(This post by Anna Glazunova was originally published by LiveSpace.io. It features insights from GrowthX Founding Partner, Sean Sheppard, and other recognized sales leaders)

Turning a new lead into a client and signing a contract keeps many sales professionals awake at night. Everybody looks for the most effective way not only to close the deal, but also to do it asap. Unfortunately, we often encounter obstacles or make mistakes which could ruin your sales plan.

“There is no perfect sales plan. There are only actions that bring you results” – said Roman Łoziński, Director for Marketing and Consumer Strategies, Deloitte in his interview for BusinessInsider.  It’s hard to disagree with him. So, what are the dos and don’ts of a successful sales plan implementation? Below, we focus on different aspects of the sales process and the most common mistakes, that could ruin your sales plan.

1. Not Knowing Your Potential Client

Sometimes, sales reps reach out to companies that they know nothing or very little of. Lack of information or an inability to use the information you have, is like shooting yourself in the foot. Each lead is different and requires a customized approach, that’s why it’s so important to research them beforehand. What to do to prepare yourself for this first contact with the potential client? It’s not difficult! All you have to do is research a few facts that will guide you through your first conversation. Knowing your audience and doing the research will help you make a good first impression and be treated like a professional business partner.

Nearly 57% of B2B prospects and customers feel that their sales teams are not prepared for the first meeting.
– source: IDG

How to get to know more about your potential client:

1. Look for business information on social media

The top salespeople use Linkedin at least 6 hours per week.
– source: The Sales Management Association

2. Use the power of networking, gather information during industry meetings or from your business associates.

The lifetime value of a referred customer is 16% higher than a non-referred customer.
– source: Journal of Marketing

3. Make use of the opportunities provided by online monitoring.

What we know about our prospects?
The number one mistake we all make is that we assume to know more about our prospects than we actually do. Research is critical and then using that research to inform a value hypothesis which is designed to open the conversation and frame it for fit will make prospecting, cold email and cold calling much more relevant and efficient for everyone.

Sean Sheppard
Founding Partner, GrowthX & GrowthX Academy

2. Being Unprepared for the Conversation

It doesn’t matter whether it’s your first or your tenth call to a client – always be prepared. There is nothing more frustrating than wasting time talking about nothing. Before you contact your client, try to anticipate the questions he or she may ask, their needs and think about the ways you can help them. If your company uses CRM system, check information about the company and particular person you are planning to contact. Before the conversation, prepare your script, notes and any supporting materials – even if you won’t have to use them, they will make you feel safer and more prepared. Also, remember to contact your client at the right time – the day of the week and time of the day really do matter!

Only 2% of cold calls result in an appointment.
– source: Leap Job

Does CRM help?
I’m not a CRM basher. I passionately believe that you have absolutely no chance of being customer-centric and creating a single source of the truth about prospects and customers without one. CRM software is the best platform to manage customer life-cycle and automate customer processes – every business should have one, but no more than one.

Tony J. Hughes
Keynote Speaker, Sales Improvement Consultant, 
Bestselling Author & Award Winning Blogger

3. Lack of Control Over the Sales Process

During the sales process, your prospect is away from you for most of the time. They might use this time to talk to your competitor, doing additional research on the solutions they are looking for, comparing available option or deliberating. That is why you can not allow your potential client to control the sales process. Maintain continuous contact and inform the prospect, what are the next steps on your agenda. Make sure the client knows exactly what he or she can expect from you and when.

For each action set a precise date and always inform your prospect, what is going to happen next. Don’t leave your potential client with messages like: “Should you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact me” or “I will contact you in the near future”. Instead, say “After our today’s conversation I will send you an email and then follow up with you next Tuesday before noon. Will that be enough time for you to look through my offer?”

Almost 1/2 of all sales teams don’t have a playbook.
– source: The TAS Group

How to control the sales process?
To control the sales process, make sure to end each contact with a potential client in a way, that requires him or her to make some kind of decision. It’s obvious, that after the first meeting, your potential client may not be able to make a final decision about the purchase. You can, however, extract information from them, whether they want to carry on talking to you. But to avoid a noncommittal reply like “I need to think about it”, make t clear from the very beginning, that you will be expecting some form of a definitive answer. Even if it is a definite no, because he/she knows straight away they are not interested or there is something about your product they don’t like. Make it clear, that it’s best to just say it to you and it will be perfectly ok.

Jan Grzesikiewicz
Managing Partner, 
Sales Pistols 

4. Skipping Steps in the Sales Process

The amount of stages in the sales process will differ, depending on the type and price of the product, as well as a number of potential buyers and their decision-making processes. Regardless of how you design the sales process for your product, skipping any of the stages means, that you are omitting activities which you know to be crucial in closing the deal. Shortcuts rarely lead to success, so make sure you are following your plan step by step.

