It’s a classic Charlie Brown situation: Charlie stands on the pitcher’s mound, shoulders slumped after another loss. He turns to outfielder Lucy and cries, “It’s just not right! How could we possibly lose a game 129-0??” Lucy looks at him and responds, “We never got any breaks?”
Sometimes it’s difficult to pinpoint what exactly leads to success (or failure), particularly in the fast-paced world of sales. It’s easy to be like Charlie Brown and mourn the sales you didn’t make, or rationalize wildly, as Lucy does. But think about what you and your sales staff are doing and ask yourself--what mistakes can you avoid, and what strategies can you develop that will help you build a winning team?
There are moments when a sales call or e-mail fails because we can’t read the signals and understand how we’re coming across to the potential customer. While e-mail and other tools provide enormous opportunities for expanding and deepening your customer base, it’s important that these tools are utilized properly, to frame your business and its services in a way that leads to a sales win, rather than a surprising (or maybe unsurprising) loss.
The following are 5 common mistakes salespeople make by phone and e-mail when reaching out to new customers, as well as a few suggestions about what you and your team can do to improve your pitch.
1. Don’t Be Spammy!
One common problem is that phone scripts and e-mail solicitations can set off alarm bells for a potential customer who might read the pitch as “spam”- something they don’t want or need. Avoid punctuation and spelling errors, generic openings (“Hello, my name is…”), a message that feels overly scripted, and not being solicitous enough of the customer’s thoughts and questions. In other words, like a spam message asking for your bank account number in order to save an obscure foreign prince, it’s easy for the customer to filter you out, and miss whatever message you’re trying to convey.
If your phone scripts or e-mail pitches are starting to feel too generic, don’t be afraid to try something new. Put yourself in the mind of the customer: what would you like to hear? What information would grab your attention? What would you want to hear if you were them? We’ll expand on some of this in the points below, but here are two brief tips around personalization: convey that you understand how busy they are, and offer a snippet of helpful information (“our product can help increase your online traffic by 15%”) in a manner that reflects actual knowledge of their market needs. The first step in any sales message is to grab their attention, so start with a personalized opening.
2. Don’t Hog the Conversation.
Once your salesperson has a potential customer’s attention, what does he or she do next? One common mistake is that a salesperson fails to ask a question of the customer in the first 5 or 10 seconds after the introduction. Sales coach Connie Kadansky notes that “When people are on the phone, only 27 percent of communication is in their words, and 73 percent is in their tone,” and that tone is established in how much you listen, as well as what you say.
Give the customer space to ask a question about your product or service; let them tell you what they are looking for; give them time to vent frustrations about their current problem. Aside from good manners and building rapport, it also gives your sales staff the opportunity to tailor the pitch to the specific needs of the target by gaining a better understanding of what those needs are. A good sales rep talks about 40-60% of the time; if you’re uncertain of how you or a member of your staff is doing with this talk/listening balance, have them practice in front of a supervisor, or tape their calls and listen to them together to gain pointers.
3. Don’t Be Too Formal.
Of course, professionalism counts - you want to be prepared in your knowledge of your company’s product or service, as well as the needs of the prospect you’re calling. And you want to convey that information in a manner that’s thoughtful, engaging, assertive and respectful. However, what you don’t want is to sound too formal or scripted. It’s a tricky balancing act between professional respect and making the prospect feel comfortable. Again, practice and preparation can help here. Have a set of note cards with different points about the product you’re pitching and the person you’re calling; being prepared with multiple conversation options can help you guide the discussion naturally, instead of just relying on potentially irrelevant scripted talking points. Tape yourself speaking and then listen to the recording: how’s your pacing? Tone? Intonation? Do you talk over people without realizing it? Do you express a personal interest in what they’re saying? Do you pause? On the other hand, are you being overly friendly? Ask yourself, “Do I sound like someone I’d want to have a conversation - about anything - with?” If the answer is no, think about what you can do to change it.
4. Don’t Schedule a Meeting Without a Reason.
E-mails and phone calls can be helpful as introductory tools, but scheduling a follow up meeting to discuss or demonstrate a product or service is an important next step for many salespeople. However, you want your reason for the meeting to be clear to the potential customer. It’s important to time the meeting properly, and to approach it within the proper protocol. If you haven’t qualified the sales call, it might be read as overly aggressive to offer a demo. If you haven’t provided a compelling reason to schedule a meeting, a prospect may feel undue pressure and decline to build the relationship. Be sure to ask qualifying questions that will lead to a real interest on his or her part in continuing the conversation down the road.
5. Don’t Misuse E-mail.
While e-mail can be great for announcing products or sales events, gauging general customer interest in an online marketing approach, or asking questions of a potential customer, they are harder to use for ongoing sales conversations. Try to avoid the “spamminess” of continued sales conversations via e-mail, instead using it judiciously in conjunction with calls and (if needed) face-to-face meetings and demonstrations.
Avoiding these 5 common mistakes (and following the suggested advice within each step) won’t necessarily always put you on the winning team - we all feel like Charlie Browns sometimes - but knowing how to fine-tune your pitch to get it over the plate is the first step in developing strong sales skills, and avoiding those 129-0 games (Good grief!).
What are some common sales mistakes your teams have made in the past, and what did you do to correct them? Please share your stories in the comments section below!