The 12 Biggest Sales Mistakes And How To Avoid Them
Updated: Jun 5
Sales is both a skill and an art form.
For those of us who are in this exciting profession, we know that every day will bring something new. If you want to be good at sales, you never stop learning.
Actually, every conversation you have will bring you new experiences and might even give you new ideas on what the world is about.
Every individual you meet will be different, and everyone will react differently, feel differently and think differently.
Thus you can never be sure what to expect when you meet a client for the first time.
However, there are some general things you should avoid when you work in sales. These can be embarrassing or make you cringe sometimes
Sales Mistake 1: Not believing in your own product
The probably biggest mistake that happens over and over again in sales is people trying to sell a product they do not believe in.
In any successful sales conversation, a transfer of feelings is taking place.
Our ambitious and highly motivated sales rep presents our product with full enthusiasm to the customer. During this conversation, our rep brings up plausible stories about why this product is helpful and strengthens his arguments with clear numbers and facts.
This attitude affects the customer and since all of this makes sense - the customer buys from us.
We humans subconsciously take up dozen of subtle signals without noticing them.
The tone of voice, body language, the directions our eyes are moving while we present a fact, and much more. All these impressions come together and create a cocktail in our subconscious mind which results in our “gut feeling”.
Only if these impressions seem to be right, the messages were clear to understand and plausible and the appearance of the salesperson feels good for us, then we buy the product.
However, to be able to constantly deliver this transfer state of feelings to a customer, a salesperson has to be convinced that their product is truly beneficial.
Some people are making an awful lot of money in sales.
There are tactics to sell every product, and examples of people who have made it with big commission checks.
However, if you are only in sales for the money, you might as well look for a new job right away.
Successful salespeople can sell lots of their products because they believe with 100% integrity and all their heart, that the product they sell is of real benefit to the customer.
Yes, there are examples of salespeople selling low-quality products and still having success. Especially in the financial world, this is all too common.
But in all the cases I have seen personally, these people themselves were 100% sure that the products they sell are the best in the world.
This even works in cases where there are better products out there if you do some research.
However, to these top salespeople, this doesn’t matter.
From their point of view, what they sell is the best in the world.
And this is how they can convince so many other people to buy from them.
They have so much commitment, they will convince people that what they offer is superior.
For long-lasting success in sales and the big commission checks we all dream about, you will have to go the extra mile consistently.
The big bucks might motivate you in the short term, but in the long run, you will need more than that to keep you going.
Salespeople who are only in it for the money often drop out after a few months of their jobs because they realize that without massive effort, there won’t be any big checks.
And secondly, if you do not see a bigger mission in selling a product, the rejection and negative inputs you face will soon get you demotivated.
The best and most successful sales reps instead act like some missionary, whose duty is to tell the entire world about how great the product is and the company they work for.
To ignite others, you first have to burn yourself.
Or as Zig Ziglar said it:
“If a salesperson really believes their product is of benefit to the customer, it is their duty obligation to let customers know about it!”
Let's be honest: sales can be a tough field sometimes!
You will knock on many doors, call many people cold, and meet lots of people who you have never met before.
Not all of them will welcome you with open arms.
What a deeper meaning and conviction in this process gives you is the full commitment that is necessary to get going, even when you are in the midst of a sales slump.
And this is the often small, but crucial difference between someone who is successful at sales or someone who fails at it.
What if you haven't got the right product?
There is no reason to be ashamed if you haven't yet found the “right” product to sell.
As with finding the right partner in life, you might first have to try some things to see what will work for you.
Some people naturally prefer selling tangible products like machinery, construction supplies, or cars. Others are more comfortable with non-tangible products like insurance or consulting contracts.
Whatever may be right for you - don't settle if you haven't found it yet.
Do not waste your time selling a product you don't believe in!
Also for sales managers, this means you should regularly check if your team really believes in what they sell in order to make them successful in your organization.
Sales Mistake 2: Arguing with the customer
“A man convinced against his will, is of the same opinion still”
Sales conversations can often feel like a balancing act, where one small dip might cause you to fall and never get up again:
A few small words can make the other person become suspicious.
