Sales are an essential part of any business but are especially important for entrepreneurs and start-ups. With no track record, making the sale can be difficult, and without sales the business will not generate any profit and therefore can’t succeed. But sales is an art, and there are many mistakes that can limit your productivity and success, and put potential clients off. Practicing and honing your craft is essential if you want to be sell strongly in the long-term, but reading up on the most common sales mistakes can help reduce the learning curve.

Failing to collect customer data

Converting enquiries to sales is an essential step for any business. If you succeed, then the customer is already sold on your product. This means you’re one step closer to making further sales in the future. But unless you save key information, including but not limited to contact details and product preferences, you won’t be able to market and sell to these customers at strategic intervals, such as when new products launch or when you’re promoting a special offer.

Not understanding who are you dealing with

Not everyone in an organisation controls the flow of money. Unless you are dealing with a decision-maker, investing significant resources and time into a sale – which may include a pitch, demonstration of product etc. – can be a waste of time. Make sure you’re aware of your client’s intentions; are they genuinely interested in buying what you offer or are they just trying to get an idea of what’s available?

Ignoring the smaller sales

Everyone wants to land that big sale and for entrepreneurs this can often translate into focusing on big wins to the detriment of smaller sales. While natural, this can be illogical as not only are you more likely to win the smaller sales, but you’ll probably have to invest fewer resources into the process. Once you have enough small sales to keep revenue coming in, you can then consider pitching to a bigger client. As is always the case in business, don’t put all your eggs into one basket.

Relying too heavy on referrals

Referrals can be gold dust for small companies who do not have a sufficient track record to be approached directly by potential customers. But do not rely solely on referrals. You are effectively placing the success of your company into other peoples’ hands, and they won’t care as much as you if your business fails. It’s also easy to fall into the trap of thinking referrals are ‘easy wins,’ but they aren’t. The other disadvantage is that if you aren’t pitching and practicing your sales craft, you won’t ever improve, which could lead to trouble down the line.

Setting annual sales goals

There is some disagreement over whether sales goals are a good or bad thing. While there are some benefits, there are definitely two big disadvantages. The first is that they place unnecessary pressure on the seller which can translate into unprofessionalism and desperation when it comes to closing the sale. Half way through the year, if you are way short of your target, the desperation will come through during pitches and will turn potential clients off. Sales goals also place a ceiling on your productivity and are often arbitrary figures.

Insufficient preparation

Whether you’re cold calling a prospective client or going to pitch to a large corporation, you need to be prepared. This involves knowing the client inside out, including their hopes, needs, wishes and concerns. You need to know how your product solves their problems, why it solves it better than your competitors, and what advantages it offers over their current systems. If you’re cold calling, find out when their least busy period is; you’ll be more likely to get an audience then. Be smart and try to find that competitive edge; other companies are pitching and cold calling, and you need to make your business stand out from the crowd.

Overvaluing every feature

Sales pitches must be targeted to your customer. You may believe that every part of the product is the bee’s knees, but the customer is only interested in the parts that benefit their business. Giving an all-encompassing sales pitch, instead of targeting the information to suit the buyer, is a sure-fire way to lose the sale. This is where preparation comes in (see above); if you don’t know enough about the customer, how can you expect to accurately convey how your product will help them?

Going off-topic too often

There’s a fine line to tread between essential relationship-building and being verbose and off-topic. This is why practice is important and it is only through experience that you’ll learn when to stop relationship-building and when to get down to business. Remember the reason you are there; to sell a product or service. This is your goal. Keep it in mind at all times, so even if you do find yourself discussing an unrelated topic you can quickly bring the conversation back to where it needs to be.