The Costliest Mistake in Selling

Many salespeople and sales executives, especially sales executives, believe that the costliest mistake in selling is losing the sale. That’s not quite accurate; the bigger mistake in selling is taking a long time to lose a sale that you should not have lost. I‘d say the costliest mistake in selling is learning nothing from the experience. 

 

A professional salesperson should never feel good about a losing an opportunity to help a customer. But even the most honest and professional salespeople will sometimes lose a sale. What makes them so successful is that they rarely if ever lose a sale they could have earned. 

 

The average sales cycle across all industries is changing and much of it now happens out of the site of the salesperson. Most customers have done at least some research online before reaching out to a salesperson. In business to business selling many of the purchasing decisions are becoming more complicated. They are driven not by price alone but by brand, service, timing and tax considerations as well. That takes much of the decision away from a single buyer and leads to more “committee” type decisions. That takes longer.

 

There are lots of challenges with a longer sales cycle. There are usually more people involved. There are more objections to overcome. Second chances are provided to competitors. The good news is that most of those challenges can be overcome by effective information gathering. The longer the sales cycle, the more influence required to earn the business. Influence in sales comes directly from information. 

 

Do you influence your prospect’s and customer’s decisions or stand on the sidelines and observe from a distance? Are you in the deal, making a difference for your customer, your organization and yourself? Do you have the information needed to do that?

 

Are you selling products and services or showing them? To really sell requires influence. That can only come from taking the time to understand your customer’s true wants and needs and most importantly, why the need exists. 

 

You should have no problem with a longer sales cycle, so long as it leads to a sale. Your challenge today is that it can take just as much time and effort to lose a sale as it does to earn the business. 

 

When you invest your time with a customer make sure it counts. Ask the tough questions and get the information that leads to influence and the sale.


Don’t commit a too common mistake in selling, using your time to watch a competitor take away your business and your income.

Are You a Pitcher or a Professional?

Okay, so let me begin by acknowledging that I’m likely to offend some long-time salespeople. There will be other people who think that “it’s just a word” so what does it matter. 

 

To the first group I’d say get over it, if you’re that easily offended then your success in sales will always be limited. To the second group I’d say if you think “it’s just a word” then think also of all the times “just a word” changed your attitude, changed your thinking, and maybe changed your level of success. Words matter!

 

The word I’m writing about today is “pitch.” 

 

A pitch might be the legal delivery of a baseball by a pitcher. It could be the slope of a roof. Sometimes it’s the quality of a sound governed by the rate of vibrations producing it. My personal favorite use of the word pitch is a high approach shot onto a golf green. 

 

But a “pitch” is never never never a professional sales presentation. Now, before some salespeople, and even some sales trainers, tell me that pitch is only a word let me stop you before you begin. It’s not just a word, it’s a huge word. 

 

It’s huge because it plays an important role in determining your mindset as a salesperson. Your actions tend to follow your words and your thoughts. When you say you’re giving a pitch, or even think it, then everything you say and do around your prospect or customer will be affected….and not in a good way.

 

Salespeople, at least professional salespeople, need to stay focused on what’s important. The only thing that really matters to professional salespeople is their customer. Professional salespeople don’t make a pitch to a prospect; they craft a presentation based on their customer’s needs. 

 

Professional salespeople make recommendations based on information. The information comes from customers as a result of a thorough discovery process. 

 

Sales isn’t a game where you make a pitch and hope the prospect takes it. It is not a game where you try to pitch something past a customer. You don’t need to “pitch” anything because if you’re a professional salesperson you don’t play games with a customer. You don’t think of a sale as a “win” for yourself. The only win in professional selling is making sure the customer gets what they need.

 

Do not kid yourself. If you’re not thinking in terms of helping a customer or prospect reach a goal or an objective then you’re not thinking like a professional salesperson. 

 

Thinking in terms of “making a pitch” puts a salesperson in the wrong frame of mind. It diminishes the importance of what a professional salesperson does. Peddlers and average salespeople make pitches. Professional salespeople make formal, professional, and meaningful presentations. 


So ditch the pitch and be the professional salesperson your prospects and customers deserve. 

Price and Value Are Not the Same

My Grandfather used to say “Price without quality is waste.” What he meant by that of course was that getting a good price on a bad or wrong product was not a good deal.

 

He ran a small grocery store for nearly 50 years. He started when all grocery stores were small and it was his philosophy on price vs value that allowed him to survive when the “corner stores” were being devoured by the Supermarkets. 

 

He knew that “price” was simply what people paid and that “value” was what they received in return. When people were convinced that there was additional value to be had they would willingly pay an additional price. 

 

Good organizations and great salespeople know that same thing. They do not sell on price, they instead sell the value that their product or service offers their customer. 

