Salespeople have a bad reputation. Research continually finds them at the bottom of the list of trusted professions, and anyone who’s ever been on the receiving end of a bad sales experience will know why.
1. Reading from a Script
Agh, scripts. They are so transparent, so unnatural. In truth, my sales career started off reading from a script. I was a telesales rep – and isn’t telesales the worst for this behaviour? What I hate about scripts is the total lack of flexibility. How can you follow the direction of your customer’s complaints, challenges, and needs if you’re limited to specific lines of inquiry or — worse — product descriptions? The simple answer is that you can’t.
What’s more, people who read from scripts tend to display a total lack of creativity. They can’t put themselves in their customer’s shoes because they’re not thinking about their customer — they’re thinking about the script. They can’t adapt their pitch because they’ve never learned how.
Are they salespeople, or are they just readers?
Scripts are the fallback of the unsure salesperson. Once you know your product, industry, and customer base, you don’t need a script. You just need to have a conversation.
2. Fake it Till You Make it
Maybe you think the ability to convince people you know something you actually know nothing about is one of the top qualities you need as a salesperson.
I’d beg to differ.
I think those salespeople BS-ing their way through meetings and calls are giving the rest of the profession a bad name. That’s where the lack of trust comes from — and why relationships are doomed to fail.
If you’re in a meeting with a customer who is talking about their product and you don’t know what that product is, or what it does – it’s perfectly okay to ask. Obviously, the preference is that you’ve done your research before you get to the meeting, but you can’t know everything. That’s why we have “Discovery”. It’s far better to ask good questions, get customers talking, gain a genuine understanding, and build a relationship than to hash your way through it and come out looking like a buffoon.
And if they ask a question about your product that you can’t answer, don’t just make something up to hide your ignorance. Eventually, you’ll get found out and the trust will be gone. Tell them you’ll find out and get back to them — and do better next time.
3. Bullying Your Way to a Sale
Confidence inspires confidence. It reassures customers that you know what you’re doing and you can help them out. Self-belief and belief in your product are key to sales.
But some salespeople take confidence to a bad place — I think of it as belligerence, though in reality, it can look and feel a lot like bullying. No doubt you’ve seen it: those salespeople who undermine your decisions and devalue your opinion just because it doesn’t align with theirs — the “you’d be a fool not to take up this offer” approach. It has no place in today’s sales conversations, where the customer tends to have done a significant amount of research before making a purchase.
Your job is to help the customer see that the offer is too good to miss, not to call them out, shame them, ridicule them, or in any way bully them into submitting to a purchase. Lead, don’t push. Customers on the receiving end of such treatment will not stay customers for long.
4. The Parrot Technique
This bad sales technique is another form of BS-ing, but it’s so rife that it gets a special mention of its own. The parrot has conversations with customers that look like this:
Parrot: So how’s business?
Customer: Really mixed. We’re seeing a lot of demand from Southeast Asia, but less in Europe. We can see that some of our competitors are still doing well in Western markets, so I’m not sure what’s going on there. What’s your perspective?
Parrot: Yeah, it’s weird isn’t it? The industry seems to be booming in Southeast Asia, whereas some companies are finding it difficult in Western markets – especially Europe.
Do you see what’s happened there? That salesperson has no clue what’s going on in the customer’s industry and to cover up that lack of knowledge they just rephrase what the customer said and feed it back to them. They’re adding absolutely no value to that conversation and missing an opportunity to become a real ally to that customer.
5. Refusing to Listen
We’ve already established that salespeople who use scripts find it very hard to listen to the customer and follow their interests. But often, salespeople without physical scripts will still have a patter they use pretty much irrespective of context, and which they’ll pursue with no regard to what their prospect or customer is actually saying. That, or they’ll go from one meeting to the next and assume all their prospects and customers are saying the same thing, when actually, the nuances in those conversations could have presented them with many opportunities.
Active listening is such an integral part of sales. You have to give your customer the chance to speak and really listen to what they’re saying. Otherwise, how can you know what it is they need? How can you answer that need?
You Give Love a Bad Name
These bad sales habits drive me crazy because they dominate the general view of sales as a profession — and they contribute to a problem we all face: consumer cynicism. We all need to step up our game in order to win customer trust.
Most of these poor sales techniques stem from the same root cause: laziness. A lack of research; a lack of time taken to understand customers; a lack of knowledge about their own business and product — but these can be overcome by being proactive, and investing in the training and tools that support good sales processes.