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6 Sales Mistakes I Experienced as a Buyer

How a buyer buys

A few years ago, one of my high-performers asked me, “I feel that all the new training programs are only giving me incremental improvements. Earlier in my career, I used to experience much bigger improvements. I don’t want to say that I have little more to learn. I really can’t accept that as I know I have so much further to go. Where can I learn more techniques that will continue to advance my sales skills and results?”

My answer, “Your problem isn’t that there is less information out there to help you, nor is it about the possibility that you are advancing so much that it is harder to get continuing transformational improvements. The problem is that you are looking for education in the wrong places. I will tell you what my martial arts instructor told me. When you reach black belt level, you know the techniques well. You have practised enough to be able to apply them. At that stage, you won’t learn much more by continuing to participate in classes. You continue to learn by now teaching students.”

It is the same for sales. I used to encourage my team to proactively seek out opportunities where they are the buyer and are being pitched by salespeople. Don’t be picky about the scenario. Go for anyone that you come across in a B2B or B2C setting. You will learn more about what they do well and don’t do well. You will learn more about your own sales process.

As salespeople, we are so immersed in our role as the sales person, that we sometimes lose the perspective of the buyers that we are engaging with. If you want to really learn how to improve your sales techniques, try experiencing life as a buyer!

This article is about my recent experience.

Let me first share some context on why I was a buyer.

The sales training industry is a tough one to be in. There are so many ‘gurus’ out there that it is very hard to stand out. In addition, the profile of high-performing sales leaders means that they don’t always outsource their training. To make things even more difficult, sales leaders often view trainers with scepticism as a lot of them base their frameworks around their experiences, rather than thorough research and insights. Whilst we have research partners, and we actively seek out the foremost experts to help inform our methods, we are still faced with scepticism that we must spend time overcoming.

Because of this, I decided to explore having a speaking slot at a sales conference. I contacted the sales manager to get some information and pricing. At first, the engagement seemed quite smooth, but soon it turned sour and now I am very unlikely to seek them out again. To be clear, this sales rep wasn’t rude, rather it was his sales process that was lacking.

Below are the 6 mistakes they made. Avoid these, and you will see a drastic improvement in your sales results.

1. Didn’t Ask Questions

The sales rep didn’t ask any meaningful questions about why I was interested in having a speaking slot and why I called them. I wasn’t asked about my business, nor was I even asked about my priorities and challenges.

Sounds basic, but we can all fall into this trap when we are excited about what we presume to be a hot lead. Whatever the situation, you should always seek to understand the fundamentals (I have not included qualifying questions below, but you should certainly include those relevant to your product/service):

· What are this person’s goals or objectives?

· What are their challenges to achieving them?

· Why are these objectives so important?

· Why are these challenges so difficult to overcome?

· Why are they seeking outside help to overcome these challenges?

· How have they addressed these challenges in the past, or how are they planning to tackle them?

· Who in your company will be owning and contributing to these tasks/objectives?

· When do they need to have this resolved by and why?

Notice these aren’t complicated questions. In fact, they follow a simple framework that I have implemented in global companies and they have radically improved the quality of sales reps’ conversations and even the accuracy of their forecasting. That framework is the 4 W’s and 1 H:

· What

· Why

· Who

· When

· How

2. They were Not Curious or Interested About Me

This was a big one. The lack of questions made me feel as if this person wasn’t interested in me at all. What did that mean? Obviously, they were only interested in their sale. That does not inspire confidence in me as the buyer. In fact, this made me feel that this person does not have my best interest at heart, and they will not support me along the way.

In addition, without taking the time to ask me questions about me or my interests, it clearly showed that this person is not a partner that I would wish to do business with. It is never about just the product or service; it is about the business partnership that a buyer will have with the salesperson.

Research by CEB (now Gartner) found that the biggest driver to customer loyalty is the quality of the sales experience. Customer loyalty can also extend to new client sales experience. Here are some examples of ‘quality’:

· Reps offered a unique, valuable perspective on the market and my business

· Rep helped me consider alternatives by providing objective positives and negatives

· Supplier is easy to do business with

Notice the first and second point. Sure, you can research some of that information, but the really valuable information will come from the buyer. You need to ask that buyer the right questions to understand what valuable knowledge would be and what their real challenges are that you can help them with.

