By Patricia Fripp, CSP, CPAE


Salespeople are incredible. Like Hollywood actors, whenever they open their mouths, they are putting themselves and their company on the line, taking a risk in the hope of a favorable outcome. Just like actors, even the best, most experienced salesperson can use some coaching and polishing now and then.


Here are the 12 most common mistakes salespeople make and how to avoid them.


1. Unclear Thinking. If you can't describe the objective of your interaction in one sentence, you may be guilty of fuzzy focus, trying to say too much at once. You'll confuse your listener, and that doesn't make the sale. Decide exactly what you want and need to accomplish in this contact. What would be a positive outcome? For example, imagine that a busy executive says, "You have exactly ten minutes of my time to tell me what you want me to know about your company. In one sentence, tell me how I should describe your benefits when I talk to my managers tomorrow." At any stage of the sales process, you should know in advance why you are interacting, what benefits you are offering your prospect or client, and what you'd like the next step to be.


2. No Clear Structure. Make it easy for your prospect to follow what you are saying, whether in a casual conversation or a formal presentation of information and ideas. They'll remember it better — and you will too. Otherwise, you may forget to make a key point. If you waffle or ramble, you lose your listeners. Even for a conversation, mentally outline your objectives. What key "Points of Wisdom" do you want the prospect to remember? How will you illustrate each point? What phrases or slogans do you want to guarantee they will repeat afterwards? You speak to be remembered and repeated.


3. Talking Too Much. Salespeople often talk too much about themselves and their service or product. They make a speech rather than having an exchange or interaction, otherwise known as conversation. The key to connecting with a client is conversation; the secret of client conversation is to ask questions; the quality of client information received depends on the quality of the questions &mdahs; and waiting for, and listening to, the answers! In fact, a successful encounter early in the sales process should probably be mostly open-ended questions, the kind that require essay answers rather than just "yes" and "no." And don't rush on with preprogrammed questions that pay no attention to the answer you've just received. Learn to listen, even pausing to wait for further comments. Silence draws people out.


4. No Memorable Stories. People rarely remember your exact words. Instead, they remember the mental images your words inspire. Support your key points with vivid, relevant stories. Help them "make the movie" in their minds by using memorable characters, exciting situations, intriguing dialogue, suspense, and humor. Telling stories of satisfied clients and painting a picture of how this client’s condition will be improved with your product or service are appropriate.


5. No Third-Person Endorsements. There's a limit to how many bold claims you can make about your company and product results, but there is no limit to the words of praise you can put in the mouths of your delighted clients. Use case histories of your clients' success stories about the benefits they received from your service or product. When you are using their actual dialogue, you can say much more glowing things about yourself and your company than you could if the words were your own. Your endorsement stories should use the same ingredients as a good Hollywood movie: create memorable characters, use vivid dialogue, and provide a dramatic lesson learned.


6. No Emotional Connection. The most powerful communication combines both intellectual and emotional connections. Intellectual means appealing to educated self-interest with data and reasoned arguments. Emotion comes from engaging the listeners' imaginations, involving them in your illustrative stories by frequent use of the word "you" and from answering their unspoken question, "What's in this for me?" Obviously, a customer is going to justify doing business with you for specific analytical reasons. What gives you the edge is creating an emotional connection too. Build this emotional connection by using stories with characters that they can relate to and by providing a high You/I ratio, using the word "you" as often as possible and talking from their point of view.


7. Wrong Level of Abstraction. Are you providing the big picture and generalities when your listeners are hungry for details, facts, and specific how-to's? Or are you drowning them in data when they need to position themselves with an overview and find out why they should care? Get on the same wavelength with your prospects. For first contacts with executives, describe what your company can do for them in broad generalities. With middle managers, discuss exactly how you can work together, a medium level of abstraction. If you are dealing with IT professionals, use the lowest level of abstraction, lots of facts and figures.


8. No Pauses. Few sales presentations have enough pauses. Good music and good communication both contain changes of pace, pauses, and full rests. This is when listeners think about important points you've just made. If you rush on at full speed to crowd in as much information as possible, chances are you've left your prospects back at the station. Give them enough time to ask a question or even time to think over what has been said. Pauses allow pondering and understanding.


9. Irritating Non-Words. Hmm — ah — er — you know what I mean. One presenter I heard began each new thought with "Now!" as he scanned his notes to figure out what came next. This might be okay occasionally, but not every 30 seconds. Practice in front of your sales manager or colleagues and give them permission to call out whenever you hem or ah. Or video or audio record yourself, and note any digressions.


10. Stepping on the Punch-Word. The most important word in a sentence is the punch-word. Usually, this is the final word: "Take my wife — PLEASE." But if you drop your voice or add, "Right?" or "See?" or "You know?" or "Okay?," you've killed the impact of your message. Another popular punch-line killer is the word "today." Avoid saying, "Let's look at the recommendations we have for you today." Obviously, you're talking "today." The punch word in this sentence should be "recommendations."


Comedian Jerry Seinfeld says, "I'll spend an hour reducing an eight-word sentence to five words because the joke will be funnier." Salespeople can do the same thing with their key phrases because their presentations will be more powerful.


11. Not Having A Strong Opening and Closing. Engage your audience immediately with a powerful, relevant opening that includes them. For example, "You have an awesome responsibility." Then fill in what it is: increasing sales, reducing errors, cutting overhead, whatever your product can help your prospect do. Another excellent strategy is to do some research. Then you can say, "Congratulations on your company's recent success," and describe it. Or "I love your new commercials." Most salespeople start by talking about their company. Talk about your prospect instead.


12. Misusing Technology. Too many salespeople rely heavily on their PowerPoint and flip charts and do not ever make an emotional connection. Technology is usually much more exciting to the person who created it than the person who is watching or listening to it. PowerPoint presentations tend to be wholly informational and don’t connect emotionally to the audience. Make technology a support, not a crutch.


When you learn to avoid these 12 common traps, you're on your way to being a "star" of the sales world, ready to accept an award for your dazzling performance.


Patricia Fripp is an executive speech coach, sales presentation trainer, and keynote speaker on change, customer service, promoting business and communication skills. She works with companies large and small, and individuals from the C-Suite to the work floor. She is the author of Get What You Want!, Make It, So You Don't Have to Fake It!, and is past-president of the National Speakers Association. For more information, contact her at www.Fripp.com, (415) 753-6556, or PFripp@ix.netcom.com.