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3 Deal-Killing Mistakes Avoid these common blunders--or face suffering sales.

By Mark Stevens

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Okay, everyone in every career makes mistakes and salespeople are no different.

How salespeople differ is in their potential to score unlimited earnings. And that opportunity can be leveraged in spades. But the sword cuts both ways. Salespeople also have the least margin for mistake. If an admin assistant errs, a form gets filled out wrong. If a salesperson errs, a sale is lost. Mega difference.

Sales blow up before they are closed for many reasons, but three reasons top the list. Understand these--and equally important, how to avoid them--ahead of time and you will increase your production exponentially. Guaranteed.

The Deal Killers
You ask for the business. Old school, Willy Loman-style sales hack advice says you should ask the customer or the prospect for the business. No. No. No.

You are not a peddler. You are not a beggar. You are a problem solver, solution provider, advisor, consultant, expert and educator. Does your lawyer get on his hand and knees for your business? Does your doctor? No. And you neither should you. This isn't a matter of ego or pride. It's about being a sales professional. When you ask for the business, you:

  • Appear desperate and lose professionalism.
  • Rely on a stunt as opposed to creating a compelling sales performance. When you instill trust in yourself, you don't have to ask for the business; your customers and prospects ask for you.

Reminding yourself of your prospects' patterns before you walk in the room is critical. Replay the movie of your last meeting in your mind before you enter the room. Doing this provides you with strong and reliable signals and patterns for how to conduct yourself this go-round--this new opportunity.

Three times a year, I have lunch with the CEO of a major insurance company. I never bring anything to sell, there are no proposals in hand, no hidden agenda. Sure, I would love to walk away with a commitment for a major project but that is nowhere near top of mind.

He will ask me what is new at my firm, what interesting things are we up to. He always starts off that way. So, armed with the knowledge of his patterns, I prepared myself to talk about the most compelling, innovative and intriguing work MSCO is doing. These lunches may not be the biggest engagement, or the most profitable, but they are the most captivating.

In a dynamic the "ask for the sale" hustlers don't comprehend, once you captivate prospects, they begin selling themselves on you. They'll think, "Why don't I have MSCO do that?" In essence, they do the selling for you.

At one of our luncheons last year, the CEO started out, as usual, with a request for an update. I had the perfect answer ready for him, wrapped up like a Christmas gift.

"Thanks for asking. We've just developed a system of identifying sales prospects, per industry category, on social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Think of it as a lead generation tool that cultivates opportunities through the internet."

Clearly intrigued, he asked me for more detail on how our e-system worked. I answered each query, never once suggesting that he think of using the system for his business. I didn't have to.

"Mark, I think this could be powerful for us, don't you?" he asked. "I mean, think of how our sales guys would respond if we could cultivate entire new funnels of leads for them. Have you thought about that Mark?"

I had thought about it; but as an idea man, a confidante and a solutions provider, I wanted him to sell himself. Suffice it to say, after one more meeting with a senior team of staffers, he asked MSCO to build a custom system for his company. Price tag: $1.1 million.

So don't ask for the business. Make the offer so attractive the business asks for you.

You set an annual sales goal. From the standpoint of conventional wisdom, this goal-setting exercise makes sense. But look at it closely and you will see it is self-defeating. Here's why:

  • It puts an artificial ceiling on your expectations. Why aim for $500,000, $1 million, $10 million in sales when you can shoot for the moon?
  • It puts pressure on you, leading to desperation. You'll force the issue with prospects, and no one wants pressure from a salesperson.

I have witnessed this scenario hundreds of times: a salesperson sets a personal quota, starts falling short and its desperation time in Dodge City. Desperation is a virtual assurance you will fall short. Far better to go out everyday with a goal to educate, influence, and build trust. Then the dollars will come.

You rely on referral sources. Note I said "rely on." Building a network of referral sources and having them recommend you to their friends and family, these are always good things.

But relying on them is a big mistake. That's because you pass control of your own destiny on to others, who may or may not act on your behalf. There's too much at stake for you to risk the "may not."

Case in point: mortgage loan brokers often think the best route to success is through real estate agents. So they meet with agents, arm them with brochures, take them to lunch, and on and on. This "hope springs eternal" approach places its faith in agents advising their home buying clients to secure a mortgage with the brochure toting loan brokers. The problems are many:

  • Agents are focused on home sales and purchases, their core business, not yours.
  • Agents are inundated with brokers seeking referral business. Now you're one of a crowd.

In this case--and in virtually all others--salespeople who bring their message directly to the source; don't have to rely on others, can make a stronger case for working with them rather than patronizing the competition and can build personal brands as they make a strong case for the advantages of selecting them.

The sad thing about selling is that so many people do it the wrong way. The great thing about selling is that so many people do it the wrong way. Avoid the killer mistakes and you will stand out and watch your production soar.

Mark Stevens is the CEO of MSCO, a management and marketing firm based in New York, and the author of Your Marketing Sucks and God Is a Salesman. He's a regular media commentator on business matters including marketing, management and sales. He's also the author of the marketing blog, Unconventional Thinking.

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