Number of stages in the sales process

source: http://blog.topohq.com

51% of high performing sales organizations had a formal, structured sales process.
– source: HBR

Warm lead

Just because it’s a warm, inbound lead (remember those!), it doesn’t mean you can skip steps in the sales process. It’s hard enough reaching out to prospects, let alone risking losing ones who come to you, simply because you didn’t follow a logical sequence.

The classic “we buy emotionally and then rationalise logically” holds true, but a buyer can quickly cool their emotion and question their original buying motives unless they can see the logic about why they wanted to buy from you.

What a well thought through and outcome-orientated sales process provides, is the ability to align selling directly with buying. It provides a bridge between each step so we can gain their commitment along the way and reassure them that they are right to seek your help.

Every warm lead will benefit from being ‘re-qualified’; placed back at the start of your process to establish that they are your ideal customer, to fully uncover the problem they have and to help them take action to solve it.

Matt Sykes
Sales Coach at SalescadenceHost of The Salescadence Podcast

5. Focusing on Yourself

Salespeoplee usually have one objective – reaching their target. If they are too focused on their goal, they quickly move to the subject of product and pricing, while talking to a prospect. They are trying to close quickly. Meanwhile, a potential client is more interested in how his or her problem can be solved. The more you show, that your key motivation is closing the deal, the more probable it is, that you will lose your client. Avoid words and phrases that make this obvious, and instead, focus completely on what is important for your potential client. Try to understand your prospect and correctly asses, how the product or service that you offer may create some added value to them.

Here are some phrases, that will help you express your interest in the client:

  • As an expert, I can recommend you
  • For your convenience
  • You will save time
  • I value your opinion
  • We create solutions with your needs in mind
  • Only for you
  • I can see, that this is important to you
  • You will gain
  • You will receive
  • It will be more beneficial for you
  • Your opinion is of utmost importance
  • Decision is yours
  • I am glad we could talk

6. Focusing on Transaction

Focusing on transactions makes your prospects feel that all you want to do, is quickly close the deal. Instead of concentrating solely on your sales target, try to be an advisor to your potential client. The secret is in the dialogue. Many salespeople overly focus on the transaction itself, neglecting the process of building a strong relationship with a client through active conversation. It will be worth your while to look after your potential client’s needs, guiding him or her through the stages of a sales process, making sure on the way he or she is ready for the purchase.

50% of leads are qualified but not yet ready to buy.
– source: Gleanster Research

7. Not Listening Carefully

Unfortunately, there are still sales professionals, who talk “at” their customer. How could they possibly understand his or her needs this way and propose the best solution? It is good practice to moderate discussions. However, let the customer talk, listen carefully and react to what he or she says.

59% of people are irritated by a generic sales pitch.
– source: NewVoiceMedia

8. Inability to Engage

If you cannot build a relationship, you put the whole transaction at risk and increase your chances of failure. Remember to be open and ask for the information you require. During more detailed conversations, you will be able to asses whether the lead is at all interested in your product or service. That way you won’t waste your time on people who are not going to make a purchase.

50% of sales time is wasted on unproductive prospecting.
– source: The B2B Lead

When should you finish your conversation with a prospect?
It’s not worth continuing a conversation with a prospect if you believe that the chances of doing business with him/her (using, for example, the BANT qualification methodology or one of many others), and the value of the potential sale is low. The problem is, that this is the kind of advice that is “easier said than done”. Sales professionals in the majority of Polish B2B companies, don’t receive strong enough marketing support, which results in an insufficient number of leads. As a result, they face a choice: I can either spend the second half of my day cold calling OR work on my existing prospects, who are not quite qualified enough. This leads to too big of a leniency with a client (sales margins) and slower business growth.

Bartosz Majewski
Chief Sales Officer, 
RightHello

9. Asking the Wrong Questions

It’s hard to engage a prospect in a conversation leading to sales opportunities if a salesperson cannot lead a good conversation. Some of the big dialogue obstacles might be the questions you are asking, most often the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ types. Asking open questions will help you understand the needs of your potential client and become his/her advisor. For that very reason, you should be asking: who, how, when, in what way, etc. Ask ‘yes’ or ‘no’ question only to confirm your prospects’ answers. This way you will not only get a lot of useful information but also by paraphrasing the answers, make a potential client feel that you are really interested in his/her problems.

After a sales call, 57% of respondents remembered whether the caller had demonstrated a clear understanding of their needs.
– source: NewVoiceMedia

10. Insufficient Need

If the prospect has an insufficient need, the salesperson will not close the deal, because it is not viable. That is why, if your potential client has no need at the moment, you must create one, that you can work on in the future. Research shows that clients – managers and directors – often buy from people, who helped them identify and understand their needs. Use this, and don’t let failure at this stage result in a loss of a sale.