A small, innocent gesture can be interpreted as an insult by someone.
The minor detail you forgot to mention could have been just what the customer needed as a buying trigger.
Even if you are well prepared, have the best interest of the customer in mind and are totally convinced that they can benefit from using your product, there might be some small misinterpretation that lets the customer totally block you and refuse whatever you have to offer.
Add to it, that salespeople in general often do not have the best reputation if we are honest.
And also add that some people are just rude.
Maybe they had a bad day already, a fight with their co-workers, boss or spouse and built up lots of steam during the day.
And now the salesperson arrives.
All this together creates quite some tension that is often underlying any sales presentation.
It might happen that some people will treat you harshly, unfairly or have prejudice towards you.
This should never be taken personally as a sales professional of course, but we all know that it really feels bad.
A common mistake many sales reps now make is trying to argue with the customer and explain to him why he is wrong.
The problem is, even if you are very skilled and talented in rhetorics and know how to handle any argument in your favor: the customer will still not buy.
Even if you win the argument - you will lose the sale.
The customer might be unfair and totally wrong in what he is telling you.
Whatever - remain diplomatic and calm as long as you can.
You are not present there to discuss opinions, you are at this appointment to make a sale.
And a sale can only be made if the customer feels appreciated and valued, even if his reactions might be unfair.
Take mentally a step back, relax, and breathe deeply.
Find your peace, and then respond.
Swallow your pride in such moments and remember the bigger picture.
Let them “win” verbally, and find other points to present about your product
It is better to step back from your opinion for a moment and make the sale, instead of pressing your opinion on someone who does not hear it anyway - and losing the sale.
The worst thing you can do, which will kill any sale immediately, is to verbally attack or fight the prospect.
No matter how wrong they are, find a way to bring the conversation to a different topic or look for any common ground in the sales conversation.
Sales Mistake 3: Selling to someone who does not need your products
We already talked about the importance of believing in the products you sell.
Despite your best conviction, you still should always ask the question if the product is also right for the customer you sell to.
No matter how great and brilliant our product is - it will always only be useful to a number of people.
In fact, you can’t be the perfect solution for everyone.
Thus it always makes sense to ask discovery questions at the beginning of your appointment.
Find out what the other person is looking for, what their needs are, their wants, what might cause trouble, or where they see the future.
Our guide on what customers really want will show you in detail how to do that.
If the prospect clearly has no need for your product, be polite and honestly explain why you are not the right partner.
Do not waste your time and the time of the customer as well!
For long-term success, you will also sometimes have to let customers go if you cannot offer a sufficient solution for them.
In fact, if you have nothing beneficial to offer they are neither a customer nor a prospect.
Walking away from a deal will also strengthen your reputation among those clients who can really use your product and improve your positioning in the market.
The better you can define a clear customer profile, the more exactly you will know whom to serve.
But still, there will be times when you just cannot deliver what is needed.
Sales reps often make the mistake of trying to close everybody they come in contact with.
It is a desperate way of hoping to make more revenue and unfortunately doomed to failure.
Your product might be great.
But not every person in the world will need it and much less want it.
Selling someone a product with clearly no use for them is a major mistake for any sales rep.
The result is very soon unhappy customers, a bad reputation, and a long list of people who want their money back or cause trouble in the customer service departments.
The short-term commissions you might earn are never worth the trouble further down the road, especially if the commission has claw-backs meaning the company can demand it back when customers cancel.
Yes, there are some talented salespeople who can sell fridges to Eskimos.
But this does not mean that they should do so.
At least not if you want to have long-lasting success in your sales career.
Sales Mistake 4: Going to the appointment unprepared
To sell a product to someone, you first need to understand what the other person and their situation is about.
The more information you have at the beginning of the conversation, the easier it will be to sell to that person.
On the other hand, the less information you have about that person - the harder it will be to sell to them.
Before meeting anybody, your job as a salesperson is to find out about that person or company as much as you can.
Look at their websites or social media, and talk to their associates to find out who that person is.
Try not to be a stalker, but look for what their values are, how they spend their time, or what they believe in.