3. They were Fooled by an Incoming Lead

Granted, I did call them and ask about how they can help me, but that is no reason to completely forget the fundamentals. Having an incoming lead does not mean that I am a ‘hot’ lead. In fact, I could have been calling to get their best price and then use that to negotiate with my preferred vendor. If a salesperson falls into this trap, they will have wasted their time. You might think that a 30-minute call is acceptable ‘collateral damage’, but if you think about how many leads you may receive in a year, they can really add up.

High-performance salespeople realise that where executives have their budget to plan, our ‘budget’ as salespeople is our time. Our time is incredibly precious, and we should treat it like it is currency. If we did that, then we would be tighter on how we qualify our prospects and leads.

Why is it so easy to fall into the trap of thinking an incoming lead is ready to buy?

4. They didn’t Master Their Emotions

The best salespeople are masters of emotional understanding. In fact, this skill is so effective that our research found it separates the top 10 percentile of high-performers from the rest of the high-performer category. They are literally the ‘cream of the crop’.

In this instance, I am not talking about understanding the emotions of your buyer, that is a large topic we cover in another article, I am talking about mastering your own emotions during a sales process. Your emotions go through different ‘settings’ during a sales cycle, but they can be pretty high at the start and at the negotiation phases. In both phases, you should never allow your emotions to control you. You must remain logical.

This salesperson allowed their emotions to get the better of them. They saw an incoming lead and became excited. In addition, they likely heard the enthusiasm in my voice and were feeding off it (wish I could help it, but I have been trained by some of the best). Because their emotions controlled them, they forgot to ask powerful questions and qualify me.

In any sales situation, keep a handle on your emotions. It is very easy for your emotional centres to become hijacked. However, there are some simple, scientifically-based techniques that you can use to minimise this risk. The science behind these is that you are activating your pre-frontal cortex; the centre of your brain that controls logical thinking. Doing this will down-regulate your amygdala (the emotional centre of your brain) and help you to approach a situation more logically. They do take practice, as our emotional centres are evolutionarily wired for a quicker response, but the practice is worth the effort.

Ask questions

You can either ask the buyer questions or even ask yourself questions. The latter is tough to do as it can distract you from deeply listening to the buyer. The best method is to ask the buyer simple questions.

Have a script to hand of specific questions that you would ask any incoming lead. Have them printed out and placed in front of you so that you cannot miss looking at it when on a call. These can be basic questions that will get you warmed up for the deeper, more insightful questions. Such basic questions could be:

“How did you hear about us?”

“Could you please confirm your name and the company you are calling from?”

“What motivated you to contact us?”

“Why now?”

So, what basic questions can you ask your incoming leads?

Clarify What They Have Shared

This is one that I have found to be particularly powerful. Nothing pleases a person more than when someone confirms what they have spent time sharing. It shows you have been listening and, every time, I have been able to hear how impressed the person is by the fact that I have been able to retain what they have shared. Even if you get one or two things wrong, they are more than happy to correct you in a cordial way.

Doing this gives you time to think. It also helps you repeat to yourself why this person contacted you. Both reasons help you access your prefrontal cortex.

Here’s how I do this:

“Mr/Miss prospect, thank you for calling us and I am happy to help get you the information you need. Just to make sure that I fully understand and haven’t missed anything, would you mind if I quickly confirm the details you have shared? Great. You told me….”

Take a few deep breathes

This may sound obvious, but you would be surprised at how easy it is to forget in a ‘high-pressure’ or ‘high-emotion’ situation. When your adrenaline is pumping, we tend to take shorter breaths. This is part of your physiological mechanism for the fight or flight response. The problem is that these short breaths fuel your emotional centres even more and help facilitate the transfer of adrenaline to the various parts of your body. Slowing down your breathing has been scientifically proven to down-regulate the emotional centre of your brain and up-regulate your logical centre.

In my previous businesses, I had a colleague who would print out the words “Remember to smile” and “Remember to breath” at her desk. This would often remind her of two simple methods to maintain her composure.

Put the caller on hold

This may sound crazy to a lot of salespeople reading this, but it has worked for a lot of the high-performers we interviewed. I have also used this and found it to be very effective.

