How Not To Be A Salesperson

One day I was talking with one of our in-house geniuses, Tim Walsh, about customer service. He shared a story with me about two sales competitors who were trying to sell him on their products. I asked him to send me the story so I could share it with you.

The new year brought big changes to the email marketing team. One of the largest was an updated email marketing service platform. We had outgrown our provider at the time and knew we would need to go with a top-tier vendor if we wanted to reach the next level of sophistication.

We started the vetting process in August 2009, but due to some contractual obligations, we could not proceed any further until early 2010. One company we were considering took full advantage of this “down” time. John, our  salesman, regularly kept in touch, sent press releases, and really worked to establish a relationship—even though we were not yet ready to buy or even look. The other vendor we were looking at did not.

When we started the process backup in late January, John had already established rapport with us while the other company had to play catch-up. I ran point on this project, which meant everything came through me. While I was not the decision-maker, I was the key influencer. It’s kind of like that line in My Big Fat Greek Wedding, “Your father may be the head of the house, but I am the neck, and the neck can turn the head wherever it wants.” While I did not have that much power, (muahahaha) my recommendation weighed heavily in the final decision.

At first, both companies seemed equal. They both had great products—the best in their industry. And we seemed to connect with both sales teams when they came for on-site visits. But it didn’t take long for those similarities to end. As the sales process continued, John’s company became the front-runner. I think the other company could sense they were losing ground because their sales manager called me in a panic to say, “It feels like we are losing.” Can you believe that?

I tried to reassure him and told him it was a marathon, not a sprint. But then he sprinted right around me. Granted, this is a large investment, and he knew I was not the final decision-maker. But the process took an ugly turn for his company when he went over my head and attempted to have conversations with those he perceived to be the decision-makers. (Remember, I am the point man here!)

John stayed true to that arrangement and ultimately won the sale. They established a good relationship with us—the client—respected the boundaries, and emerged victorious.

This is a fantastic example of how not to be a salesperson! Did you catch the two key issues?

First, the other company didn’t maintain communication with the client while they were in limbo. Big mistake! Nearly 70% of sales are lost because a customer feels the salesperson is indifferent to their business.

Second, the other company tried going around the point person when they felt they were losing the sale. Any great salesperson realizes the importance of the point person or gate-keeper. Disrespecting their authority by not following processes means that you will not follow processes with the product you’re selling either. And it’s just plain rude. You’re telling the decision-maker that you don’t believe they knew what they were doing when they put that person on point. Again, big mistake!

So what do you do? Always remember that communication is key! The less of it, the less likely you are to get the sale. Also, teach your people to recognize who they are talking to. If they don’t understand the importance of a point person, they probably won’t be getting the sale anyway.

Question: How have you seen sales people make mistakes like this?




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Meet Chris LoCurto


Chris has a heart for changing lives by helping people discover the life and business they really want.

Decades of personal and leadership development experience, as well as running multi-million dollar businesses, has made him an expert in life and business coaching. personality types, and communication styles.

Growing up in a small logging town near Lake Tahoe, California, Chris learned a strong work ethic at home from his full-time working mom. He began his leadership and training career in the corporate world, starting but at E'TRADE.

28 thoughts on “How Not To Be A Salesperson”

  1. I used to be a salesperson like that. I was selling logistical services to businesses that used freight carriers. Relationship was everything in that scenario, like it probably is in most sales situations. It took a lot of patience and time in the beginning to get a customer to give me a shot and once A company did, you had to continually prove yourself and your product to keep their business. At times it was tough being responsible for mistakes I truly couldn’t control but at other times it was very rewarding. I got to be the guy who helped get a product shipped fast to a customer or the job site where equipment was down etc.

    But I learned one of my most valuable sales lessons during this time. When bad things happen, this is a salesperson opportunity to shine. When adversity comes, it shows a customer who you really are. So I made lemonade out of lemons and used these situations to strengthen my relationship with my customers. This was one of the most valuable lessons I carry with me as a salesperson today.