All these things will help you to build a connection with the other person much faster and also make your job as a salesperson much easier.
To learn more about building a connection, check out our guide on How to Build Rapport.
One of the most unpleasant parts of selling is meeting someone and not having an idea what you can expect, over and over again.
If you prepare in advance and gather information about the other person, you will walk in with a clearer picture of what will come ahead.
Not only will this increase your chances for success, but it will also make your daily routine in sales much more pleasant.
Sales reps often make the crucial mistake of not doing their homework before meeting a prospect, and this usually backfires quickly.
You will decrease your chances for success and will spend every appointment with an unpleasant feeling of having no idea who you might encounter next.
If you are well prepared and have found out details about their business or their industry before you walk in, you will enjoy much more success in selling.
Sales Mistake 5: Not using a presentation
The longer I worked in sales myself, the more I was amazed over and over to see other salespeople walking into a customer’s office totally unprepared.
Out of their current mood, they will drive for an hour or more, and then talk about whatever comes out of their mouth.
Sometimes what they say might be good, and sometimes what they say might be bad.
Out of luck or sheer coincidence, they will sometimes land a sale and sometimes they will not.
To become successful in selling you must have a well-planned and organized presentation for your product.
No matter if you sell toothbrushes, building supplies, or financial products.
There are always certain points and ideas about the product every customer has to hear to make a decision.
If you use no pre-planned presentation, you might not present some of these facts at all.
If these facts are not presented, the customer will never hear them.
Thus your chances for success will be smaller and smaller, the more important facts you might forget during the adrenaline rush while meeting someone new.
Or you might present them at the wrong time in the presentation.
Or you might mention something like the price at the beginning without delivering the value first.
All these are common rookie mistakes for sales reps.
Sure these things happen easily, and they happen to the best of people.
Especially less experienced reps will often struggle to have a clear way of delivering information - and this is exactly what a sales presentation will do.
It will make even inexperienced salespeople know what to say and when to say it, simply by following a common theme in what they say.
“If you cannot make sure that you really present something that gets the customer hungry to know more - don’t do it you are wasting your time!”
- Tony Robbins
But the presentation can do even more for you.
With a presentation, you now have a structure in place for every conversation.
This will allow you to make adjustments, changes, and experiments on what could work better.
If you made 100 appointments and more, you will have data and a clear idea of what worked and what did not work.
Now you can optimize your presentation to help you close the maximum number of deals.
Our guide to the Law of large Numbers in Sales can help you to understand this principle better.
Sales Mistake 6: Selling to the wrong person
Many sales reps are so eager to talk to the customer and finally present their products, that they often just talk to the first person they come in contact with.
The trouble is very often the first person we meet from a family or a business is seldom the right person to talk to about our product.
There are several factors that make a person qualified for being in the position to buy from you:
Do they have the authority to make the buying decision? Are they qualified enough to make this decision alone? Do they have to talk with their spouse or co-workers first?
Do they have the money to buy our product?
Can they honestly use your product so it benefits them?
If you can answer these 3 questions with yes, you are almost certain to have the right person in front of you.
In the case that you notice the person you are talking to is not qualified to make the decision, stop your presentation right now because you will be wasting your time.
Never, ever make the mistake of going ahead when you know exactly that this person cannot buy your product anyway.
What should you do in such a case?
Well, simply ask politely who the right person is to talk to about this decision.
Or ask who else should be present when you make your presentation.
Usually, people will tell you who is making such decisions and who can help you move forward.
It is a very simple procedure if you just ask.
Sales Mistake 7: Talking too much
When you make your first sales appointments, you usually have heard quite a bit about the product.
You have heard about details, facts and figures, financial data, customer situations and how they went ahead and so forth.
Even before you enter the room with your first prospect, your brain will be filled with dozens of things you could say about your product or what you could mention.
Very often out of being nervous or simply because of excitement, the sales rep then starts dumping all he knows about the product on the prospect.
In particular people who are new to the world of selling fall into this trap of talking too much.
Apart from being possibly perceived as annoying, this behaviour usually makes customers step back mentally.
