In my coaching practice, I work one-on-one with sales people to help them close more business, faster and increase their profit margins. Over the past few years, I've been able to identify a number of the key reasons that can stop even good sales people from closing a sale (many of which I have been guilty of in the past myself!).

Over the next few articles, we're going to take a look at some of the biggest challenges that come with sealing a deal, and what you can do to dramatically improve your closing skills. We'll start today with an overview of some of the more common mistakes you might be making - and what they could be costing you in lost business.

Mistake #1: Not earning the buyer's trust.

If your prospect doesn't trust you, 98% of the time, you won't make the sale.

There are two important things to remember about trust. First, trust extends from you. If you begin the sales process by building rapport so that the prospect starts to like you, they will soon begin to trust you as well.

Second, trust is not earned overnight; it is built through consistent behavior over time. In other words, if you want the prospect to trust you, you need to consistently speak and act in a way that earns their trust throughout your entire relationship. This includes everything from the big things such as never lying or hiding information from them, to little things like calling back when you said you would, sending proposals on time and showing up for meetings prepared with the right information.

All of these actions lead the prospect to believe that you are a person of your word, a person they like and a person they can trust. When they like and trust you, there is a much better chance they will do business with you.

Trust can also be built in a new relationship by giving your prospect testimonials from other successful and happy customers. Use testimonials frequently throughout your dialogue as examples of the great work you've done in the past. Encourage your prospects to call your current customers and share with them the letters you've received singing your praises.

Mistake #2: Being afraid to hear "No!"

Many sales people are so afraid of hearing the word "no" that they make the mistake of accepting "maybe," "let me think about it" or "I need a couple more weeks" as an answer instead.

Let's face it - "maybe" (and all of its counterparts) is just a nice way of saying no. Wouldn't you rather know that upfront so you could move on to other business, rather than being endlessly dragged along by the false hope that your prospect might, could, possibly buy… one day?

If you want to close more business, you must train your customers to believe that saying "yes" or "no" is allowed. Saying "maybe" is not. Try starting your sales meetings with this simple phrase:

"Ms. Prospect, at the end of our meeting today, I don't expect that you will pass me a cheque and say 'Let's go ahead!' I do expect that we will have gathered enough information about what you need and what I can offer to determine if there is a fit between our businesses. At that point, we can decide together what the next steps will be. Make sense? (wait for answer) Super. Also, if you really feel that what I offer is not a good fit for you, I am OK with you telling me No. Is that OK for you?"

If you are afraid to hear no, you will waste too much valuable time with prospects who are simply reluctant to hurt your feelings, and too little time with clients who are more serious about wanting to buy.

Mistake #3: Relying on outdated tricks and tactics.

Here's a simple rule every sales person should commit to memory: If you've heard it on TV, seen it in the movies or if it has a really cute name like "the puppy dog close," don't use it. Period. End of story.

If these outdated tactics have made it to your local Cineplex, odds are, your prospects will know them just as well or better than you do. This is particularly true if you're selling to someone from an older generation. And as soon as your prospect realizes that you're trying something they consider to be a sales tactic, you'll lose all the trust you've worked so hard to earn.

Instead of trying to show how clever you are, try focusing your time and effort on building rapport by asking questions, creating customized presentations based on your client's specific needs and aligning yourself with their buying process. In short - as you've probably heard me say a thousand times before - be nice, stay focused and get to work!

The top 10% of sales people spend 100% of their energy during sales calls on building the customer relationship, not trying to figure out which tactic they're going to use. Tactics build resistance. Focusing on the customer builds relationships.

Remember: rapport leads to like, like leads to trust, and trust leads to a profitable relationship. In every sales call you make, ask yourself: "Is what I'm doing right now enhancing or eroding my relationship with the client?"

Mistake #4: Focusing solely on selling a product.

Your focus during a sales conversation shouldn't be on "pitching" your products. It should be on getting the client talking about their problems, so you can figure out what you can do to help solve them. If you're spending more time crafting the perfect product pitch than you are establishing the right questions to ask, your sales will suffer for it.

Instead of creating statements about your products, create a list of engaging questions you can ask during every sales call. Remember, you are at your most productive - and most profitable - when you are talking only 30% of the time, and spending 70% of your time just listening to what your client has to say.

Mistake #5: Hiding behind your collateral.

Nobody ever built a great career just by sending out a whack of collateral after every first contact, and then waiting for the deals to come rolling in. That's a good thing, too. If collateral alone could close every sale, we sales people would be out of a job.

Yet so many sales people still hide behind the material they send out, thinking they're making progress with a prospect when they really haven't got a clue what he or she actually needs. Surely you've used the "just send me some of your information" ruse to get off the phone with a few telemarketers. So why do you keep falling for this trap yourself?

Never send information without doing a qualification first. Okay, okay - if you have a simple product and a sales cycle you can measure in days instead of weeks or months, sending information may be the right thing to do. If so, do yourself a favor and send as many testimonials as you can that might be relevant to your prospect.

These testimonials are the proof your clients need to trust you. No one or nothing sells better than another customer saying that they're happy they did business with you.

Mistake #6: Not understanding what the prospect really wants.

What the prospect needs and what they want are two entirely different things.

Wants are more emotional, and are generally based on things like whether or not the prospect likes or trusts you more than the other sales rep. A prospect might need to buy a screwdriver to fix up his house, but he wants to buy it from Home Depot instead of Ace Hardware because he likes Home Depot better. It's not always a logical decision. Customers buy what they need from a sales people who know what they want.

How can you determine what a customer wants? By asking questions such as:

  • Why is this problem important for you to solve?
  • What value do you see in an ABC solution (solution like yours)?
  • What will happen if this problem does not go away?

Mistake #7: Lacking personal presence.

How you say something during a sales meeting can be just as important as what you say.

How you look, how you act, how you move and how you look at the prospect all send powerful messages about who you are and whether you can be trusted. Up to 80% of sales people ignore the non-verbal part of the sales meeting, which is why they lose 1/3 of the opportunities available to them. Once they discover how to use their personal presence to close more business, their closing ratios begin to soar.

Here are a couple of small hints for improving your personal presence:

  • Shake hands.
  • Look people in the eye.
  • Dress one notch better than your prospect.
  • Arrive early for every meeting.
  • Leave your cell phone/pager/PDA in the car.
  • Don't smoke before a sales call.
  • Be organized and prepared.
  • Take notes.
  • Say thank you.

Sure, none of these are exactly rocket science. But I can guarantee you that more business is won or lost through these and other simple non-verbal cues than through all the fanciest, most complicated presentations in the world.

Whether it is golf, playing a musical instrument, learning to dance - or closing business - the basics are always the hardest and most important thing to master. Tiger Woods still sinks hundred of putts every day in practice, because he knows that mastering the basics is what it takes to win.

Mistake #8: Premature presentation.

I can't tell you how many deals I've seen get lost before they're begun because a sales person starts a meeting with a canned slide show without ever truly understanding what the customer is looking for.

Your first job is not to present your information. It's to listen to the customer. Only once you've completed a thorough needs analysis can you create the right customized presentation for your client. Customized presentations close more business, more often.

Remember the old adage: "People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care." This is true in relationships, and it's true in sales.

I hope these highlights gave you a few ideas to think over or try out in your own sales routine. Over the next few weeks, we'll examine some additional closing ideas in greater detail.

I hope you can join us!

Connect with Colleen today!

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Nonstop Sales Boom by Colleen Francis Make sure you check out Colleen's latest book, Nonstop Sales Boom for powerful strategies to drive consistent sales growth quarter after quarter, year after year.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions ( Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.

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