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5 ways to ruin a sale

Whatever it is you are selling, there may come a time in the sales process when you need to connect one-to-one with your prospect. That connection could be made online, via telephone, through teleconferencing, or with an in-person meeting (yes, people still do that).

As a new small business owner, it’s natural to be nervous about that appointment because you feel pressure to get it right and win the sale.

I’ve certainly made plenty of selling mistakes during my 30 years as an entrepreneur — like that time I called a prospect by the wrong name! Today, I sell to very large companies including banks, credit unions, and software companies. I can still screw up but not as often.

So, instead of giving advice on how to sell, I thought it’d be more interesting to look at what sellers do to lose a sale.

1. Talk way too much

You’ve likely heard this statistic before, but it’s important to repeat it: a seller should spend 80% of their time listening to the prospect and 20% of their time talking.

When people are nervous, it’s a natural tendency to talk too much (and too fast) and put it all out there. Sellers may think it best to present all of the information about a product or service with the hope the buyer will like something they hear.

Instead, ask plenty of questions. Probe for problems you can solve. Understand what the customer has at stake with this purchase.

Listen before you speak. By actively listening to a prospect, you’ll discover their needs (also known as buying criteria) and be able to position your product or service benefits as the ideal solution.

2. Discuss price too early

While price is an important element to a buying decision, it may not be the most important one to your prospect.

If you disclose price prematurely, you risk tainting the rest of the conversation as the prospect dwells on price and ignores the many other attractive features of your offering. (Check out this terrific article about early price conversation from our friends at Sticky Branding.)

Your prospect is likely considering other buying criteria, including:

  • Vendor experience.

  • Industry reputation.

  • Product performance.

  • Implementation cost.

  • Warranties.

  • Payment arrangements.

  • Shipping timeline.

Any of these criteria may be more important to your prospect than price. Ask your prospect early in the sales process how they intend to evaluate the opportunity you are presenting.

3. Fail to follow up

It may seem like an obvious mistake to avoid, but many sellers drop the ball by failing to do whatever it is they promised to do for the prospect. That may include sending more information, supplying customer references, preparing a detailed quote, or booking a follow-up meeting.

80% of prospect leads generated at trade shows — which can cost the exhibitor tens of thousands of dollars to attend — are never followed up.

Allow some time in your schedule after each sales appointment to do the things you promised to do.

4. Neglect to research the prospect BEFORE the appointment

Walking into a sales appointment and asking the prospect, “What do you do here?” is a big failure for a seller who obviously didn’t properly prepare for the meeting.

Being unprepared is a huge waste of time for both seller and buyer. In this age of the internet, there’s no excuse not to know everything you can about your prospect, including:

  • Their industry.

  • Company background.

  • Size of operation (revenue level, employee headcount, locations).

  • Primary competitors.

  • Expansion plans.

  • Management team (or owner).

  • Recent awards or initiatives.

  • Key suppliers.

  • Major customers.

5. Ignore buying signals

Have you ever been in a situation where the salesperson kept talking about the product long after you decided to buy it?

Again, listening more than talking can help you: once you notice buying signals, it’s time to close the sale and process the order. For example, when a prospect asks about delivery dates, that usually indicates their readiness to proceed to the close.

As a new business owner, give your sales skills time to develop. Instead of calling up your biggest prospect on day 1 of your new business, go after "smaller fish" customers first, because you will stumble in the selling process and you don’t want to blow those big opportunities due to inexperience.

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