In sales there are many bad habits that have crept in somehow and seem to propagate with every new crop of sales people. I have made many of these mistakes myself, and witnessed them being carelessly carried out by some of the worst in the business. In my work environment, good conversations are the key to sustainable revenue. Here are some of the most useless habits of conversation I’ve seen and heard in sales, and what you can do about them.
1. Stop “Following Up” “Checking In” & “Touching Base”
These phrases are not adding anything to your client’s day. As soon as people hear this, they are thinking “another typical pain in the @%$^#& sales person.” Most people are way to busy to listen to you “just touch base.” Instead, get creative. Find something valuable to say like: “Did you see the Bloomberg report about your customer X who just won a 2M bid with XYZ company? How does that impact your operation?” or whatever. Don’t just touch base, round that base with meaningful conversation that shows you are in the top tier of business and working for a living just like them.
2. Stop Begging For Time
As soon as you say “I was just wondering if I could have a moment of your time” you have put yourself in a negative position. Nobody cares what you were wondering. They are trying to run a business, make money and keep from going crazy from getting a bazillion stupid phone calls a day. They probably already have a favorite charity. Skip the apologetics instead and get to the point. How can you make it worth their time to listen to you? Let’s talk about that instead.
3. Dispense with the Chit Chat
Don’t confuse friendliness with idle chatter. Consider your audience. Be courteous of the incredible time constraints they face. The average executive receives 300 emails and 100 phone calls a day from marketers. He or she may have as many as 10 meetings to attend today. Differentiate yourself instead by skipping the schmooze and moving straight to how you can help them grow their business. Your thoughtful business ideas will be a refreshing change from the typical death-by-blather they hear all day long from your colleagues.
4. Stop Making Nebulous Requests
Don’t create more work for your clients by asking stupid questions like: “So do you have any projects going on currently?” First, this tells them that you have no idea what they do. Second, it tells them that you are not ambitious enough to even anticipate what they might need, based on your understanding of today’s business climate. Instead, how about asking specific questions that probe into issues you have seen with other clients in similar segments? Ask about things you know they care about. If you don’t know what that might be, do a little research before you call.
5. Save the Technobabble For GeekWeek
Unless you know your client is familiar with the specific technical jargon you want to use, don’t use it. At the very least, it could confuse them or bore the snot out of them. At the worst, it could make them feel like you are unfamiliar with their role, or they might even feel uninformed and out of touch. Either way: not good. When in doubt, skip the industry jargon. Instead, explain your case in simple terms that even an eight year old could understand. This is in no way to say that executives are uneducated or unwise, quite the opposite, they are very wise, but because of the conversations they have, it’s quite possibly that they are insulated from a lot of highly technical terminology.
6. Train Yourself Not To Stutter
Does this sound like someone you want to trust with your next high profile project?: “Hi, uh, this is uh, Don, uh, with, uh, ACME Power, uh, Widgets. So, um, we were just wondering, uh, if you, like, um..” Instead, if you want to be considered a valuable partner to your client’s business, learn to enunciate clearly. Confidently demonstrate that you are competent and knowledgeable about the subject matter you speak of. They may not say it, but business people understand that if you are not confident, they would be foolish to put their confidence in you too.
7. Stop Filling Up The Silence
Give yourself (and everyone else) a break. Just because no one is speaking, doesn’t obligate you to fill that void. In fact, one of the most effective sales people I know sets the tone in a meeting, asks a question and then sits silently. It may seem uncomfortable at first, but it gives the client time to gather their thoughts and they will often tell you much more than they ever would when faced with the constant pitchfest some sales reps feel they have to provide during a sales call. Silence is your friend, friend. Trust the silence.
8. No Instant Best Buddy
If someone is looking for friends, they usually don’t contact their sales rep. They might visit a bar or log onto Facebook, but unless they are really desperate, they aren’t looking to sales reps to be their best buddy. Being friendly is one thing, but if you act like you’re more intimate than you really are, then it appears that you are shallow, insincere and kinda stupid. Instead, work toward a professional long term business relationship. Earning trust and respect is a gradual process.
9. Stop Selling From Your Heels
Some sales people act as if they are pleading with clients to please, please buy their stuff. It’s as though they are afraid of being slapped or something! If your company has something of value, and you are providing a valuable service, then be bold about it. I’m not talking about being aggressive or pushy, but clients respect a sincere, confidently spoken business case. If you have something worthwhile to say, it’s worth saying it confidently and with great poise.
10. Leave The Interrogation to The Folks Down at Gitmo
Sometimes sales people are in such a hurry to “close” that they end up grilling their client with rapid fire questions. Calm down. Investigate, probe, implore, but don’t interrogate. Instead, enjoin them with pleasant, two-way conversation lest you run the risk of boring, irritating or overwhelming them. Get good at getting the answers you need in a way that is genial, gracious and results in your client getting answers they want too, and helps them see not only the scope of their pain/opportunity, but also the value in what you bring to the table.
11. Quit The Speed Talking Mario
I was always amused by the auctioneer’s mile a minute delivery. Clients however are not so amused by this from their reps. So you’ve had four cups of coffee this morning and you are really, really excited that they agreed to meet with you. That’s no reason to blast your client with oratory vomit. Instead, slow it down, make it engaging and enjoyable. Match cadence with your client’s rate of speech. Notice their body language and try to naturally adjust your own to match. Show that you are listening and thoughtfully considering what they say.
12. Stop Frowning
In sales, there’s a lot of pressure and a lot that can go wrong. If you are heavy in heart, it shows on your face, and people can hear it in your voice. One sales expert friend of mine says to smile when you call someone, because you can hear it on the other end. If you are bothered by something, you should get that taken care of before working with your clients. You want to meet them with a smile on your face and a spring in your step, even if you are just calling them on the phone. Whatever it takes, get a smile that covers your whole body, not just your lips. A happy, confident person is much more pleasant to talk to, and much harder to resist.