Once you get your foot in the door for a sales call, being prepared is everything. That goes beyond making sure you are on time, and that you don’t have broccoli stuck in your teeth. A poorly thought-out approach or a lack of knowledge of the product or service could be disastrous for a new prospect.
Especially for those just getting started in a new career in sales, here’s a look at five ways to screw up a perfectly good prospect:
1. Not researching the business itself: Knowing the basics of a business beforehand could pay dividends. As sales consultant Kelley Robertson writes for about.com, pre-meeting research can make all the difference. He shares an anecdote in which he scored a meeting, but had not properly scouted the company. “Instead of presenting a solution to an existing problem, I spent the entire meeting learning fundamental information, which to senior executives, is a complete waste of their time,” he writes. “This approach is one of most common sales mistakes. Invest the time learning about your prospect before you call them and before you try to schedule a meeting.”
2. Not knowing every angle: As Geoffrey James of inc.com says, salespeople should of course know their product or service backward and forward, and be able to anticipate any question that a prospective client might have. In other words, you should never be “stumped” by the client. If you fumble your way through “Um, er, I don’t know,” any confidence you might have earned up to that point may be lost. Imagine it from the other side: Would you want to make an investment in something that even the salesperson doesn’t fully understand?
3. Being anything less than professional: You may have an appointment with an executive or otherwise high-ranking manager, but being pleasant and courteous goes for anyone you encounter in the building. If you’re cold or curt with the receptionist or others, chances are good that word will get around, which could damage your prospects. So be nice. But don’t overdo it: As inc.com notes, “Approach each prospect with respect and courtesy — not with a glad-hand and a back slap.”
4. Talking more than you listen: One of those salesperson stereotypes is being a cross between a motor mouth and a game-show host. A certain amount of the gift of gab can certainly help, but the art of listening can be even more important. Wendy Connick, who writes about sales for about.com, emphasizes “active” listening: “Active listening is an ideal technique for salespeople,” she writes. “In essence, it involves listening to a person, understanding what they’re saying, and responding with a brief summary of what they’ve just said. Using active listening with a prospect accomplishes two things. First, you will fully understand what the prospect has told you and you can use those clues to successfully close the sale. Second, you’ll be demonstrating respect for your prospect, which gives you a huge boost in the rapport-building department.”
5. Selling features over benefits: There may be many intricate features to the product or service that you’re selling, and there should be a place in the conversation to show those off. What’s more crucial is explaining how they benefit the prospective client and what value they provide. “Your benefits should dig deep and be as specific as possible,” writes Cari Gornik for ideacrossing.org. “Show, don’t tell. For example, don’t just tell your customer that your payroll software can keep track of employee records. Show the benefit of this by expanding on how the software can help keep their payroll information as organized and accurate as possible.”