How to Avoid 9 Common Sales Call Errors

Originally published
Originally published: 9/1/2012

Use these tactics instead to make the most of your opportunities.

Let's face it. Getting appointments with prospects is hard work! That’s why, when you DO have a first meeting, you don't want to blow it. Here are the nine most common sales-call errors that scuttle initial customer meetings — and how to avoid them.


1.    Treating It Like a Social Call

  • Why It's an Error: Too much emphasis on the social chitchat make you seem like a pop-in visitor rather than a professional whose time is valuable.
  • What To Do Instead: Make a good first impression, show interest in the prospect, then ask a question or make a remark that leads to discussion of business issues.


2. Letting It Become a Therapy Session

  • Why It’s an Error: If you’re too passive during the conversation, the customer runs on and on, providing irrelevant data. You lose the opportunity to contribute substance to the discussion.
  • What To Do Instead: Rather than just asking questions, add value by sharing your experience. Actively listen, then guide the conversation.


3. Giving the Prospect the Third Degree

  • Why It’s an Error: Many prospects are already predisposed to dislike people who are selling to them. Peppering such prospects with questions creates more resistance.
  • What To Do Instead: Don't be too ambitious about what you want to learn during the meeting. Instead, set a reasonable goal (like “learn about the buying process”).


4. Giving a Sales Pitch

  • Why It’s an Error: Unless you're selling a commodity product, your “standard” sales pitch probably has only minimal relevance to what the prospect really needs
  • What To Do Instead: Assess the customer's unique situation while further qualifying the opportunity. Then, if appropriate, customize a sales presentation that matches their needs.


5. Trying to Close Too Soon

  • Why It’s an Error: Hard sell tactics don't work any more (if indeed they ever worked). Prospects who feel railroaded are LESS likely to buy.
  • What To Do Instead: Use the initial meeting help the customer actively bring up opportunities and ask for your help. Develop trust, credibility and rapport through conversations that have substance and balance.


6. Asking Obvious Questions

  • Why It’s an Error: There's plenty of information available online about nearly every company, so if you ask the obvious, the prospect concludes you didn’t do your research.
  • What To Do Instead: Before your meeting, dredge through news stories on the web, the company's online materials, and so forth. Familiarize yourself with the basics and memorize the names of key players.


7. Asking Repetitive Questions

  • Why It’s an Error: After a while, questions like "and he reports to whom?" starts sounding like a scratched CD. The prospect becomes bored and the conversation lags.
  • What To Do Instead: Sprinkle the conversation with questions that have built-in, positive assumptions, like: "Your company seems to be doing better than everyone else in your industry. Why is that?"


8. Asking for Too Much Time

  • Why It’s an Error: Prospects are reluctant to give sellers large blocks of time because they’re afraid of having it wasted.
  • What To Do Instead: Ask for a short amount of time, but schedule extra time on YOUR calendar to accommodate an extension of the meeting. If the meeting is going smoothly, ask if the prospect would mind extending.


9. Failing to Finish Qualifying the Lead

  • Why It’s an Error: Whenever you end up spending time on a false opportunity, it’s time that could be better spent developing real opportunities that might actually close. 
  • What To Do Instead: The first conversation should clarify the problem, assess the financial impact of the problem, and confirm that the prospect has money to spend. If not, politely excuse yourself.


Geoffrey James writes a daily column on selling for Inc. magazine’s website and is the author of How to Say It: Business to Business Selling: Power Words and Strategies from the World's Top Sales Experts (Prentice Hall, 2011).

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