Top 10 Reasons for Sales Failure

Filed Under (OP Sales Training) by Don on 05-09-2008

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I was performing a sales analysis on past performance records of sales reps I’ve worked with over the past few years and recognized some common issues that prevent selling success. This list isn’t exhaustive and certainly not in any specific order but I thought it would make an interesting post. Please feel free to post your comments or any additions to the list. I’m sure we can all think of a mistake, or three, we made and learned to overcome in our selling careers so jump right in and add your two cents worth.

  • Insufficient or non-existent planning. Cure: Think; who, what, where, why, and how when making your sales call plans. Who is you target market? Where are they buying their supplies from currently? What is the best strategy to open the account? How will you meet their needs (products, services), or can you? And so on.
  • Ignorance of your competition. Cure: You cannot be effective selling in your marketplace if you don’t know who your competition is. Know who they are, their tactics and your S.W.O.T., Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, Threats.
  • Inadequate product knowledge: Cure: You can only “fake it ‘til you make it” for so long. Customers will learn quickly that you don’t have a clue about the products you sell. You can’t identify opportunities if you don’t understand the product(s) you sell.
  • Failure to listen. Cure: This should be the #1 item on any list. Stop thinking like a sales person, think like a customer, and please, shut-up and listen! If you’re doing all the talking you have lost the sale.
  • Ignorance of who the decision maker is. Cure: The gatekeeper may be the one who orders the supplies but is she, or he, the person that actually makes the final decision of who they buy their products from? Are there multiple buyers and departments? You may have an office buyer, IT buyer, warehouse buyer and so on. Don’t assume, ask!
  • Ignoring your selling strengths. Cure: After every sales call review what worked and what didn’t and learn from it.
  • Ignoring your selling weaknesses. Cure: If you have problems identifying your market, prospecting, closing the sale or asking for the order there is help. Whatever your issue(s) is someone has the answer.
  • Failure to Follow-Up. Cure: Especially important after the first order is delivered is the follow-up call to confirm all is well with the delivery, product, installation, etc. Don’t forget to send a “Thank You” note for that first order.
  • Lack of observation. Cure: Open your eyes and look around you. There are many product opportunities waiting in the customer’s office. We call this account penetration and I’ll wager that you only get a small percentage of the total office spend in most of your accounts. Don’t just sell the pens; sell the toners, warehouse supplies, janitorial and maintenance supplies, furniture, equipment and everything else that is found within the business. If you don’t sell it, find a reliable and professional seller and start building your network so you can become a valuable resource to your customer.
  • Failure to ask tough questions. Cure: Your fear will make you avoid asking tough questions of the customer like “What is important to you as a company in your vendor relationships” and “How do you choose your vendors”? You’ve got to sell more than just price and service. The big-boxes are out there spending millions of advertising dollars trying to convince buyers that they have the best price. You can’t compete with that kind of marketing budget but if you build a good relationship and ask tough questions, that may be out of your comfort zone, you can solidify your business and get those referrals.


The last word: “Were we as eloquent as angels we still would please people much more by listening rather than talking.” — Charles Caleb Colton