Originally published in Forbes
By Randy Illig
NOTE: This is the first of our three-part series, “Selling to Executives.” Hear from top-level executives about how they like to be sold to and what drives them absolutely crazy.
When I consult with executives, I often ask how salespeople can work with them more effectively. I expect to hear about sophisticated, next-level skills, but nearly all of the time, their message is clear: Salespeople need to master the basics.
One executive said, “The overwhelming majority of the time, they don’t do the basics well…or at all. It’s refreshing when you actually have a conversation with a professional.”
Read on to learn what salespeople most commonly get wrong, drawn from interviews with executives from tech, banking, real estate, and more.
Note: these responses have been lightly edited for clarity. See the full interviews here.
When salespeople bring irrelevant solutions:
- “Their products or services were lobbed over the wall. They didn’t connect to what our organization was trying to do, what my business strategy was, what I valued in the course of a normal day. We have so little time anyway. To spend even a minute on something like that makes no sense.”
- “They can’t articulate how their capability would bring value to me. They talk in very general terms, then launch into the presentation. I always stop them and say, ‘You have 30 slides. I don’t have time for 30 slides. What are you trying to tell me?’”
When salespeople don’t prepare:
- “It amazes me how many go in to talk to people and fly by the seat of their pants. They really do. They have that pitch dug into their brain. They don’t think through what they’re trying to do when they go into a meeting.”
- “With access to information online, I am absolutely amazed how little salespeople know when they show up to talk to me. They could easily go on LinkedIn and learn all about me. ”
- “I had one of these large companies calling to sell me servers, and they never asked what my agenda was. They didn’t ask what my requirements were, what we were trying to do in the business. I guess they were leading with the solution, and the solution was…I needed to buy their servers. ”
- “If somebody asks me, ‘Can you tell me what your organization does? How big are you?’ I’m thinking, ‘That’s your homework. We’ve got thousands of web pages.’ Or they ask me, ‘What’s your biggest problem right now?’ And I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know that you could solve my biggest problem right now, so don’t open up our 10-minute conversation with that. If you can solve it, that’s an hour discussion.’”
When salespeople use jargon:
- “Even though I’m obviously an IT professional with lots of years of experience in programming, please boil it down to the bare essentials of what you do versus a lot of mumbo jumbo.”
- “Being too technical in terms of your terminology, your indicators. I know you live in those words, but boy, there is nothing worse than engaging with a professional sales executive who thinks that I’m up to speed on their acronyms, their terminology. I work hard to keep that out of my head. Use plain language, or better yet, use my language, the language of my business. That is really, really powerful. Using your language is less so. ”
When salespeople breach trust:
- “It’s amazing how salespeople will go to (pitch) another level in the company. They want to take it to a board member and see if they will push it down. The salesperson will tell the board member they know me and that I’ve given them the ‘in.’ So the board member will send me a note saying, ‘Do you know this person?’ That’s a break in trust right off the bat. And I’m starting to see that more often.”
- “Somebody will tell me that they’ve got a solution in our industry. Then we go to a meeting, and they reveal that they did one little widget in a bigger deal that somebody else did. There’s nothing wrong with that, but I prefer to have them say, ‘This was our role, but let me introduce you to the people that actually did it.’ If they handled it that way, everything would be good. It’s when they come in and try to represent the whole deal. They’re grasping for straws, but if they’d just pointed me to someone who could actually help me, I probably would go back to them for other business.”
- “There wasn’t that honesty that I’m looking for in the relationship, typically because they oversold or overcommitted, then didn’t deal with it head-on. Sometimes they allow it to be a one-transaction relationship, and I don’t hear from them for five years. Then I get a phone call when they want something, but they don’t have the solid foundation that someone else has who kept in touch with me. They didn’t nurture the relationship. ”
Let’s bring it home with a roundup of ways salespeople irritate the very executives they want to connect with:
- Hounding them. “They’ll send me an email that says, “We’d really like to talk to you.” And then the next week there’s the hounding email, which is “I sent you an email two weeks ago. Did you get it?” Then there’s the third email, “Why are you not calling me?” So it feels like this dating scene—they’re hounding me for my time instead of getting to know me or getting a warm introduction.”
- Too many people. “If I’m dealing with a vendor, I don’t need to meet with five people. One or two of the right people is a lot more effective than filling up a conference room with bodies, and then me spending most of my time wondering what the agenda is for all these different people. Frankly the conclusion I always draw is ‘Boy, these people don’t have much going on.’”
- Terrible openings. “Very choppy, very me-centric. They make a lot of assumptions—and in many cases, wrong assumptions. A lot more talking versus listening. A lot more of their agenda versus my agenda. The feeling in the room was clumsy and clunky. ”
Finally, there’s one error so egregious that one executive called it the “Hall of Fame crash-and-burn.” This issue was cited so many times, that we’re devoting a separate article to how salespeople get it wrong.
What is this elusive skill? Listening.