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They say when it comes to fast, cheap, and quality, you can pick any two, but never all three. Most errors arise because someone pressures the producer to hurry up or asks for changes without raising the budget, resulting in cut corners and a "good enough" mentality. This can lead to embarrassments like the Mars Climate Orbiter burning up in the atmosphere of Mars in 1999 rather than going into orbit, because someone failed to convert the rocket thrust from English to metric units, as specified in NASA’s sales contract. Years of work and $330 million down the tubes, all because of a simple math error.

We all make mistakes, and there isn’t a salesperson alive who can say otherwise. Most sales mistakes prove minor in the long run, but nonetheless, they can be embarrassing and painful. When you really drop the ball, you may even find your job in jeopardy. Have you ever done something that lost the company serious money, or worse, a client or potential client? If so, you know where I’m coming from. If not, you may have seen it happen to someone else, or worry it might happen to you.

It’s good to worry a little, because most such errors have one thing in common: poor preparation. After a few months or years of interacting with clients, landing new accounts, and exceeding expectations, it’s human nature to cut yourself some slack. But if you let your guard drop too far, you leave yourself open to careless mistakes that can make you and your team look bad, damaging your reputation with leaders and clients alike.

Too busy to prepare

Take Brooke, a busy sales rep for a medical software company who was tasked with making a sales pitch to the executives of a particular hospital group. Having done so successfully many times, she just skimmed the potential client’s requirements, and put off her due diligence. Normally, she would have researched the client on the internet and closely examined the LinkedIn profiles of the client’s officers. But because she was spending so much time prospecting for new clients, she just loaded up the standard presentation that had worked well for her in the past and made no special preparations.

Because of that, she didn’t really understand that the company, while U.S.-based, operated mostly in Canada, serving patients who depended on Canada’s socialized healthcare system — a much different business model than the generalized American one, where self-pay, insurance, Medicare, and military benefits all have their place. Moreover, the program had to be able to handle both of Canada’s official languages, English and French.

To make things worse, it turned out that her software had recently updated. She hadn’t checked the new version, so the presentation was a bit glitchy. Her proposal failed to address the client’s specific needs. When it was over, she couldn’t answer some of the client’s questions, since she hadn’t thoroughly learned the business. Brooke promised to get back to the company with answers and a better, more appropriate presentation in a second meeting, but the Board members were visibly disappointed and irritated with her poor performance.

A hard lesson learned

The next day, when she got into the office, she received a strongly-worded email advising her there wouldn’t be a second meeting. The officer expressed disappointment at her lack of preparation. Even worse, her manager and the CFO were both copied. The CFO forwarded it back to her with a comment that she’d just cost them a $5 million client. Her manager called her in and documented a corrective action in her file. Her error brought home the fact that the more she could get right from the beginning, the more likely she was to succeed in the first round — and the less she had to be embarrassed about.

You may never eliminate mistakes from your output, but you can certainly limit them — by checking and rechecking. And doing your homework. Start preparing weeks in advance of a big sales visit. Study the client’s business. Know who will be in your audience. Understand their needs and how you can alleviate their pain with your offering. Always double-check your technology. And practice your presentation multiple times. Prepare in advance and get it done right on the first visit, or you may not get a second one.

We all make mistakes, and there isn’t a salesperson alive who can say otherwise.”

Laura Stack | President & CEO, Productivity Keynote Speaker and Author at The Productivity Pro, Inc.

Learn More

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Why It’s Now or Never for Social Selling with LinkedIn’s Mike Derezin Interviewed by Laura Fagan,
Product Marketer, Sales Cloud, Salesforce
Making the Tricky Transition from Sales Peer to Sales Manager By Keith Rosen,
Author of "Coaching Salespeople into Sales Champions"



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