7 Fatal Errors of Selling You MUST Avoid

As a salesperson, or an entrepreneur whose business depends on sales, your duty is to get the product into the hands of customers and earn some cool cash for the organization. Sometimes, though, a few selling errors make that a lot more difficult than it already is. Let me share with you what I consider seven of the most disastrous selling errors, ever. This is by no means an exhaustive list, though.


Want to claim leadership? Just don’t start! (IMAGE: knowledge.insead.edu)

If I walked up to you and said, for instance, that I was Africa’s number one sales coach, I would expect you to at least ask who conducted the exams for Africa’s sales coaches. To be frank, my position in the industry might not necessarily solve your problem. What a customer wants and desperately needs is a solution. That may not have much to do with the fact you are number one or number two. Secondly, claiming a position is a sure argument starter and when you set off an argument, you might be getting the prospect into a defense mode. In that mode, they are less likely to buy. In my early days selling banking services, I made this error quite frequently and, almost in all instances, we just had a good debate without me making sales. Far from what I wanted!


Don’t sell the features; sell the benefits!

What you sell is the solution; not product features. However, in a desperate attempt to prove that our solution is better than the alternative(s) which might be preferred by the customer, we tend to shift all focus to product features, whereas stating the features will not convince the customer. In a bid to keep your focus on selling the solution focus substantial attention on the problem. After you have demonstrated an accurate understanding of the problem that’s when you go on and state how this product solves that problem. If you look very well at the guys who sell pharmaceutical products in molue in Lagos, this is often their approach. Some of them even demonstrate the health challenges. Little wonder even the literate folks are often drawn by their strategy and almost everyone in the bus ends up buying.


Don’t refer to your boss. Be the boss! (IMAGE: family.org.sg)

I made this error in my early days in sales. And very often, the customer would not close any deals, until he had spoken to my boss. Meanwhile, what I actually wanted was just to have the customer talk to another senior officer, so he could have additional comfort, but it often backfired. Do not get me wrong, you might need your superior to close a few big ticket sales. However, until it gets to such critical moments of concession, it might be a bad strategy to quickly run to your boss. It often backfires. Very soon, the customer will stop buying from you, always insisting on speaking to your boss. For a salesman, that is not a good reputation. You must take particular ownership of your customers.


Talk to the right person.; no go-betweens (IMAGE: cpajournal.com)

There is nothing more frustrating than selling through a go-between. My personal experience tells me 95% of the time, the salesman would not close the deal. This is why B2B salespeople must ascertain at first contact, whether they are talking to the right person. Now, you might be talking to the CEO and still not be talking to the right person. The right person is not necessarily the most powerful. In structured organizations, the recommendations of direct- responsibility managers carry a lot of weight. Be sure you are talking to the manager who has direct responsibility for the purchase of that product. That is not to say you cannot get leads from some other persons, though. Of course, you can. You should sell to the right person, not necessarily the one who introduced you.


To solve, you need to understand

This can be very tricky, especially for a startup. In the NYT best-selling book The Lean StartupEric Ries illustrated this with his experimentation while creating a startup called IMVU, an instant messaging (IM) application. His team was going to create an IM add-on and it seemed pretty obvious to Ries and his team that what customers wanted was specifically the IM add-on, with the belief that having to learn a new programming language for a standalone IM product was a huge barrier customers were unwilling to cross. That proved fatally wrong! Customers were in fact using multiple IM programming languages and that was not a barrier. What they wanted was actually a standalone IM application. If you do not understand the customer’s real problem at the most elemental level, you cannot sell. This is made a lot more complicated by the fact that sometimes, the only thing the customer can recognize is the solution (and that is when it is made). In many instances, the customer cannot even articulate the problem quite precisely. So, the salesman is not just describing solutions, he will also be required to describe the problem.


Listening is a virtue (IMAGE: thirdsector.co.uk)

There is a huge difference between selling and telling. The most important part of your sales activity is listening. You can never win in sales, just  by reading out your own prepared scripts. What is best is often to let the customer read out their own prepared script and sometimes oft-stated objections, then you can ask vital questions that put holes in those objections. In selling, if you must keep one rule, it is “Listen more than you talk”. Tellers are always talking; sellers listen a lot more.


Price cuts may not be a solution (IMAGE: gadgetsinnepal)

This is where management often quarrels with the sales team. Sometimes it is necessary to make downward price reviews, but the salesman must understand that a cut in prices does not always solve problems of demand. Price has to necessarily reflect costs and beyond that, if you are always selling to the wrong people, your product will always be very costly. Therefore, you need to understand when someone says “your products are too expensive”, what they are basically saying is “I cannot see as much value in this solution as you are charging for it”. Again, the wrong customer will never see substantial value in a product. Imagine selling Alsatian dog food to a village dog keeper. You can never persuade him to pay the value.


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Bunmi Jembola4 Posts

Bunmi Jembola is a Sales & Marketing Consultant. He made over N12 Billion in sales value in one decade, working for three employers. He has over one decade of sales experience across four industries (FMCG, Consulting, Banking and Technology). Bunmi trains and coaches sales and marketing officers and entrepreneurs on how to generate consistent high-value clients. He is CEO of Venture Starter Nigeria and Africa Startup Festival.He can be contacted at [email protected]


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