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In nearly four decades of sales training, I’ve seen a lot of unproductive tendencies that hinder success. After working with thousands of sales reps and managers, I’ve identified 7 common habits that make salespeople ineffective.
1. Lack of empathy
Empathy is truly feeling and understanding things from the customer’s perspective. It’s the foundation for making a human connection – something mandatory in sales today. Without empathy, there’s no relationship and no sale. I can’t tell you how many times salespeople have failed simply because they didn’t make an effort to get where the customer is coming from.
2. Talking too much
This is one of the hardest habits for salespeople to break. The root of it is we love to talk about ourselves! But a good sales conversation should be 70% customer, 30% salesperson. I recently reviewed a taped sales call where the rep spoke for 70% of the 51 minutes. Shocking, but typical. Salespeople have to resist the urge to control conversations. Your job is to uncover needs through targeted questions, not trap customers in a monologue.
3. Asking the wrong questions
Mastering the right questions to ask at each stage of the sales process is a mandatory skill. I equip salespeople with a toolbox full of situation-specific questions. But many don’t take the time to learn and practice which to use when. They stick with superficial questions that don’t reveal real needs. Or they ask nothing and launch into a product pitch. You have to know the right questions if you want the right answers.
4. Pushing products
Old-school selling was all about flashy product presentations and overpowering customers with data. Thankfully that doesn’t work anymore, but many salespeople still lead with brochures and specs before uncovering needs. They think their job is to dazzle customers with features and benefits. But today it’s about starting with the customer – what challenges they face, what outcomes they desire. Skilled selling focuses on unmet needs first.
5. Fearing rejection
Even seasoned sales pros fear rejection on some level. But the best learn not to take objections personally. They realize objections mean the customer needs more information to make a decision. I train salespeople to become “rejection proof” by reframing objections as buying signals, not personal attacks. It’s a mental shift, but an essential one.
6. Chasing bad prospects
This habit – considering any lead a prospect – is incredibly common. But it demolishes productivity. Salespeople have to qualify prospects upfront to avoid wasting time on those who will never buy. I walk them through creating ideal customer profiles so they can target the right companies and contacts. Selling broadly to “anyone” ultimately means selling to no one.
7. No sales process
The most effective salespeople follow a step-by-step process to build trust and consistently guide customers from prospect to delighted buyer. But many wing it without a repeatable approach. It’s like pilots taking off without a flight plan, hoping they’ll eventually land safely. That may work once in a while, but it’s no way to run a business. A proven process is the only reliable path to sales success.
In my experience, the two root causes of these ineffective habits are 1) bad attitude and 2) lack of training. Attitude can only be fixed from within, but managers have a responsibility to properly develop their teams. Regular skills coaching and role-playing of best practices are the only ways to engrain excellence.
Does this resonate based on salespeople you’ve dealt with? What other ineffective habits would you add to the list? I welcome all perspectives – that’s how we improve the profession. Selling well is hard work, but incredibly rewarding. With the right mindset and skills, it can be a fulfilling career of relationships and rewards.