I’m a busy person, with authority to buy or recommend products and services for my company. Naturally, that means I’m a target for every intrepid salesperson. This includes companies with things I actually need and many with things I don’t. Here are five ways that will lead to sales failure, even if you’re selling something I want.
Full disclosure: I go all cranky curmudgeon when it comes to unsolicited sales calls. Whatever positive attitude I had will evaporate the instant it’s obvious I’m being pitched for something. I pay attention to Caller ID. Barely one in twenty sales emails will lure me past the subject line—and woe to the salesperson who can’t back up a good subject line with an email worth reading. In other words, I’m a pretty tough sell.
That said, there are five particular things that will pretty much guarantee a place for me in your loss column. Learn from these common mistakes and better your professional communication skills in sales efforts.
1. Send Me an Automated “Let’s Talk” Email—Especially on the Weekend
There’s an 18th Century saying: “Fire and Water are good Servants, but bad Masters.” Today, this should be said of Marketing Automation. With any large group of potential leads, it makes sense to qualify those who may actually be interested. A well-written, automated email blast is one way to manage that process. It saves time. It’s easy to track—and get feedback that can improve your messaging. It’s also REALLY easy to abuse.
Most smart decision makers can detect automated BS in an email. By definition, mass emails are not personal, so don’t pretend you’re writing an intimate note. Be honest about the impersonal nature of the medium, and the fact that you’re writing to a large audience.
By the way, when I see one of these in my Inbox on a Saturday or Sunday, I know you’re just going through the motions. Sure, email volumes are low on weekends, but there’s a reason for that. Bottom line: Unless you really like “unsubscribe” notifications, don’t let an email automation system own you.
2. Don’t Bother to Research Me or My Company
With the rise of B2B social media and online research tools, there’s no excuse for approaching a prospect blindly. The best professional communication skills tips always indicate that you know who you are talking to and what the current company needs are. Why should I bother listening to a pitch when it’s pretty clear you don’t know me, or care to learn what I’m trying to accomplish? The best sales pitch opens with a smart and intriguing indication that the sales representative has done their homework.
Real research involves genuine curiosity. Get past job titles and SIC codes. Find out what my success looks like—and actually give a damn about it. If you know who I am, and if you know your product or service will really help me, we’ll both be better off.
(Find out how to get the most out of online networking tools like LinkedIn with online sales training courses like this one right here.)
3. Interrupt My Day With a Scripted Phone Call
If you somehow get past my Caller ID (or my assistant, if I had one), your first words better sound like a real conversation, not a robocall. Professional communication skills that engage and spark conversation are WAY more important than the words of a stock elevator pitch. Sure, you need to explain why your stuff is worth the interruption, but I’ll blow you off if you sound like you’re just pitching for the zillionth time.
Good conversational style takes practice—LOTS of it. It also takes feedback from team leaders and peers who can coach you. Good coaching can evaluate not only your product knowledge and ability to answer objections, but also your style or “vibe”—how you come across with engagement and empathy.
(Second shameless plug: Practice reinforcement and sales role play are the best ways to improve your speaking effectiveness, but it’s hard to find time to do it live. The Viddler Training Suite platform is a great way to do that—online.)
4. Pull a Bait-and-Switch with Sponsored Content
The Internet is a treasure trove of great information—actually way too much of it. Oh, and it’s also mixed in with mountains of useless stuff and outright garbage. When your drip campaign offers a gem—something I really need but might never find—I really appreciate it. That is, unless it turns out to be a recycled PowerPoint or a half-baked collection of platitudes and generalities. Sponsored content is not inherently bad. Sometimes it even exceeds the standards set by traditional journalism or research. But trust me, if you entice me to give up my contact information in exchange for a big nothing, I’ll remember you—and not in a good way.
Good content marketing has to start with good content. Period. Spend the money. Hire someone who can write well and provide value. If you become a trusted source of information, I’ll choose you over a competitor any day.
5. Start a List of “5 Ways” to Do Something—When You Have Only 4
Everyone loves lists, right? That’s true, but it’s also a great way to torpedo your message. Be sure you have a number of actual things that humans care about before you advertise that number.
Yes, this one was intended as humor, but there’s a serious point. Sales is only sustainable if the customer has reason to believe in you. Real content marketing is about serving people’s actual needs—whether or not they fill your sales quota this month. Lists are potentially great ways to remember helpful stuff. Make sure the stuff you give them is actually helpful.
Sales is a difficult, often maligned profession. However, as one of my favorite authors noted in To Sell Is Human, “we’re all in sales now.” If there’s a way for all of us to connect and engage more openly and honestly, then those who wear the actual salesman label can learn to do so.