The five ‘sins of sales’

By Huthwaite International

Huthwaite International discusses the five 'sins of sales' and how to ensure you're not commiting them.

The secret to success in sales is that there is no secret. But when it comes to doing it wrong, there is an endless list of pitfalls to watch out for. Every lead, prospect and client is different, and smart salespeople know that there simply isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to selling success. David Freedman, a Director at sales and negotiation specialist, Huthwaite International, the team behind world-famous SPIN® Selling, outlines the top characteristics of unsuccessful salespeople and how to avoid making these often-costly mistakes. 

Sin 1: talk, talk, talk

When first launched in 1978, SPIN® Selling was considered somewhat revolutionary. This was because in the 70’s, salespeople played a largely informative role; customers couldn’t find basic information like pricing, product features, terms of service or testimonials online, so they relied on sales reps to provide that essential information. However, SPIN® Selling told sales reps to stop talking at their customers and instead, to start encouraging the customer to talk. 

Today, that approach is more important than ever. Potential customers can find all of the information they need online and often access it before even considering meeting the sales team. Therefore your primary goal as a salesperson should be to determine what value you can bring the customer, and by properly listening, and letting the customer talk, you can identify how your product or service aligns with their challenges and goals.

Sin 2: not asking questions

If you think asking questions makes you come off as intrusive or ignorant, you’re wrong. 

When it comes to selling, asking clients questions not only gets you closer to your destination (i.e. making a sale), but also opens up other sweet spots (e.g. upselling, cross-sell, referrals, etc.) just waiting to be revealed down the line. 

SPIN® Selling teaches that using ‘situation questions’ to learn where your prospects stand is incredibly important and useful to understand their processes and pain points. The specific questions to ask will depend on your product; for example, if you offer leadership training for mid-level managers, you might ask: “How do you currently teach first-time managers best practices and strategies?”

If you sell office supplies, on the other hand, you might ask: “How do you purchase office supplies right now?”

However, try to avoid fact-gathering questions like, “How big is your company?”, “How many locations do you have?”, “Which products do you sell?”, and so on. Given that you can discover a long list of key details about your prospect with a quick online search, many situational questions are no longer effective and risk wasting valuable meeting time. Not only do they make buyers impatient, these questions also leave less time for the more important ones. 

Asking the right questions is a methodical science that takes time and effort to master. 


Sin 3: Failing to prepare

Though somewhat cliched, the saying “failing to prepare is preparing to fail” has never been more important in sales. With so much knowledge at our fingertips, the customer will expect you to have conducted your research and have a good understanding of their company and values, as well as wider issues impacting on their sector. 

As a great salesperson, you should be constantly working to keep your finger on the pulse and up-to-date with key industry updates. This will strengthen your position and help you to gain a real understanding of the challenges your customers are working to overcome – further solidifying your solutions-focused sales approach.  

Sin 4: being too negative 

There can be a lot to complain about in sales; the leads aren’t any good, the industry is in a downturn, the bonus structure has changed for the worst. It’s easy to complain, but it gets you absolutely nowhere and can create a downward spiralling, negative mentality, not just for you, but for your team too.  

However, successful sales reps put aside all negativity and excuses, and make things happen. Are the leads bad? Then go out and find prospects yourself. Has the bonus structure has changed? Then sell twice as much! No one has ever reached the top of any sales organisation by complaining, and in fact a positive attitude can be contagious – not only for your team, but for those prospects you are meeting too. 

Sin 5: Being too pushy or not being persistent enough 

Finding the balance between too pushy and not pushy enough is difficult to gauge; it is different for every customer and what can be too pushy for one person isn’t pushy enough for another. The worst trait any salesperson can possibly have is that of being too pushy, and this approach harks back to some of the more aggressive – and short-lived – sales methodologies of the eighties. Sometimes, it’s a good thing to take no for an answer. Failing to do this will not only risk losing you the sale forever, but more importantly it could destroy any prospect of a relationship in the future.

However, on the other side of the spectrum, don’t give up if you don’t get a sale the first time. Tenacity is important, and if you don’t keep trying, you definitely won’t land the deal. Research has shown that it typically takes 8-12 follow-up calls to close a deal, so sales reps who don’t hit those numbers are doing themselves and their sales career a huge disservice.

Clearly then, the key here is a balance between the two: don’t annoy the prospect into resenting you and buying from a competitor, but don’t let yourself fall at the first hurdle.

It isn’t a bad thing to be putting a little pressure on someone. You shouldn’t be afraid to press the prospect to find out if they’re really interested or not, just as you shouldn’t be afraid to take it on the chin and accept that they won’t buy from you this time and come back again for another attempt later on. One of the key challenges salespeople will face is apathy, and the best way to deal with it is to be straightforward and ask someone if they’re interested or not.

For more information on business topics in the Middle East and Africa, please take a look at the latest edition of Business Chief MEA.

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