 

To be sure there are some people who buy almost solely on price. Most often these buyers won’t be tempted by value because they are relatively short-term thinkers. A common refrain is “I can buy two of these for what I’d pay for one of those.” That could be true but what they fail to see is that the “one” will perhaps last 4 times longer than the “two.” 

 

But here’s another reason so many people seem to buy on price: poor salespeople cause them to make that mistake. 

 

Poor salespeople do not have the ability to communicate the value their product provides the customer. When a poor salesperson, or more likely, a poorly prepared salesperson hears their price is too high they immediately begin thinking they need to discount their price to earn the business. What they don’t understand is that they aren’t “earning” anything by accepting less for their product or service, they are merely buying a sale. 

 

When a salesperson buys a sale it’s likely everybody loses. The salesperson and their company obviously loses; they have built value into the product and they are not receiving the money they need to sustain that value. 

 

But here’s a surprise; the customer likely loses too. They lose because the product or service that they want will eventually go away. If it doesn’t go away the service that came with it will decline and they will really need the service because the value and quality in that product will almost certainly decrease over time. 

 

When I was just a kid I’d be at the Farmer’s Market at 4:00am on Saturday morning with my Grandfather to hand select only the finest, freshest fruits and vegetables that our customers would buy later that day. 

 

I suppose that most people don’t remember those days but when I walk into the produce area of my local supermarket today all I see is the stuff we wouldn’t touch back then. Today if you want truly high quality fruits and vegetables you either go to a speciality market or you go directly to the Farmer’s Market yourself…and you pay more, especially at the specialty markets,…because you see value in the quality. 

 

It turns out, price without quality IS waste, maybe not a complete waste but you’re certainly not getting what you pay for.

 

If you’re a salesperson today then learn the difference between price and value. Understand that you’re doing your customer a disservice by not explaining the value your product or service provides to them.

 

They may feel lucky getting a good price today but the sting of poor quality far outlasts that lucky feeling. 


Your customers, and most every bit of research supports this, your customers would rather pay a fair price for true quality than receive a low price on an inferior product. When you understand that absolute fact then you understand what you need to know to actually earn a customer’s business.

What Are You Selling?

In the factory we make cosmetics; in the drugstore we sell hope. – Charles Revson

Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon Cosmetics, was not a well liked man. 

He was so offensive in fact that vendors often refused to do business with him. But in spite of his personality he still managed to build a multi-billion dollar cosmetic empire.

That’s because he knew what he was selling – and it wasn’t cosmetics.

His quote above said it all. His ads sold hope by using most of the ad’s space on images of beautiful movie stars and glamorous models. The add copy made bigly promises of instant beauty with nearly no effort. He understood that nobody really wanted cosmetics, what they wanted was the beauty. So that’s what he sold.

I remember one of my first sales managers telling me that the best salespeople sell verbs, not nouns. When it became obvious that I didn’t understand what he meant he clarified it by saying they don’t sell the steak, they sell the sizzle.

Through the years I’ve come to understand that the best salespeople don’t sell their product, they sell what their product can do for a prospect. 

The challenge here is really two-fold. First you have to be selling a product that benefits someone. Then you have to find that someone it benefits and show them how it helps them.

By the way, if you are trying to sell a product without benefits then you need to find another product. If your product is the equivalent of an artificial appendix then it may work great but finding a market for it will be nearly impossible.

If you want to sell more next year then don’t sell what you’re selling, sell what people are buying. Don’t sell what your product is, sell what it does and most importantly sell “why” it does it.

Develop the mindset of helping your customer, not just making the sale. The very best sales professionals know that the more they help the more they sell. The very best sales professionals are passionate and enthusiastic about how their product or service helps a customer and they pass that enthusiasm to their prospects.

Just remember, people will seldom actually buy your product, they will buy what it does….for them.

If You Want it Then Ask

My mom was as special a person as you could ever meet. She was an amazingly compassionate woman who would go way out of her way to help just about anyone. Whatever caring nature I have surely came from her.

What my mom wouldn’t do was ask….for anything. She would however hint. She was world class at hinting about what she wanted. Throughout her life she never had a drivers license. If she needed, or wanted to go somewhere she would never ask…but she would drop some rather straightforward hints.

When I received my license I became an instant target of her hints. She would say “it sure would be nice if someone would drive me to the mall.” Of course at first I would jump at the chance but after a while I must admit it got kinda old. 

I asked her on more than one occasion why she just didn’t ask for a ride and she would always answer that she didn’t want to be a bother. (It would have been impossible for her to be a bother but I guess she didn’t get that)

Later in life I learned there were a lot of people like my mom in that regard, they don’t want to be a bother either and they also think “asking” is a bother. Most unfortunately some of these people are salespeople. 

Imagine a salesperson thinking it’s a bother to ask a prospect for the order. Those salespeople are greatly limiting their success. 

