Salespeople are like members of the opposite sex.   You can’t live with ‘em, can’t live without ‘em.

Despite all the rage about Artificial Intelligence (AI) taking over the sales profession, I don’t think Willy Loman has anything to worry about in the short term. Sure, technology will continue to consume more and more aspects of selling. (Amazon Prime. Need I say more?) But when it comes to more complex solutions, the sales profession is not going anywhere.  After all, who is going to sell all those fancy AI tools anyways?

I think the greater threat to the sales profession are the salespeople themselves. Everyone reading this knows that sales people engage in a lot of bad behavior and as a Sales Evangelist who has spent his entire career in this grand profession, it frustrates me to see classic sales behavior repeat itself again and again.

The shame is that most reps don’t even recognize the bad behavior. No one ever points it out, but it shows up in the results:

  • Not getting initial appointments/no show appointments
  • Missed quotas
  • Elongated sales cycles
  • Prospects going radio silent

…and just plain ol’ losing deals because they got out sold by a more competent sales person.

Take a look at your win/loss reports and the reasons for winning and losing deals or getting/not getting an appointment. When sales teams win a deal they always seem attribute it to “superior salesmanship”.  When they lose a deal, it’s usually due to “lack of budget” or “product functionality”.  When they don’t get a call back, they declare the account “not interested”.

Never do we see a sales person mark the reason as “I screwed up” or “Bad sales behavior”.

In no particular order of egregiousness, here are some of the bad behaviors we see and how they can be turned into GOOD behaviors to save the sales profession.

Bad: Not using their last name 

This sounds ticky-tack but it’s not.  When I get a call from someone (particularly a cold call or early in a business relationship), from ‘Jason‘ or ‘Ashleigh‘ or ‘Taylor‘ from XYZ company, these folks just don’t realize how unserious they appear. This is not personal opinion either.  We actually studied nearly 1.8 million outreach efforts and found that stating first and last name got more positive responses than using first name alone.

Good: Let’s first establish a serious business relationship and then we can talk about becoming friends.

Bad: Assuming they know their prospect’s priorities

This one usually starts with “Mike, as CEO of FRONTLINE Selling, you know that CEO’s are always looking at ____ (fill in the blank with ‘the bottom line’, ‘growing revenue’, ‘finding good talent’ etc). They couldn’t possibly know what is important to ME and citing generic industry statistics and passing them off as commercial insights is not the way to get my attention.  While I applaud the attempt to use commercial insights, about 99% of reps use them incorrectly. Instead, reps must focus on how their company solves a problem that others are likely to have. This is called a value proposition (not insight), and when properly presented, it is far more powerful than an attempt to impart a complicated commercial insight in the first 10 seconds of a cold call.

Good: Craft a unique value proposition that solves a specific pain point and share that when you call prospects. Save the commercial insight for a later conversation when you can more fully understand the business issues and then give them that ‘a-ha’ moment that leads to your solution.

Bad: Leading with trendy buzzwords

“Hey Mike, it’s Josh from XYZ company. We are disrupting the XXX industry with a cool new solution. I’d love to steel (yes, they spelled it ‘steel’) 5 minutes to tell you about it.” Do you really think those who have a business to run actually want “disruption”? Heck no. Buyers only want to solve problems. We don’t want a science project to babysit so if you’re trying to entice us with your innovative technology, you better lead with the value proposition (see #3 above).

Good: If you really are an adopter of a new solution, remember that the operative term is ‘solution’. Provide the outcome first and then present your solution as a means to that end.

Bad: False Projections

The sales term for this is ‘happy ears’, which is one of the biggest afflictions in sales.  Sales people love to hear what they want to hear and even ‘hear’ things that are never said.  They make assumptions, such as surmising that the CFO wants their product because it saves money.  When their sales manager asks about that opportunity, the rep ‘projects’ and says something like ”The CFO is looking for the cost savings”.   In reality, it’s possible that the CFO is concerned that this product will take away resources from another, more important initiative and the cost savings isn’t the deciding factor. Once a sales person assumes, they cease to be curious and stop asking questions and learning about their prospect. ‘Projection’ is one of the greatest causes of sales malpractice.

Good: It’s simple: Do not assume you know what the prospect needs. Stay curious. Ask questions and let the prospect tell YOU what challenge they have. Then share how your product uniquely solves it.