The Top 10 Sales Communication Mistakes and How to Avoid Them
Salespeople have hundreds of conversations every month. Those conversations may be on the phone, via email, or face-to-face. And, regardless of what kind of conversations you have, you are always at risk of making a sales communication mistake.
Some sales communication mistakes are obvious, like not listening or not making eye contact. Other mistakes are harder to identify, like having fluffy conversations or using a “one size fits all” approach. Both kinds of mistakes can dramatically affect your success as a salesperson.
This article will cover the top 10 sales communication mistakes. We’ll also share tips on how to avoid these mistakes, how sales and marketing can effectively communicate, and resources to improve your communication skills.
10 Top Sales Communication Mistakes & How to Avoid Them
From not making eye contact to feigning interest, there are a lot of ways a conversation can go wrong.
Here are the top 10 communication mistakes salespeople make and how to avoid them.
1. Not Listening
Listening does not mean that you wait until someone is done talking to begin your own sentence. Listening means that you truly care about what the person is saying and that you devote your undivided attention to understanding their point of view. If you’re too busy thinking of a reply, you can’t devote yourself to listening. Stop planning what you will say next and listen more than you speak.
Solution: Ask questions, encourage feedback, and take the time to truly listen to those responses. And, in addition to not interrupting, be an active listener. This means that you should make eye contract, nod, smile, and agree with what the person is saying. Physically show that you are engaged in the conversation. And, don’t forget that it’s in your favor to be an exceptional listener. Listening helps you collect insight into prospects’ needs, values, or motivations and identify changes in their tone or mood.
2. Using a “One Size Fits All” Approach
Don’t automatically default to the same pitch for every prospect. It’s perfectly fine to create a script to practice, but don’t repeat those same words verbatim to everyone you talk to. Some messages may land with certain people, but not with others. You can use the same outline or talking points, but make sure to tailor your communication based on the individual person.
Solution: Everyone is different and you should customize your message based on personalities, needs, and expectations. Pay attention to the vocabulary, use their words, and match their tone of voice. For example, if you’re talking to someone who is very fact-based and speaks in short, concrete sentences, you should not use long, flowery sentences. Mirror how your prospect or customer is speaking.
3. Impersonal Conversations
You shouldn’t just customize your message based on who you’re talking to; you should customize the entire conversation. Ask questions and infuse personal details that are relevant to your prospect. Don’t spew your pitch without taking the time to get to know your prospect. Your conversations should be two-sided and you should always ask questions to learn more about your prospect.
Solution: Every conversation you have should feel completely unique, with personalized interactions. Use your prospect’s first name and dig for more details about her. Find out what challenges she is facing and customize your pitch to address those specific challenges. Remember what she says and bring those topics up again later in conversation.
4. Violating Others’ Privacy
When trying to build a new relationship, it can be easy to come across as too friendly. You may interact with a prospect like you interact with your friends – sitting close to each other, patting him or her on the back, making jokes. However, you have to be conscious not to violate other people’s privacy. What may seem friendly and natural to you may make prospects uncomfortable.
Solution: Don’t invade personal space. Continue to be friendly, maintain eye contact, and lead a comfortable, natural conversation, but don’t treat someone new like an old friend. Take the time to get to know your prospects and understand their sense of humor and what makes them comfortable. Once you’ve developed the relationship, you can start acting more casual.
5. Being Vague or Unclear
Avoid being vague or unclear. You never want a prospect or customer to hang up the phone and have no idea what you just said. Don’t mumble and don’t try to brush off a topic or question if you don’t know the answer. In some cases, you may have to be vague, but acknowledge that. Instead of saying something like, “Yeah, the software might do XYZ if set up properly,” say, “Great question, I’m not sure about that. Let me check with our support team to give you a clear answer.”
Solution: Write and use scripts, rehearse, and speak clearly. You don’t need to repeat these scripts during every interaction, but writing a script will help you organize your ideas to see if everything makes sense. You can even rehearse your script in front of a friend or family member to find out if you’re being clear and concise. And, greet and depart properly. For example, start the conversation by setting clear expectations and end the conversation by repeating key points so everyone is on the same page.
6. Lack of Authenticity
Prospects are more skeptical today than ever before. They want to know if they can trust you or if you’re just making promises you can’t keep. Lack of authenticity can damage your credibility in a second. Don’t pretend to have all the answers or to agree with every single thing your prospect says. Don’t put on a show or act a certain way to impress someone. We can all spot a fake a mile away.
Solution: Be yourself. Forget about all the things you should say and how you should act, and have real conversations. Admit when you don’t know something or when you’ve made a mistake. And when you say you’re going to do something, do it. Good salespeople are reliable and responsible, and don’t make empty promises. They are honest with themselves and with their prospects and customers.