    All of this is my way of saying, if a customer trusts you and believes in your ability, they will give you grace with mistakes and more opprotunites than the next guy which ultimately will give more business.

  2. If a salesperson fails to spell or say my name correctly they have lost my business. I’ll give them grace on the first contact but if I continually receive emails with my name misspelled…I’m done. Sounds harsh but it goes back to what you said, “Nearly 70% of sales are lost because a customer feels the salesperson is indifferent to their business”.

    1. I must admit that I’m this way as well. I will give grace the first time or so but if you’re don’t care enough to get the small stuff right then it speaks volumes about your view of relationships.

    1. Except a lot of buyer companies play the hierarchy game. It’s very difficult to know if the lead is really the person to deal with or if decision maker is really the person to get to. I’ve seen it happen both ways in the same company.

      I’ve seen buyers or decision makers complain about people smothering them and in the same thought say that no one is paying attention to them. Mixed signals happen all the time. Sometimes with intention. Other times not.

      You’ve really got to learn and understand when what is said is in fact reality and when what is reality hasn’t been said or at that point even known.

  3. Building relationships used to be called “making friends”. No matter what it is called or what the situation, people need to know that they are authentically cared for. Getting the name right, returning calls, initiating contact, remembering details, and MEANING IT!

    While working the front counter of a print shop, one day I wore a pink dress. It was the day all the sales reps came by. When my favorite guy showed up, he said “You look great in pink”. I said, “Thanks, Mike – you are the 3rd salesman to say that to me today.”

    He said, “Ouch”. That little piece of authenticity was one of the reasons he was my favorite sales rep!

  4. This post had some great suggestions in it. I will keep these in mind as I work towards selling the products that I have. I do have a question though, “How do you avoid becoming a hassle for someone and calling on them too much?” Any suggestions for avoiding this?

    1. Start of by making sure your product is a perfect fit for the customer. Do research on what they do, use, how they operate. In essence, know more about their business then they do. Then, when you offer your product as a solution to their “problem” you are seen as helpful, not annoying. It takes some time for them to see their problem the same way you do, but in the end, they become your biggest fan.

    2. If you have followed the four step selling process, then you can use the assumptive close and set times of when you can call them again. That way they are way they are expecting your call. Ex., “Would you like me to call you this week or next? Which day is best for you? Morning or afternoon?” etc.

  5. I had a salesman that did nothing but talk about his hobby’s while he was here. I had once asked about it to learn more about him. After that, no work talk only hobby. The salesman before him would never follow up with answers to the questions I had while he was here. I think this company is trying to get me to go somewhere else!

    I maybe give to much grace to salespeople as I am one as well. It sure does waste a lot of time listening to them drone on!

    If you’re a salesperson, please make sure your customer wants to chit chat before you waste 1/2 hour of their day!

  6. Disrespect and apathy – wow – that IS a way to kill a sale! And YES, I have seen salespeople make these mistakes – hopefully WE don’t but we have to work on making sure we don’t APPEAR to be apathetic or disrespectful. Great post – and good reminders.

  7. I once listed a house with an agent who came “highly recommended” did the right things to get me to list with him, but after having to prod him for the fourth time within two months to tell me what progress we were making, i crossed them out of my life. In my mind this was salesperson that forgot to keep communicating, as you indicate a big no-no. Needless to say they never sold the house and din’t get a chance to renew the contract.

  8. I hate it when people go around me and try to go directly to my boss–doesn’t put me in a very cooperative mood 🙂
    A sales person from a benefits company that targets small businesses called our office and asked to speak with my boss. I asked who they were. They repeated that they needed to talk with him. I asked what they needed. They said, have a nice day, and hung up on me.
    I haven’t answered their calls since.
    Maybe that’s not professional of me, but I did let my boss know they called and he didn’t care for their business anyway.
    I think that’s the first time I’ve ever had anyone hang up on me….and they were the sales person.

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