7 Deadly Sins of Selling


Think that everything between buyers and sellers is all sweetness and light?

A recent study of buyers by Leopard reports that salespeople may not be as popular as they think they are. And, while it’s true that 80% of buyers consider sellers to be a strategic business resource, the research illuminates a significant disconnect:

55% of survey respondents feel that they waste a lot of time in sales meetings—or even dread encounters with salespeople. Their verbatims definitely point to trouble in paradise. Here’s a look at the negative perceptions that can kill sales, and a few tips for remedy…

One idea rose to the top again and again in our survey: People want to buy, not to be sold to. Yet, too many seller conversations continue to be me focused, not buyer focused. When sellers spend the sales call in a monologue about themselves, their products and their capabilities, they miss the opportunity to discover what the prospect really wants: the essential “what’s in it for me” information that’s the only reason anybody buys anything. The wrong solution starts with the question you don’t ask.

“Please tell me something that will help me with my situation, not only what’s beneficial to you and your company.”

“Listen to me!”

This is a close cousin to the sin of the me-focused conversation: the sellers’ presumption that they know everything about the buyers’ business…and the subsequent attempt to force fit an offering into a situation they don’t fully understand. Buyers want conversations focused on their businesses, their needs, their goals. They want to hear how your organization and your offering will speak to what’s individually relevant to them. Few blunders will turn a buyer off faster than the presumption that you know it all.

“The worst thing a seller could do is to feel that they know what we need better than we do.”

If there’s one complaint we heard more than any other, it’s this: pushiness, the polar opposite of the buyer-centric encounter.

Whether you’re guilty of the hard sell, relentless pricing discussions, endless callbacks or attempts to shove products down the buyer’s throat, customers will inevitably push back—in fact, they’ll push you right out of competitive consideration. How good your product or service is won’t matter; high-pressure selling is one sure way to put yourself out of the running.

“I feel like they are trying to distract me from making an intelligent decision.”

On our survey verbatims of top seller transgressions, one came up high on nearly every list: Dishonesty.

Is this a surprise to you? It was to us. Integrity ought to be table stakes, but buyers often find that sellers fall far short of that requirement. Exaggerated claims. Lying. Shady pricing ploys. Sellers who think that integrity is a flexible concept had better think again. Few things will kill a budding relationship faster than playing fast and loose with the truth. Once damaged, reputations are nearly impossible to heal.

“Be real!”

“Lying or fabricating data is the worst thing a seller can do.”

There’s a big difference between being unprepared and underprepared. 91% of our surveyed buyers say that sellers bring materials on sales calls…but are they the right ones that address the buyers’ needs? Do they speak in the voice of your brand? Do they persuade with eloquent simplicity or are they dazzlingly complicated? Do they address the prospect’s stage in the buying cycle? Do they help buyers make your case to their decision makers?

Preparedness takes many unexpected forms. And none of them happen by accident. How will you be ready before you step through the door?

“Do your homework before you arrive.”

“Please be prepared. Do not waste my time.”

According to our survey, more than half of buyers say that sellers don’t follow up. Or, if they do, they follow up with information that doesn’t cover what was discussed. Or they simply take too long to close the loop. What kind of message does that neglect send about the treatment the buyer can expect in the future? Slow followup, no followup: Either way, it’s like holding the door open for the competition to walk through.

“Not following up with me on requests for information—honestly, it happens way too often.”

“Taking a long time to return my messages or e-mails will make me find someone else as quickly as possible.”

Rudeness? Really? Why would any good seller want to come across that way? This sin ought to be a no-brainer, but a surprising number of buyers say that they see it all the time. Rudeness. Impatience. Displays of irritation. Interrupting the customer. Even yelling. True, sellers are under greater pressure than ever to deliver results…but copping an attitude is one sure way to deliver nothing.

“When sellers are rude, I’m reluctant to deal with them again.”

“We’re not your colleagues. We could be your future clients, and that depends on your behavior in this initial meeting.”

Rules for better selling encounters

For businesses of every size, building successful selling encounters requires a frank examination of the status quo and a reshaping of ingrained behaviors. Expanded understanding of seller and buyer environments, and knowledge of current selling practices and buying cycles can bring more value to every engagement.

“Listen to what I need, not what you think I need.”

“Don’t treat me like your customer, treat me like a company you want to see succeed.”

In these pursuits, specialists can help marketing and sales rethink the buyer/seller landscape—a major jumpstart in moving organizations toward these goals.

  • Listen first. Ask second. Speak last.

  • Practice customer-first selling. Everything is about the person who buys. Everything. Every feature, every solution in every engagement.

  • Have conversations, not sales pitches.

  • Have standardized processes and materials in place that help sellers sell in the way they do best.

  • Sell from a common playbook. One company, one message.

  • Sell products or services from an unsiloed perspective. Sell the bigger vision; the strengths of an entire company.

  • Never let your integrity be in question.

  • Read your audience; they’ll tell you when you’re pushing too hard.

  • Remember, this is your customer, not your pal.

  • Make buyers’ lives easier. Prepare the ground for them. Help them do the research, including a sampling of competitive information. Show that you’re in the hunt for the best solutions for them.

  • Follow up effectively, with a recap and information that reflect your discussion.