entirely passive and non-reactive. The customer gets drawn out, and the sales rep learns a great deal, but the sales rep never contributes anything and fails to build credibility.
  • Subjecting the customer to an interrogation. Some sales reps become so aggressive in their quest to uncover information about the customer that they seem more like police investigators than somebody who cares about the customer.
All three errors come from the same source -- a misunderstanding about the nature of a sales call. The correct way to behave during a customer meeting consists of a three step pattern:
  • STEP #1. Active Listening. Hear what the customer has to say, without trying to frame what you're going to say next. Your goal is to try to see the situation through the customer's frame of reference or "operative reality," without automatically trying to create a sales opportunity.
  • STEP #2. Re-describe and Characterize. Echo back what the customer said to you, in a way that confirms that you were really listening to the customer (and not your internal dialog) and that you understand what the customer was telling you.
  • STEP #3. Question and Clarify. Add value to the conversation by asking questions that help the customer clarify his or her own thoughts and ideas. In this step you are not mining for information, but using your experience, and your ability to ask perceptive questions, to bring the customer to a deeper understanding of the situation.
Using this technique benefits both the customer and the sales rep. The customer gets to draw on the sales rep's expertise and perspective, while the sales rep comes to a deeper understanding of the customer and the customer's needs. At the same time, the process builds the trust, credibility and rapport from which a successful sale will naturally and gradually emerge.

NOTE: the above is based upon a conversation with Jeffrey Seeley, president and CEO of Carew International. Very, very smart guy.

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