The conversation is not about them - it is about what you know about the product.
Especially when you dump many facts, figures, graphs and alike you will lose the interest of the other person really fast.
The human attention span is short already by nature, and if you just keep talking about your company, yourself and your product, it will become even shorter.
So how can you avoid this scenario?
In the most successful sales conversations, the customer does around 80-90% of the talking.
Please let this number sink in for a moment.
To really find out what moves the other person, you should ask a series of well-prepared questions.
Our guide on What customers want can help you to learn what kind of questions exactly you can ask.
The more you find out about the customer, the better you can serve them.
To find out what moves and motivates them, you first have to ask questions.
And the more questions you ask - the more the customer does the talking.
Sales Mistake 8: Not knowing how to handle objections
Contrary to common belief, objections are a very good thing.
Let’s face it: every customer you come into contact with and who is seriously considering your offer will have objections.
The absolute easy sale where people never have any doubts, fears, or second thoughts is more out of a fairy tale than reality.
If you know objections will come up, then you should better be prepared for them.
The good thing is, that once you have had a certain number of conversations you will very soon notice certain patterns around them.
Usually, they have common motives and these can be solved very elegantly if you know what to say and how. In most industries, you should not encounter more than 4 or 5 different objections during the majority of conversations.
Objections also are proof that your prospect is seriously considering your offer and is really thinking about what kind of implications it could have on his life.
An objection only comes up, if that person really thinks about the options they have and how the products could be implemented into their daily life.
Our guide on how to handle objections can help you in detail with how you prepare for them and how you can even use them as an advantage in your next sales appointments.
The biggest mistake new sales reps make is to see an objection as an offense or a problem or not to be prepared how to handle them.
In reality, objections can become your biggest ally if you know how to handle them well and what to do with them.
Sales Mistake 9: Lying about what your product is / can do
Sales often has a bad reputation as a profession because some unfortunately see it very short-minded as a quick way to make money if they sell lots of stuff.
In reality of course, especially if you see it from a long-term perspective you can only be successful in sales if you have happy customers.
Lots of them.
For many years.
Everything else will lead you very soon on a downward spiral.
Success in selling starts first and foremost with integrity and honesty when you are talking to your customers.
This means that you not only take a close look at the customer’s situation and what they could really need but also evaluate whether or not your products are appropriate to their situation or not.
As a professional sales rep when you clearly cannot offer anything beneficial to the customer, you then be upfront about it and say so.
The customer would find out the truth sooner or later anyway.
Your reputation for walking away and letting the customer know you are the wrong partner will improve and will often also get you some referral business.
Maybe that customer does not need your solution but has some friends who could use just such a product.
Even if you really need that commission, it is never a good idea to say your product will do something it is not designed to do.
How long will it take the customer to find out?
And then what happens?
Often customers will demand their money back.
Or they complain about you in your boss's office.
Or they will start spreading the news online and offline to everyone they can that you ripped them off.
In most cases, you will get a mixture of all of the above.
People can get creative if they feel you have wronged them.
Lies are short-sighted and will never last for a very long time.
Especially if you work in sales.
Sales Mistake 10: Not accepting a “yes” from the customer
When you have done your research about the client, prepared your presentation, and are excellent at knowing all possible facts and figures about your product - you are ready to roll and see the customer.
Usually, every sales conversation will bring you some back and forth with discussing viewpoints, arguing about what makes sense, and asking lots of well-prepared questions to find out more about the other person and how they make their decision.
However, once in a while you will run into prospects who hear what you have to offer or just look at it briefly - and immediately are ready to buy.
Some people might be looking for exactly what you have to offer.
Others might be just easier convinced than others.
Whatever the reason is, sometimes you will have the customer give you clear buying signals already when you simply just mentioned what you have to offer.
These buying signals can be that they ask how fast you can deliver, what colors the model comes in, or if they can use this in their business too.
The signal can come in many forms, but ultimately they all have the same meaning:
the customer wants to move forward with the purchase
And this now means you as a sales rep should do exactly what the customer wants, and help him finish that purchase.