Here is what you do: when you receive an incoming call, simply say, “Thank you Mr/Miss Prospect for your call. Would you mind if I put you on hold for just 5 seconds while I grab my pen?” It is highly unlikely that the person will be annoyed and hang up; after all, they called you for a reason. 5 seconds will not inconvenience them, but it will help you with your composure.

5. They Only Used Price as the Urgency Driver

In my training workshops, articles, blogs, pretty much any communications of mine, I stress the fact that price is never, ever the reason why someone doesn’t buy. Of course, if you’re dealing with someone that doesn’t have the money, then that is something you should have identified earlier in the sales cycle with good qualifying questions. But, if you get to the latter stages of the buying process, price is never the main driver. It is always about whether what I buy will solve my problem or help me achieve a goal, whilst giving me a good ROI. Buyers are willing to pay a higher price if someone will solve their solution with more certainty, less risk or better outcomes, especially if the price is far lower than the negative implications of all those factors. For a buyer to feel that you might be able to do that they need to be comfortable on 3 things:

· Your company

· Your product/solution/service

· You.

That is what it ultimately comes down to. So, when this person kept following up with me on price and giving me ‘unique offers and discounts’, this confirmed that the salesperson had not understood my needs at all. If they had, they would have uncovered my reservations about whether this conference would:

· Get me in front of the right number of potential buyers

· Have enough of the right buyers attending

· Provide the right environment, or forum, for buyers to hear what I have to say

· If the audience is receptive to what I have to share at their conference

· Will I be competing with a number of other sales trainers and their messages (audience fatigue).

I needed to know that my investment would give me a good return. With some key information, they could have made me confident enough to take a chance on the full price. However, because they didn’t seek to understand this, no amount of discounts would have convinced me.

That is one of the big reasons why asking good, insightful questions about me and my business is so important. Seek to understand my drivers, my problems, my aspirations. Do this, and you will tap into drivers where money (as long as I won’t go broke) is not an issue.

Note: if you want to know the 11 most valuable things you must know about your target buyers, feel free to contact me and I will share them with you.

6. They Went Dark When I Said No

This was the nail in their coffin. During the sales process, I couldn’t have been more attractive to them. They fervently contacted and wooed me. However, once I politely said no for now….nothing. No acknowledgement, no response, nothing. That was very unprofessional.

The best salespeople know that a ‘No’ is never a ‘No forever’; it is simply a ‘No for now’. Chances are that if you left a good impression, and maintain contact in the right way, there will come a time when they will do business with you. However, because they didn’t respond it confirmed that this person did not care a whit about me and was only interested in their sale and commission.

What are the chances that I will do business with them in the future? Close to zero.

Don’t treat your prospects and buyers in such a fashion. In our highly competitive world, you cannot afford to drive someone to your competitors through bad engagement or an unprofessional experience.

High-performers aren’t just great in their sales process and controlling their emotions, they also understand that their sales pipeline should be balanced: the right mixture of short, medium and long-term opportunities. Those who have a good balance are consistently outperforming their goals because their pipelines are healthier than average performers. As Jeff Bezos said, “We delivered a good quarter because of the work we did several quarters ago”.

Receiving a ‘No’ doesn’t mean to say that you shouldn’t be disappointed, but disappointment should not equal professional discourtesy. Instead, place these opportunities in your ‘nurture’ list and work on ways to keep them informed for when the time is right. If you are top of mind, who do you think they will contact first?

Receiving a ‘No’ can also be a good opportunity to get feedback on what went wrong and why a buyer made that decision. This is a great chance to continuously learn and advance your skills. You may impress the buyer with your professionalism. When I asked such questions or sent out a short ‘survey’, I have often received words of surprise and appreciation from those buyers who take the time to answer.

Salespeople already have a bad reputation. Don’t make things harder for yourself by adding to that perception. Conduct yourself in a professional manner that shows you are more of a businessperson than just a salesperson. Doing things like this will help you easily stand out from the crowd. Unfortunately, a lot of salespeople perpetuate the negative stereotypes out there, but that is in your favour as small acts of professionalism can go a long way to differentiating you.

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Moeed Amin

Moeed Amin

Persuasion and sales expert using cognitive neuroscience & psychology and sales best practices.

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