In my 25 years in sales, I’ve sat on both sides of the table, as a salesperson and customer, and observed a number of other salespeople in action. Over the course of my career I believe I’ve become a better salesperson mostly by becoming a better listener, but also by observing sales interactions. Watching a good sales exchange is a true education, but witnessing bad sales behaviour is equally enlightening.
Here are some of the bad sales techniques of cringeworthy salespeople that I have seen – do any of these strike a chord with you?
Reading from a script
If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’ll already know how much we hate people reciting a script instead of having a sales dialogue. When I started out in telesales in 1995, we all worked from scripts. The script was a shortcut. None of us were given any training or experience in the product, we had no formal sales training and the company I worked for had no interest in investing in the salespeople or the relationship with the buyer. Our buyers were names photocopied from a telephone directory. Being so tied to a script meant salespeople couldn’t allow the customer to steer the conversation towards their needs. There was barely a pause for the customer to even ask questions. Needless to say, churn of customers and salespeople was an issue.
Pretending to know/understand things they don’t
This is a common one, it’s perceived to be ill-advised to admit to a gap in your knowledge, but it’s far worse by far to expose that ignorance by letting complete garbage to spill out of your mouth. Though it’s good practice to research a company before you sit down with them, you don’t have to be an expert in their business – or even their industry. Your job is to know your own business/industry inside out. It’s okay to ask questions if you don’t understand what they’re talking about. And if they ask you a question you can’t answer, don’t be tempted to fudge it. Take a breath – write it down and tell them that you’ll call or email them back at the end of the meeting with the answer.
Mistaking belligerence for confidence
It’s good to be confident, the reason I am in Sales is because I got turned down for a job in Advertising for being too confident. But, bolshiness can be really off-putting. I get calls from salespeople regularly where the salesperson can be so committed to not taking no for an answer that he effectively calls me an idiot for not taking him up on his offer. You need to be able to put your point across in such a way that your customer understands they’d be silly to miss out on the deal – it’s never a good idea to tell your customer you think they’re unqualified to make the right decision. If you are not the only company in the running, badmouthing the competition is another big mistake, your prospect is likely to have done their research, questioning their judgment can be seen as an insult.
A lot of traditional sales training focuses on beating any customer into submission. I’m not saying it doesn’t work, but if you can’t deliver on the promises you make, the customer will take the first opportunity to jump ship, and there’s little chance of any follow-up business. There’s simply no place for that kind of attitude.
This really goes back to not understanding the customer’s business, it goes something like this:
Customer: We’re finding the industry a little slow at the moment. The Asian market is right down and that’s having an impact across the board. What’s your impression?
Salesperson: Yeah, things are a little slow. What we’re seeing is this slowdown in Asia, which is having a kind of domino effect worldwide.
Do you see what happened there? First of all, the salesperson added no value to that conversation whatsoever. He or she might know nothing at all about the market, for all the customer knows, since all they’ve done is parroted the customer’s insights back at them. The customer provided an opportunity to be an ally – to give the support customers are looking for from their salespeople these days – and the salesperson fluffed it.
Second, the salesperson made no attempt to do their job, which is to sell products/services – offerings that, hopefully, would help the customer make savings during a downturn, or gain an edge over the competition, or in some way improve the business outlook. Tsk. Bad sales behaviour.
You’re out on the road and you have meeting after meeting. One just blends into the next. And even if you’re not reciting from a script, your spiel is pretty consistent. Just because you’re saying the same things (side note: you shouldn’t always be saying the same things), doesn’t mean your customers are. I’ve witnessed salespeople failing to hear the nuances from one conversation to the next and coming out of a week-long road trip with an inaccurate blanket-perspective on what their customers are saying.They’ve missed opportunities to demonstrate the value their product can bring and they’ve misunderstood what it is their customers want. Communication is key! All in all, they’ve wasted the week – don’t just listen, take notes demonstrating that you are listening.
Time for a change
In almost all cases, these behaviours come down to a lack of knowledge (inadequate research/laziness), not enough training or poor engagement. Good salespeople will learn from these mistakes and be open to changing their behaviour. The rest of them will find themselves looking for work elsewhere. We have found that implementing a Sales Enablement Tool helps salespeople to engage with both their resources and their customers. A Sales Enablement Platform encourages the development of tailored content, which requires research to develop and which contributes to a more successful sales conversation – meaning there is no need to bully or lie; you are drawn more naturally into a two-way, mutually valuable dialogue. The upshot? Happy customers and increased sales.
What are some of the worst behaviours you’ve seen in a sales meeting?