A very common mistake is to now bother the customer with more product details, and if you just started your sales presentation go on with it - despite a clear signal to buy.
People new to the world of sales are often so eager to talk about the product, that they just continue despite having had clear signals from the customer to buy already.
If the client gives you the signal he wants to proceed with the purchase then stop wherever you are right now and go ahead with the order!
The customer wants it, now all you have to do is to deliver and help him get what he wants.
It doesnt matter if you reached this point faster or slower this time.
Stop talking, and make the sale.
You have reached your goal already.
No need for any more data or presentations.
The more you proceed to present, the higher the chances your customer will make up his mind and back out of the buying process.
Sales Mistake 11: Focusing on the cost of the product, not on its value
A lot of products have a high margin on them.
This means that the product can be produced actually cheaply - and then get sold very expensively.
Luxury items often get sold for 10x markup or more if you look at the cost of production compared to the price that is asked for.
The same also goes for information material, education, seminars, and alike.
The cost of renting a room for an afternoon is small, especially if you fill it with 500 seats or more and divide the costs per seat.
Yet such seminars often cost as much as several thousand dollars per seat - and are sold out!
So why are such markups possible at all?
Why would somebody pay much more than the cost of production?
How come these things sell so well?
It is because these items are measured by their value, and not their cost.
A set of informational tapes can easily be sold for 200$ or more.
Sure, the cost of making the tapes is just a few bucks.
But if the information these tapes have on them has the power to change your life forever, which can result in you making 6-figure incomes in the years ahead - the 200$ seems like a steal.
It is all about perspective.
Every product can be seen from the perspective of what it costs, or from the value, people get out of it.
Now in some industries, it might be more important than in others to emphasize this, but overall you should always try to sell your products with as much value as possible.
Value always exceeds costs.
Value is the reason why people will pay 100x the markup if a product really is something awesome and exciting they want to have.
The Louis Vuitton Bag can be made for 15$ but sells for 5.000$ because people want the feeling they get out of it.
This is the power of value and the cornerstone of capitalism.
Some sales reps might feel uncomfortable selling something they know costs just a few dollars in production for several hundred dollars in sale prices.
However, the margin is never important - it is the value people get from it.
It is the wrong way of thinking to look at it from that perspective.
People want to get the value the product delivers, the cost is actually meaningless because people would not produce it themselves.
If something has the potential to change someone’s life or make a person happy, it doesn’t matter that it can actually get manufactured for only a fraction of the asking price.
Your business is creating value through delivering the product into the market, and this is what you will ultimately also be compensated for.
Sales Mistake 12: Ignoring your competition
This sales mistake is very common among sales reps.
Especially in times of Google searches and smartphones, comparing products or services with one another is just one click away.
No matter which product you are looking for, you will find a comparable one within a few seconds from other vendors or in other places.
As a sales rep you have to be more than ever aware of what exactly your competitors are offering.
Look at how others present their products, and what their mentioned specifics and benefits are.
Watch what they are posting in their social media, how they communicate with the customer.
Analyze how you can present your product in such a way that such facts from other companies become irrelevant or even beneficial because your solution is different from theirs.
You can already assume in the beginning of the sale, that your customers will have had at least a brief look at your competition too.
If you carefully analyzed their benefits and compared it to your company and your products, you should have an idea about how you can position yourself against the other offers.
The market and your competition are no secret - you should be able to easily identify what arguments they come up with, and how your product can stand out among them.
One of the most common mistakes in sales is to just present your product in a generic way, without thinking about what competitors might offer to the same customer.
If you know exactly the customer is looking mainly for a cheap price, and also know your competitors offer similar products cheaper, then make sure you prepare your offer with special conditions or extra value to hold against it.
Whatever the main strategy of your competition is, find a way to be clearly the right partner to choose for the customer.
Requesting another quote often just takes minutes for the customer.
People will do it.
It is no longer enough to be “such a nice guy”.
Your offer will be measured, compared and studied in detail.
Close up with one of your competitors.
Knowing what else is offered on the market is part of doing your homework.
Checking it should be a routine activity for anyone who is interested in a long-term successful selling career.