Sales Fail: 9 Things You Can Do To Lose Business – by Don Perkins

Don F. Perkins Photograph

One of my most respected business associates always warned: “there’s two things you should never talk to clients about…never discuss politics and never discuss religion.” That’s great advice from a seasoned thirty-year veteran in sales, but it occurs to me that there’s also a lot of other ways to screw up a sales relationship with a valued customer. Here’s nine things that top my list of illogical and avoidable sales mistakes for your enjoyment and in no particular order. The tragic thing is that these are all lessons from real life experiences!

1. Are You Listening? – A salesperson initiates a visit with a client saying that they are interested in understanding what business they might do together. The client agrees and develops a list of projects that he is thinking of proposing to management for consideration in the next budget meeting. The salesperson shows no interest in the client’s ideas or issues. Instead he goes into an hour long presentation about their latest e Commerce platform, which is of no interest to the client at all. As a result, the client loses interest in the company the salesperson represents, even though they have many other products and services that fit the projects he is working on. Evidently, the salesperson is not compensated as well for those products as he is for the spiffy new e Commerce stuff. That’s OK though, someone else will sell the client what he needs.

2. Whatever it Takes – It’s hard to imagine a more desperate sounding thing to say to me than “we will do whatever it takes to get your business.” Does that mean you will tell me bald face lies? Does it mean you will kill and eat my dog? Does it mean you will dress up like a ballerina and twirl around in the lobby of my office? I have way too vivid of an imagination to be persuaded by a statement like this! I’ll tell you what though, I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure you don’t know where I live, work, or where I keep my dog. Raise the bar a little and explain what you have already done to get my business.

3. That Old Soft Shoe – A customer visit identifies a competitive situation. The salesperson, having never heard of the competitor, checks them out online and then calls the client. “I don’t see any fire sales going on there. What makes them better than us?” In so doing, not only does he NOT provide a single compelling reason why his product is superior, he questions the client’s judgement and puts him on the defensive. Is it the client’s responsibility to provide selling points of the competitor’s product? Not only does the client not have a good technical reason to consider this new solution, he is insulted by the treatment of the salesperson and his apparent lack of respect.

4. The Truth Shall Set You Free – The salesperson believes in “relationship selling.” He likes to regale his clients with clever anecdotes and war stories from his long and illustrious career to set them at ease. While this all seems harmless enough, the salesperson keeps using segways like: “true story…”, “I have to be honest with you…” or “I’m not going to lie to you….” After a while the customer begins to question why the salesperson has to keep stating that he is now going to tell the truth. Does that mean that previous statements were lies from the pit of hell? Perhaps not, but it creates doubt in the client’s mind and undermines the confidence from the salesperson’s claims as he goes on to “tell the truth” about his products. I like a good story as well as the next person, but do us all a favor – let’s get back to why yo’re here, and please choose your segways wisely.

5. We are the Best! – The presentation is very polished, including wonderful slides of happy people using your product safely and successfully. You assure me that your widgets are the finest available anywhere. I bet you dug deep, maybe even used the old thesaurus to come up with powerful descriptive words to persuade me that your stuff is at the top of the heap, it rocks, no one else can touch it and so on. However, I’ve still got one problem you have not addressed: I have no proof. I’m not going to lie to you, but I bet there’s no one out there willing to tell me their stuff is “Just OK” or even “Pretty Good!” They all claim to be the BEST. If only I had an example or two of why yours is the best, then maybe I might agree with you. As it is you are just like the rest, your the best!…whatever that means.

6. Has Anything Changed? – We spoke the first time a few months ago. You gave me the rundown on what you’re selling and how much I need it. I wasn’t convinced. Nonetheless, you have been taught to stay in touch with me because, after all, things change. So now I get regular calls and emails from you asking if anything has changed. First of all, yeah, everything is in a constant state of change. Look out your window. Secondly, I don’t appreciate having to process your unhelpful weekly calls and emails because I’m still not convinced you can help me. So let me take that back, one thing has NOT changed. You have not learned to call me only when you have something new and compelling to tell me about your product. Instead, you are just ticking me off; getting lower and lower on my list of people I will call when things change. Be sure and write that down in your call log.

7. Me Too, Me Too! – A salesperson shows up for the party a bit late. His company was not included in the original bid, but since they come recommended by a trusted third party, they are given an audience with the customer’s decision-making team who have already begun evaluating other products. The presentation represents their product as comparable to the rest, but really lacks any substantial differentiators. During the Q&A, the newcomer is questioned by the team regarding certain functionality and features which they have become impressed with in another product. Instead of providing examples of superior design or compelling arguments why his product is the better option, the salesperson returns each volley from the team with “yeah, our product does that too.” As a result, he manages to position himself perfectly as yet another commodity with no greater value than the other solution, therefore there’s no reason to consider switching horses this late in the game. You have to try harder if your number two.

8. Check Attitudes at the Door – A major customer with whom you have enjoyed a great relationship for years hires your company to write custom code for use on your hardware. It’s a small sale, but a strategic one. Specifications are collected, a statement of work is agreed upon and development begins. In a weekly status meeting, the customer’s project manager asks your programmer (who has a bit of a “tude” going in) where they should put a particular procedure call-in order to keep from stepping on other processes in their application. The programmer is getting frustrated at all the questions and tells the customer contact: “Hey, I just write the code, you can stick it ANY where you want!” Unfortunately, the customer contact is also a gatekeeper. He smiles and seems to dismiss it, but as soon as you’re in the car, calls and tells you “don’t EVER bring that guy back in here.” You are forced to find another programmer and bring him up to speed on the project at greater cost and risk to the timeline of the project. Worse yet, it has reflected poorly on a long standing relationship built on trust and cooperation, eroding the customer’s confidence in your company for future projects. Supporting team members must have the same goals as the sales team. A little briefing on customer meeting etiquette may be in order as well.

9. Details, Details – The salesperson shows up an hour late for his first meeting with a new client. Evidently, he assumed that the client is in the same office where he used to go when he used to call on them years ago, when he worked for XYZ widgets. Since he does not have a mobile phone number for the client, he is unable to reach the client to find out the correct address. Times are hard, many companies are facing staff reductions such as replacing receptionists with interactive voice response systems. Unfortunately, while you may be able to leave a voicemail for them this way, these systems aren’t  usually aware of where a particular employee actually sits. Once the salesperson finally finds the right location, he is so flustered and grovelling for forgiveness that the inconvenient disjointed meeting is a total flop. I bet he gets an address from the client next time, even if he THINKS he knows which office he works out of.


Don is a sales and marketing professional with over 15 years of experience in sales and marketing and a real penchant for creatively solving business problems.

Find a bazillion ways to connect with Don at: or check out his sales and marketing blog at:


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