68% of people claim that a sales rep that listens to their needs is most likely to make the difference when it comes to committing to a sale.
– source: NewVoiceMedia

11. Wrong Offer for the Wrong Client

The more target-oriented salespeople sometimes forget to ask themselves one key question: does this prospect actually need my product? Many sales professionals focus on the product they have to offer, not on the client’s needs. They list all of the great functionalities of the product, not thinking, which of them might actually be useful for the client. Matching the offer to the client is an absolute must. If the potential client tells you exactly what he or she needs, focus on that need and find the solution to his or her problems. Learn to be flexible and to tailor your product to a client’s needs and expectations. Gather as much information as you can about the client, using, for example, a marketing automation system.

Only 13% of customers believe a salesperson can understand their needs.
– source: The Brevet Group

How to get to know your client through marketing automation?
Internet users leave behind a lot of what we call Digital Footprints. Marketing automation platforms analyse those traces (Big Data), allowing you to create virtual images of users and learn more about their preferences, necessary for further strategy development. Analysing user behaviour online, both web and mobile, and his or her reactions to specific marketing activities, allows us to create behavioural profiles, which can then be used in a dynamic segmentation of existing and potential clients. This way companies can deliver the right offers, to the right people at the right time.

Grzegorz Błażewicz
Founder & CEO, 
SALESmanago

12. Poor Presentation

Due to the length of the purchasing processes, B2B clients usually act rationally. We point out – usually. They make rational decisions, based on the data they collected. If your presentation is too full of pretty pictures, you will not prove anything and won’t convince anyone. The same thing will happen if you don’t have good arguments. That is why you need to provide your prospect with detailed, valuable information and convincing arguments. Use examples, numbers, case studies, success stories as well as customers’ recommendations.

After a presentation, 63% of attendees remember stories.
Only 5% remember statistics.
– source: Dan & Chip Heath

13. Information Overloading

A good salesperson knows, that information should be given to the potential client not only in the right order but also in the right amount. The more information you unload on the prospect, the higher the chances that he or she might get confused with the sheer volume of data and need much more time to properly analyse it. Ultimately, this could cost you your sale. That is why you should work on providing appropriate levels of information in the right stages of the sales process.

57% of people said they would be encouraged to make a purchase from a sales person that doesn’t try to apply pressure or hassle them when following up.
– source: NewVoiceMedia

14. Inability to Correctly Identify Decision-Making People

The ability to identify the decision-making people is hugely important, as decisions to buy are not always made by the same people who pay. If you don’t identify the key stakeholders and understand their needs, you will fail. The talks will go on forever, and the longer they last, the more distant the closing date will seem. Make sure you are meeting all interested parties and try to meet all their needs. Ask questions like: “Who else in your company might be interested in this solution?”

How to identify and reach decision makers?

The main thing to remember is that no two organisations are identical – VP of Business Development can do something completely different in various companies. You shouldn’t be led by the job title – your source of information should be the first contact in the company. By asking the right questions you can find out, who takes part in the decision-making process. During the first contact with a company, you can choose one of the 2 approaches: top-down, where you contact the person on the highest level, asking who is responsible for the selected area in the organisation or bottom-up, where you contact the person, who will be the final user of your solution. In the latter case, make this person a “gate-keeper” – an agent of change in the company, who will present the solution to the key decision makers.

Chris Zawisza
SDR Team Lead, 
Growbots

15. Not using CRM

Sales people often complain, that updating the CRM is time-consuming, requires filling the forms and generating reports. If that’s the case, it means they are using the wrong CRM or they are using it incorrectly. Remember, that a CRM’s main purpose is to support sales professionals, relieve them of some of their operational tasks and to help save them time, freeing up more time for talks with clients. Don’t let administrative issues steal your precious time.

88% of missed opportunities were caused because sales couldn’t find or leverage internal resources.
– source: Qvidian

How can CRM make your life easier?

A perfect CRM should be a sales professional’s secret weapon. It should provide immediate access to all of the necessary information in the sales process, at the same time significantly speeding up the monotonous, repetitive tasks.

That’s why it is so important to understand the whole sales process and identify which parts of it can be replaced or speed up by the application, before the CRM implementation. What should be automated, are the actions that are repeated most often and the tasks, that take a big part of the salesperson’s time, such as adding new contacts, filling in the data from the social networks, downloading additional data from the financial systems, adding notes or generating documents.

