Chinks in the armor

I hate buying stuff. It’s like I have to be some kind of Sherlock Holmes to select a vendor and not get burned. Sometimes it’s easy to eliminate the jokers – they show up unprepared, don’t listen, and generally talk their way out of a sale. Others are not so easy. They say the right things, offer up gleaming case studies, have good sales skills, polished shoes and generally seem like a good option. The trouble is that usually there are several companies who have very similar capabilities and good sales pitches. How do I make the right decision?

Most business buyers experience similar things when going through a selection process. Their process is typically not one of inclusion. Instead it is a process of elimination – evaluating tangible information and leveraging intuition to determine who makes the short list and who doesn’t.

You might think they are hanging on every word of your carefully crafted sales pitch but the fact is they are looking for what I call “chinks in the armor”. Those tell-tale gaps that send the message that you may not be as good as you say.

The most common mistakes that kill sales

1. Sales person appearance and demeanor.
This one might seem obvious but I’m surprised at how often this fundamental rule is ignored by sales people. From wrinkled clothing and scuffed shoes to unshaven faces and renegade nose hairs, your personal appearance tells a story – and not necessarily the story you want. My personal downfall is my tendency to let my hair get too long. Some people look good with long hair, I look homeless.

2. Lack of sales process
One thing I’ve learned is that customers want to know that I know what to do next during the sales process. The very fact that I have a defined process sets me apart from competing interests that simply go in and sell, sell, sell! My ability to avoid “selling” and simply let the customer buy sends a strong message that I’m organized, I know what I’m doing and my focus is on them.

3. Unprofessional marketing communications
I know many companies that have mastered the above issues. Then, they whip out a brochure or send the prospect to a web site that looks and reads like it was created by a sixth grader. Ouch. For most prospects, this communicates volumes about the seller. This major mistake implies that the seller is unsophisticated, low quality, doesn’t care about its image or products, or worse. For most B-B sellers, the web site or a brochure doesn’t do the selling. However, it can enhance or destroy your chances to outclass competitors depending on how it reads, looks and functions. Perhaps you could get away with a crappy web site back in 1996, but not anymore.

4. Unresponsive people
When someone calls your office do they get a crazy maze of automated options or do they talk to a real person? Either option can ruin your chance at a sale. For example, a well thought out automated phone system that allows callers to quickly reach the person they need is fine. However, if it is confusing, doesn’t work right or worse yet, simply dumps callers into voicemail with no option to dial “0” for an operator, you are toast. Likewise, if your human receptionist speaks like he’s just graduated from second grade, doesn’t know your web address, can’t articulate what the company does or sounds like a zombie, it sends a negative message.

5. Conflicting messaging
If you are trying to convince the world that you are “all that” but every time they hear or see something about your company it’s a different message, your prospect’s doubt will grow. It’s understandable that sales and marketing messages can change over time, the key is to make sure that you update your information everywhere it appears. Not easy, but critical!

Sales is a game of gaining incremental edges over competition. The smallest things can defeat you if you aren’t paying attention. We are all guilty of this at some point. It’s a challenge for large and small companies alike. You’ll never be perfect, but if you pay attention, you can be just that much better than your competitors – and that’s all it takes to win.


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