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The 10 Dumbest Things Salespeople Do

Have you fallen into any of these traps?

By Bill Brooks

The truth is that knowing what not to do in sales is just as powerful as knowing what to do. So I’ve assembled a list of the 10 dumbest things that salespeople do—things that are guaranteed to derail your career.

1. They don’t become students of their craft.
They begin strong in their careers and really get into it. But then, they go to sleep at the switch and forget to do things like read industry publications or new books by sales masters. They don’t attend sales seminars, listen to CDs or podcasts, or view videos on sales-related topics. In short, they don’t constantly reinvigorate themselves. Did you know that Tiger Woods spends a million dollars a year on his swing coach? He is always looking to get better—and look where he is.

2. They don’t “narrowcast” their offering.
This means that they don’t become specialists in a particular market or in delivering a specific product or service. They stay generalists. Think about it. People get paid more to be medical specialists than to be generalists. The most successful salespeople master the art of “narrowcasting” their offerings. They become well-known specialists in one thing, and people go to them for that—every time they need it.

3. They fail to position themselves correctly.
The way people position themselves determines how they’re seen by their prospects and clients. In short, people pay attention to those they perceive as having something important to say. The key is to position yourself as an expert, not as a salesperson. A good way to do this is to host an information session or a how-to clinic. The goal of these sessions isn’t to sell something; it’s to show that you know a lot about the business you’re in and you’re willing to share your knowledge. Other great ways to do this are by writing articles for trade journals, giving speeches or hosting seminars and participating in advocacy activities within an association or organization.

The biggest cause of failure in sales is having an inadequate supply of qualified prospects.
4. They fail to prospect.
The biggest cause of failure in sales is having an inadequate supply of qualified prospects. How do you get prospects? As I mentioned earlier: Host informative sessions for prospective clients. Or send mailings to targeted lists. Or speak at association meetings. Or host users’ groups. Or offer a webinar. You should have multiple methods of prospecting to ensure you’ve got a variety of prospects constantly filling your pipeline. Take advantage of all the latest technology that can simplify your prospecting strategies.

5. They get in front of the wrong people.
There’s an old statement that goes like this: “You can’t get rich selling to the wrong people.” You had better be in front of people who:

  • can make a decision
  • have a need
  • have a perceived problem or a “pain”
  • are willing to listen to you

It can be easy to confuse activity with results. You want to be able to say, “Well, I was in front of X number of people.” But, are they the right people?

Listening to your peers often means that you will receive too much negative input.
6. They listen to their peers.
Listening to your peers often means that you get too much negative input. You hear things like: “That isn’t the way you sell.” “You can’t make more than ‘X’ dollars in this business.” “This company is really bad; they’re always out to get us.” “The future’s bleak.” “The economy is bad.” It goes on and on. But you’ve got to understand: 80 percent of your peers are only delivering 20 percent of the results. And you know what? They’ve got nothing better to do than hope you’re not successful either. Instead, listen to positive, upbeat music or motivational content. Listen to it and remember: Most of your peers are not doing well in sales.

7. They don’t understand the economics of their product or service.
Would you sell something for a dollar and a half that cost you a dollar? No! But unfortunately, lots of salespeople don’t understand “value costing,” and that’s exactly what they end up doing! They don’t understand all the costs involved in deploying their products and services; as a result, they don’t factor in overhead, advertising, marketing, promotion, etc. If you don’t understand the economies of your company, how can you ever sell your services for the right price?

8. They mentally spend their income before they earn it.
Remember this bottom-line piece of advice: The sale isn’t made until you have received your check and cashed it. Only then is the sale consummated.

9. They fail to ask the right questions.
In fact, not only do they fail to ask the right questions, they also fail to ask any questions at all. Or they ask questions, but don't listen to the answers. There are a lot of important things to think about:

  • Are they the right questions?
  • Do you listen to the answer?
  • Do you ask questions in the right way?
  • Do you write them down?
  • Do you ask them in the right sequence?
  • Are you spending more time anticipating what you’re going to say next?

10. They are either digitally compulsive or digitally impaired.
They’re so compulsive about technology that they either spend all their time on the internet or their BlackBerrys, or they’re so far behind that they just don’t use it at all. The most successful people are going to be in the middle. Bottom line: You shouldn’t be sitting in front of your computer all day. You need to be eyeball-to-eyeball with prospects and customers.

Bill Brooks, CEO of The Brooks Group, is an expert on hiring, sales management, business development and sales, and is the author of 17 books published by John Wiley & Sons and McGraw-Hill, among others. For more information go to, or call 800-633-7762.

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