10 Ways to Kill a Sales Call

In manufacturing, it’s so easy to show up for your sales call looking prepared, so why do so few do it?


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After almost a quarter century of customer meetings, sales calls and visits from other companies’ sales people, you might think one would have seen it all. Every year, I add a few items to my list of sales oddities—those little things that some sales people do for reasons known only to themselves. Here is a selection of some favorites.

I’m John, and here’s my proposal. It drives me batty when a sales person walks in the door and sticks a written proposal in the prospect’s face. During the part of the sales call where the sales person should be asking the right questions and delivering his value proposition, he is being ignored by a prospect who is now buried in the proposal. Ever notice that when the sales person hands over the goods at the beginning of the sales call the prospect turns right to the page with the pricing on it, effectively turning the product into a commodity before the visit even gets going?

Steel-toe Shoeless Joe. In manufacturing, it’s so easy to show up for your sales call looking prepared, so why do so few do it? Forget your safety glasses, and you end up with a pair someone stuffed in a desk drawer. Maybe you get lucky, and they were cleaned after the last guy used them. Doubt it. Forget your hearing protection and you get to fumble around with that foam plug carousel on your way out to the floor. The worst of all, though, is when you forget your steel-toes, and you wind up duck walking the floor in those dreadful yellow clackers. Nothing screams, “I’m a dork on a sales call” like that does.

Competitor trashing. If you’re better than the competition or the prospect’s current supplier, the prospect will figure that out for herself. Trashing the current supplier out of the gates puts the customer on the defensive up front. Without saying it, you’re asking your prospect, “How could you be so stupid as to do business with them?” Is that really the message we want to send when trying to build a relationship?

The late arrival. Try explaining to the customer how great you are at meeting production due dates and keeping commitments right after beginning the sales call by apologizing for your tardiness.

Sloppy dresser. I used a broker to sell a sailboat once, and his advice has stuck with me ever since. He noted that if a potential buyer looks at the boat and likes what he sees in the first 30 seconds, he’ll spend the rest of his visit trying to confirm his initial impression. If he doesn’t like what he sees at first, he will continue to look for other reasons not to buy. First impressions matter in selling a sailboat. They matter in selling your services, too.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. I always marvel at the sales person who calls on me and then spends 10 minutes in my conference room trying to suck up by telling me about everything my competitor, on whom she called the day prior, is up to. Think maybe she coughs up a bunch of confidential information about my business when she visits the competitor? I wonder.

Dueling sales people. In sales vernacular, the “four-legged sales call” is one in which more than a single sales person visits the customer on the same visit. Put the wrong two sales people on the call and watch them compete for the customer’s attention, correct one another’s statements and talk over each other. 

Customus interruptus. Everyone knows somebody with the bad habit of interrupting others, in essence, insinuating that whatever the interrupted is saying pales in comparison to the important item the interrupter is about to share. This habit is annoying in anyone, but especially toxic in a sales person. That is, unless projecting oneself as an obnoxious know-it-all and simultaneously missing something important the customer might have said somehow advances the sale. And speaking of bad habits.

The human chimney. For a time, I worked with a sales person who had a voracious addiction to nicotine. Every time we pulled into a customer’s parking lot, he would try to smoke an entire cigarette between the car and the front door. On occasion, this took place while the customer watched us through the window. We all have our bad habits, but if smoking is yours, and unless you’re calling on Phillip Morris, do yourself a favor and engage in your habit outside the view of the customer. Then, do us all a favor and remember your breath mints.