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If You Can't Understand Why the Sale Fell Through It Was Probably One of These 5 Mistakes You have to talk to the people who can write the check. Never assume they will read the proposal and get back to you.

By John Holland Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Thomas Barwick | Getty Images

Without realizing it, many salespeople confuse activity with progress. They stay busy but don't close much business. When a manager asks about all the "opportunities" in sellers' pipelines, they may hear the rationalization, "If I close 20 percent of these opportunities I'll be in great shape."

The biggest issue is that the achievement of pipeline milestones is based upon seller opinions rather than buyer actions. Beyond that, sellers who are less than year-to-date are under pressure to show enough activity to be YTD soon. The further behind quota, the more optimistic sellers become.

Here are five common pitfalls salespeople should avoid:

1. Know the buyer's goals.

Most people would agree that over the last 20 years, companies have been under pressure to meet profit margins. Absent significant top-line revenue growth, many CFO's have taken several passes at reducing expenses and are running lean. If and when a seller starts to talk about offerings, finding budget will be a challenge.

Related: How This Woman Perked Up Her Family's Coffee Business and Jolted Sales by 300 Percent

In my mind, many sellers try to create demand for their offerings. The underlying problem? At executive levels, there is no demand for B2B offerings. These buyers are not interested in being educated about offerings. Sellers need to step back and ask, "Why would the title I'm calling on (or the company I'm calling on) be willing to spend the money I'll be asking for?"

The first sanity check is to find out what business goals can be achieved through the use of your offering. If there is a buying committee, it is likely each title will have different goals. Sellers should identify as many as they can.

If goals aren't articulated, there is little sense trying to push boulders up steep hills. Better to find a real opportunity. Simply put -- if no goals have been articulated, you don't have a prospect.

2. Know who makes buying decisions.

Many sellers spend a great deal of time with lower levels and try to climb the organizational ladder. This means talking to layers of people that can't say yes, but can say no. Lower levels may be unaware of business goals that are in play. Sellers often just let things play out and waste time, effort and resources.

When lower levels ask for a resource, like a demo or reference, many sellers fail to ask if the prospect likes what he or she sees, would they be willing to provide an introduction to a key player who makes decisions on funding and implementing the offering.

3. Failure to create key player visions.

While executives don't want to be subjected to product pitches, they do want to work with sellers who help them understand why they can't achieve desired business outcomes and goals. If they knew what barriers existed, they would be attempting to address them.

Related: We Are All Salespeople. Use These 3 Techniques to Become a Better One.

After a thorough diagnosis, executives would like to have a high-level conceptual understanding of the capabilities needed to achieve the desired outcome. An executive with a vision can articulate his or her goals, barriers that stand in the way and specific capabilities needed to address them. Such buyers are empowered, not sold, and take ownership for achieving the goal.

4. No compelling value established.

Before making purchase decisions, buyers need to see that the costs are more than justified by potential savings. Sellers not only compete with other vendors, they also compete for funds. If a seller calls high enough and can help build a strong cost versus benefit, the buyer can find budget for an otherwise unbudgeted initiative by reallocating money -- which can mean another seller will be told their proposal will be revisited at another time.

5. Thinking proposals sell.

Sellers get excited when they gain traction and interest within organizations. If their contact is a non-decision maker, a common mistake is failing to gain access to higher levels. Sellers will go through need development, offer proof and then provide copies of proposals that their contact will circulate to higher levels and implore those people to read them.

Several bad things can happen:

  • Key players don't have the time to read proposals.
  • Key players try to read them and don't understand offerings or potential value.
  • The seller's contact is told there's no budget.
  • The proposal hangs in the pipeline for more than 60 days.

Related: 3 Sales Strategies to Help Increase Your Business in 30 Days

Ultimately, you can't sell to people who can't buy. Without key players' involvement, unsolicited proposals are a waste of time because they are unlikely to result in closing sales.

If your salespeople can avoid falling victim to these most common selling mistakes, they stand a much better chance of making their numbers, just as your company stands a far better chance of hitting your revenue targets.

John Holland

Chief Content Officer of CustomerCentric Systems

John Holland is co-founder and chief content officer of CustomerCentric Systems in Sutton, Mass. His company provides sales process consulting and training.

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