Three Common Sales Mistakes (And What You Should Do Instead)

Every year I teach hundreds of students how to sell.

My students aren’t typically retail sales associates selling jeans at the mall. They’re entrepreneurs trying to grow their companies, doctors trying to convince management to support a new internal initiative, coaches wanting to expand their client roster, authors wanting to book more speaking engagements, students trying to land their first jobs, and professional salespeople selling in high-stakes B2B environments.

When I ask any group (aside from sales teams) what words come to mind when I say the word “sales”, I hear the same replies:  






…and my personal favourite: yuck

We’ve all been in situations where the pushy, sleazy, annoying salesperson attempts to force their wares on us in a vain attempt to close the deal and earn a fat commission cheque.  

Fortunately, this type of approach to sales isn’t what I teach, and doesn’t apply to the use cases for most of my students.  

In these types of selling situations, the tactics, top ten lists, and tips and tricks for how to close don’t work. In most of these situations, using a tactic from a top-ranked Youtube video is more likely to backfire.  

I want to debunk three common sales myths and offer suggestions for what to do instead.

Top Mistake #1: Sales is about getting customers to say yes.

Common Mistake

We’ve all heard the old, tired sales adage “always be closing”. The (outdated) idea is that in all client interactions, you should focus on telling potential customers how great you are, proving why what you’re selling is so amazing, and then convincing them to say yes as fast as possible.  

In my sales consulting work, the first exercise I do with clients is to calculate how much money they’ve wasted on closing customers who were never a good fit to work with in the first place. In one recent example, a Toronto-based tech company had raised a $10M Series A round, and we calculated that they had spent over $2M closing customers that ended up leaving (unhappily).

Do This Instead

“We’re not for everyone.”

This magical phrase came into my sales vernacular through a sales trainer (John Dobrowolsky) that I paid to come to teach my sales team.  

Instead of opening a call or meeting with all the reasons why you’re so fantastic, and convincing the client that they’d be an absolute fool not to do business with you, try using the phrase: “we’re not for everyone.”  

Why it Works

First, it establishes that you aren’t like those other salespeople who are desperate to close. It shows that you’re picky about who you work with.  And it demonstrates that you only work with clients that are a great fit so which allows you to give them the time and attention that they deserve.

Second, people want what they can’t have. If you can establish that you don’t accept all potential clients, but chose to work with only those that are a perfect fit, you may find that the potential client is justifying to you why they’re a good fit to work with your practice.  

Top Mistake #2: Sales is a numbers game.

Common Mistake

Every day I’m bombarded with horrible cold calls, e-mails, and Linkedin messages. They’re clearly mass mail merges with the same generic message sent to hundreds, if not thousands of people on a daily basis.  

They’re a nuisance to receive, and I’m confident that 99% of them don’t work.  

BUT…since 1% (or .01%) of them do get replies, they keep getting sent en masse.  

Don’t. Be. That. Person.

Do This Instead

Focus on your Dream 20.

I recently sat down with a New York Times Bestselling Author who had a 6-figure speaking business prior to the pandemic.

Unfortunately, over the last year, the phone stopped ringing.  

When I asked him to name a few companies that his keynote talks would deliver value for, he named industries (tech, pharma, financial services), but not specific companies or logos.  

I pushed him to name a handful of specific companies, which he eventually did.

With a specific company in mind, I could think of people I knew at the businesses who would find his research, insights, and expertise valuable.

I then got him to share a few bullet points articulating the clear value that his keynote would deliver, and the outcomes that the teams attending a session would receive.  With this information, I was able to make a handful of meaningful warm introductions.  After some introductory phone calls, I'm confident a few will turn into happy customers.

Why it Works

Most startups don’t starve due to a lack of opportunities, they drown due to a lack of focus.

Targeting entire industries and speaking in generalities leads to inertia and inaction.  

Being specific about the companies (and even people) that you want to engage about your product or service allows you to narrow your focus.  You can then cater your message, ask for help with introductions (referrals), and write a message that people will actually open and read.

Top Mistake #3: The best salespeople are charming extraverts.

Common Mistake

Trying to emulate what we think good salespeople look and sound like.

Do This Instead

Be Yourself. And be prepared.  

Most people think that successful salespeople are charming extraverts, but research suggests otherwise. Ambiverts, those who can flex both introverted, and extraverted traits achieve greater sales productivity.

“Because they naturally engage in a flexible pattern of talking and listening, ambiverts are likely to express sufficient assertiveness and enthusiasm to persuade and close a sale but are more inclined to listen to customers’ interests and less vulnerable to appearing too excited or overconfident.”

Instead of trying to pump yourself up and pretending to be someone you’re not, try showing up as your own authentic self, and flexing to the style of the person you’re speaking with.

Skip the small talk, and jump to a proposed agenda for the meeting outlining why you’re excited to speak with the client, what you hope to get out of the meeting, and a rough timeline for how you’re going to get there.  

Why it Works

By establishing that you put time into thinking through what you want out of the meeting, how you might be able to help, and a roadmap for getting there in the time that was allotted, you demonstrate credibility and capability.  

If you follow the tips outlined above, you’ll be perceived as a credible and capable expert deserving of attention and consideration, and appear less as a needy salesperson who is pushing for the sale.

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