Here is a simply sales fact: salespeople who have earned the right to ask for the order tend to get what they ask for. Even if they have earned the right to ask for the order if they don’t ask they most often don’t get the order either.

If you’re the type of salesperson who just asks for the order without earning the right to do so then I’d agree, you are a bother to your prospects. But if you’ve done your homework by asking the right questions to determine whether your product or service benefits the customer, and you’ve determined that it does, then by all means ASK. Ask because you have earned the right and asking for the order is the logical conclusion to a professional sales presentation. 

Your prospects almost certainly expect you to ask. In fact the research shows many of them are just waiting for you to ask so they can say yes. All you need to do to get that yes is ask but if you don’t ask then the yes often never comes. 

I don’t know why prospects behave that way but I know I too behave that way when I’m the prospect. All I would need to say yes is the simple nudge of an order asking question. Without the question my hesitation remains.

One final point, when asking for an order don’t beat around the bush. “What do you think” is not an order asking question and neither is “well let me know what you decide.” 

If you’ve earned the right to ask for the order and you’re certain that your product or service will solve a prospect’s problem or provide a benefit they are looking for then ask. Ask by saying something like “may I have your order” or “may I have your business.” Just like that, straight out!

It is the way true sales professionals do it.

The Gift of Listen

As far back as I can remember there has been a saying that good salespeople have the gift of gab. 

For the last 30 years or so I’ve known that saying to be utterly false. Good salespeople, actually great salespeople, truly professional salespeople, don’t have the gift of gab, they have the gift of listen. 

You’ll never hear a truly professional salesperson say that they “talked” anyone into doing anything. The best salespeople actually listen far more than they talk. They  don’t want to sell people stuff that they don’t need. They want to help them buy products and services that help their customer receive a real benefit in return. 

Great salespeople ask great questions of their customers knowing full well that if they ask the right questions what follows are honest answers that will help them help their customer.

Once they ask great questions then they listen and they don’t just listen to respond, they listen to understand. They linger on the words of their customer until they fully understand the needs and wants of their customer. If for any reason they don’t fully understand they will ask more questions until they do. What they never do is guess. They don’t guess at what their customer might need or what they might want, they ask great questions and then they listen until they understand.

They listen as if that particular customer is the only customer in the world because they know that, in that moment, they are in fact the only customer that matters. 

If you want to know how you measure up to the best sales professionals in the world consider this: the best sales professionals listen more than twice as much as they talk. 70% of their interactions with a customer are invested in listening and only 30% are spent talking. For average salespeople those percentages are just about reversed. 

You will never learn how to help your customer by talking to them, talking just starts the communications process. Listening to your customer helps you learn how to help them, listening completes the communications process.

So… are you listening yet?

 

Don’t Close That Sale!

Salespeople need to sell, that much is certain. In business nothing much happens until somebody sells something. That’s one reason I have so much respect for professional salespeople, they are the engine that drives much of a company’s success.

Please note that I said I have much respect for PROFESSIONAL salespeople. The hacks out there who will do anything to separate a prospect from their money… not so much. 

If you’ve been is sales for any length of time you’ve likely heard the old axiom known as ABC or  “Always be closing.” That little sentiment has ruined many sales careers. I have a better one, it not only lengthens sales careers it tends to make them highly profitable as well. 

Here’s mine: NBC or NEVER be closing. That’s right, NEVER! In case you’re confused let me repeat that in a more succinct way… NEVER close a sale, never, never, never!

Salespeople who live with a goal of closing a sale, or closing business or closing a deal are looking at the sales process exactly the opposite of how their prospect looks at the buying process. 

Limited salespeople believe that when the prospect says yes the deal is done. The prospect believes that when they say yes the deal, and the relationship, is just beginning. 

The term “closing” is one of the most negative and limiting words in sales. It says something is over, done with, and it’s time to move on. If you’re purely a transactional salespeople who will never need or want a repeat customer then go ahead and close. 

If you’re a sales professional who wants a long-term career in sales, with lots of returning customers and golden referrals then don’t think of “closing” the sale. Think instead of “earning” the customer’s business and opening a new, mutually beneficial relationship. I absolutely want you to ask for the order but only after you’ve earned the right. You earn the right to ask for the order by determining how your product or service can help your prospect and then presenting a solution that makes sense to them.

That change in mindset will change the way you sell. It will change the way your prospect looks at you. It will change your outlook on what you do for a living. You’ll no longer have a sales “job” you’ll have a career in sales. 

You’ll no longer simply be chasing the deal, you’ll be searching for solutions that will help your prospects and customers reach their goals. You’ll enjoy what you do for a living far more than your “closing” colleagues.

Oh and one more thing… you’ll sell more and if you’re compensated on your results you’ll earn more money too!