Selling, like anything else, can be separated into strategy (your plan of action) and tactics (the actions you actually take.) I've written in the past about tactical sales errors but not so much about the larger issues of sales strategy.
The greatest business thinker of the 20th century, W. Edwards Deming, believed that long-term success comes primarily from fixing errors. With that in mind, here's how to avoid or fix the 10 most common sales strategy errors:
1. Neglecting customers when not selling.
If your sales strategy is too focused on acquiring new customers, existing customers can fall through the cracks. Changes in personnel or business models at your customers can be deadly to your ability to "revisit the well."
Fix: Have a regular schedule to contact every customer, especially those that have been inactive for a while. Ask your contacts if they know of any changes in the works. Offer to help if a transition is in the works.
2. Ignoring competitive threats.
If you've been the "industry leader" for a while, it's easy to forget that your competitors may be gaining on (or even leapfrogging over) you. And that's just the competitors you know about; there may be new approaches that come out "left field."
Fix: Make competitive analysis a priority. Check the news regularly for developments in your product or service area. When you call on a prospect, always ask who else is calling on that prospect. Make a plan to thwart any threats that emerge.
3. Failure to specialize.
It's a huge mistake to believe that "a good salesperson can sell anything to anyone." While there are some skills common to all sales situations, selling million-dollar computer systems face-to-face is very different from selling medical supplies over the telephone.
Fix: The top salespeople in every sales job usually have a natural talent for that kind of selling. They build upon that talent by increasing their knowledge of the industries into which they're selling, gaining experience in handle the sales situations specific to that type of selling.
4. Inadequate lead qualification.
The more you know about prospects, the less likely you are to pursue costly dead ends. The last thing you want is to spent hours and days developing an "opportunity" that won't pan out rather than pursuing one that will.
Fix: Change your sales process so that in the very early stages of the sales cycle you ask questions that reveal if the prospect really needs what you're offering and (more importantly) has the money to buy it.
5. Treating pipelines as afterthoughts.
When business is hopping, you naturally want to close as many sales as you can as quickly as you can. Even so, if you don't develop your pipeline, you'll eventually find that you've got no more sales to close.
Fix: Schedule some time every week for lead generation, like crafting sales emails to specific customers, cold-calling pre-qualified lists, and asking existing customers for referrals. Then do it.
6. Ignorance about your customer's industry.
In B2B selling, customers don't want to buy from you. They want to sell to their own customers. You can't help them do that if you don't understand the basics of their industry and the role they play in it.
Fix: Before you attempt to sell into any industry, research not just the major players in that industry, but also their business models and how your customers' customers use your customers' products and services.
7. Insufficient product knowledge.
Customers expect you--at the very least--to be an expert on your own products and services. That gets increasingly difficult in today's information-rich world, because customers can research your firm and end up knowing more than you.
Fix: Make product training a mandatory part of every internal sales meeting. Before calling (or calling on) a customer, review the offerings that are most relevant. Have all the spec sheets to hand (either online or in your briefcase), just in case.
8. Failure to debrief.
There's always a reason why you won or lost the sale (or why the customer didn't buy at all). Unless you learn that reason, and adapt accordingly, it will be difficult to repeat your successes but very easy to repeat your losses.
Fix: After every sales effort, ask the customer why they made the decision they made. Use that information as fodder for a "what happened and why" discussion that includes everyone who participated in the campaign.