Michał Skurowski
CEO, 
Livespace

16. Not Following-up

Prospects often need some time to think, after they have seen your presentation, looked at the offer and listen to all the information. They need time to analyse the terms and conditions and compare offers, in order to make a rational decision. During this time, it’s important to remind the potential client about you and your product, doing what is called a follow-up. It is important, however, to contact the potential client at the right time. Contacting a prospect too quickly after a call or a meeting can be perceived negatively, as too invasive. Stay in touch with your potential client, to help him or her with any doubts or queries, but give them time and space to make a decision.

80% of potential opportunities are lost without trace simply due to lack of follow-up.
– source: Marketing Donut

How to write a reminder?

These days, to have a reasonable response rate, you need to send at least 3-4 reminders. Writing it, remember to enclose all previous correspondence. Never send emails inquiring, whether the previous emails have been received. Each reminder should bring some value for the recipient. You can enclose a case study of your product implementation in a similar type of company. You can send a link to an interesting blog post (not necessarily yours), where a potential client can find some useful information. Make sure, that your reminders are logical and consistent with the previous correspondence.

Mateusz Tarczynski
CEO, 
Woodpecker.co

17. Not Reaching New Clients

Jill Griffin and Michael Lowenstein, in their book “How to recapture lost customers”, show that searching for new clients gives a conversion rate of 5% while selling to companies and people who have previously bought something – gives a 70% chance for the next transaction. That’s why reaching new clients often proves to be one of the hardest jobs in the whole sales process. Salespeople know how hard it is to find prospects, catch their attention and get them interested in your product. What could help here is the cooperation with the marketing department, who should provide leads who are already ready to talk to the sales department.

Companies with aligned sales and marketing generated 208% more revenue from marketing.
– source: MarketingProfs

18. Not Testing New Processes and Sales Strategies

There is no universal recipe for the perfect sales process. You might ask yourself every day, “what else can I do to sell more?”. Based on your own experience, knowledge and available reports, you might have different theories about solutions, that could optimize and improve your sales process. The best way to check, what works and what we just think might work, is by putting it into practice. When you do it, follow the fail fast rule. Act, and access the effectiveness of your actions without any delay. Define what you want to change, establish change measuring tools and then introduce the change and assess whether it brought the expected results. Don’t theorize. Test various solutions, because this is the only way to know, whether there are any more effective and efficient ways to manage your sales.

Priorities for Improving Sales Performance

57% of companies identified improving the sales process their biggest priority for improving sales performance.
– source: Training Industry

Why is it worth to experiment with sales?

The most important thing in a modern approach to managing sales is the ability to experiment and draw conclusions. Size and maturity of the organization is not a factor here. With the right attitude, even large and inflexible sales departments can act like start-ups. Many sales teams have a natural resistance to making changes. Managers don’t want to tamper with the solutions that have proven to be effective so far, so as not to risk the sales target expected by the Board. That’s precisely why the scientific approach and experimenting is so valuable – it can be run as a test, on a smaller, but representative sample team, over a defined period of time or on a selected part of the sales processes. If the experiment fails – the risk is minimal, and yet you gain a new, valuable knowledge.
If it succeeds – you can significantly improve the effectiveness of the whole team. The experimental approach also encourages grass root initiatives in the organization. Thanks to the systemic approach to testing, it doesn’t matter anymore, whether the idea came from the salesperson or a Board member. If it looks promising – it needs to be tested.

Marcin Stańczak
COO, 
Livespace

19. Lack of Recapture Strategy

Selling to existing clients is easier and cheaper than getting new ones, who have never bought anything from you before. But did you know, that selling to clients who were disappointed with their previous purchase, the customer service, or any other reason – is still much easier and cheaper, than getting new ones? Chances of success (defined as a return, recapturing) among lost clients are at about 20%. However, if you lose a client, you always need a strategy – what to do to make him or her return. The main thing to do, before you embark on the mission to recapture lost clients, is to identify what was the real reason they left in the first place. The best way to do this… is to simply ask the client. Yet, it might not be that easy. Why? You will probably hear, what you did wrong – and after all, nobody likes to have their mistakes pointed out. But if you have enough courage for that, you may be able to get your clients back. It will certainly be a valuable lesson in humility and a big dose of information on the client’s expectations.

Each year, you’ll lose 14% of your customers.
– source: The Marketing Donut

20. Not Using Closing Techniques

When a sale person dedicates their time to finding a potential client, contacting him or her, arranging a meeting, preparing an offer, what they don’t want to hear is a simple ‘no’ for an answer. All activities are directed at closing the sale. Before this can happen, you need to identify your prospect’s needs and show, how can your product meet them. You don’t need to be the world’s sales master to close the deal. All you need to do is avoid most common mistakes in the sales process and at the end, ask the most important question: “Can we sign the contract and finalize the transaction?”

80% of prospects say “no” four times before they say “yes”.
– source: The Marketing Donut

21. What about you? What are the mistakes you encounter most often?