7. Forgetting About Body Language
Communication isn’t just about the words you say. In fact, non-verbal communication can be even more powerful than words. When communicating with prospects or customers, especially face-to-face, don’t forget about your body language. You may have a cheery tone of voice, but if you’re crossing your arms, you’re conveying a completely different message. And, body language isn’t just about what you’re doing; if you neglect to read someone else’s body language, you’re missing out on vital clues that can improve your communication skills.
Solution: Don’t be afraid to gesture freely. Use your hands and arms to emphasize important points or help communicate what you’re trying to say. Pay attention to your subconscious body language as well, like keeping your arms and legs open (instead of crossing them). And, read others’ body language. Once you know what to look for in terms of body language, you can learn a lot from your prospects. For example, you could interpret certain movements as discomfort or unease, and change your message accordingly.
8. Fluffy Conversations
Your conversations need to add value. Avoid spewing marketing speak or industry jargon and focus on what really matters to the customer. A fluffy conversation is a forgotten conversation. You may spend 45 minutes on the phone with someone, but if you don’t convey valuable, helpful information, your prospect won’t remember a thing.
Solution: In every conversation, think of yourself as a problem solver. You need to identify your prospects’ challenges and what needs to be improved, and then you need to offer a solution. You should always be helping and communicating actionable advice. When your prospect gets off the phone with you, what do you want him or her to remember? What can you say to really help this person?
9. Forgetting About the Relationship
Your ultimate job is to close deals, but you can never forget about building a relationship with your prospects. Your conversations should not always be about business. Make time for small talk so you can get to know each other. And, don’t go dark as soon as the deal is made. Once you make a sale, you still need to work on building and improving the relationship, which could lead to other sales over time.
Solution: One of the easiest ways to build a relationship with a new person is with mimicry. Mimicry is when you mirror another person’s actions. You may mimic someone’s gestures, vocal pitch and tone, posture, eye contact, or body orientation. Mimicry is often thought of as one aspect of being charismatic, building rapport, and having a position impact on someone. That’s because it subconsciously puts the other person at ease and conveys the feeling that you’re both on the same team.
10. Lack of Interest
You don’t have to love every conversation you have, but it’s very clear when you’re faking interest or just don’t care. Don’t surf the Internet when you’re on a call or default to the mono-symbol, “uh-huh” answers. And don’t rely on the prospect to lead the conversation. It’s up to you to make sure the conversation is lively and exciting.
Solution: Show passion. Talk about what makes you excited. Are you particularly interested in a certain feature of the product you’re selling? Do you have an interesting use case that you love to share? Excitement is contagious, so pinpoint what you’re passionate about and make sure to bring that up in every conversation with compelling storytelling.
Must-Have Skills for Effective Sales Communication
With the right communication skills, you can easily avoid these mistakes in every interaction.
Here are the must-have skills for effective communication:
Understand the different kinds of questions: Questioning skills can help you gain control of the conversation, get to know your customer, and move people through the selling process. There are five general types of questions and it’s important to understand the difference between each one and when you should use them.
- Closed questions: A closed question requires a “yes” or “no” answer, without any extra details or elaboration. An example of a closed question would be, “Are you happy with your current XYX tool?” Use this type of question when you want to find out concrete facts or to learn basic information from your customer.
- Open questions: An open question is the opposite of a closed question. An open question requires explanation in addition to the simple “yes” or “no.” Use open questions to gather specific information or to build a relationship with customers. For example, if you have a shy customer and want to establish trust, you may ask open questions like, “What kind of work do you do?” or “How did you get into that industry?”
- Probing questions: If you still need more information even after asking an open question, use a probing question. A probing question is used to clarify or uncover information, or to get even more specific with a customer. For example, you may ask, “What kind of problems do you want this software to solve for you?”
- Confirming questions: A confirming question is used to make sure the customer understands what you’re saying and is following the conversation. For example, if you’ve just listed off a series of benefits, you could ask a confirming question like, “Which one of these benefits resonates the most with you?”
- Summary confirmation questions: At the end of your conversation, use a summary confirmation question to check that you understand what the customer has told you. This kind of question solidifies what the customer has said and confirms that you understand his or her needs. An example could be, “Are you saying you’d like to start a 30-day trial of this product?”
Make a connection: A good conversation means so much more than smiling, listening, and being polite. Good salespeople know that a conversation needs to build trust and understanding. You may use different conversation skills to foster this kind of strong relationship. Conversation skills include making small talk when necessary, asking non-confronting questions, showing interest and warmth, adjusting to your customer’s verbal style, and responding to signs of discomfort or boredom. And these skills don’t just apply to the selling process; you can leverage these conversation skills when networking, giving presentations, or even in your personal life.
Hone your vocal skills: Effective communicators know that how they say something can make a bigger impact than the actual message. Practice using your voice to make the customer feel at ease and to convey different emotions. You can adjust your pitch, volume, tone, speed, or inflection all depending on the context of your conversation. For example, if your customer is worried about taking the leap and signing a contract, use a steady tone to convey confidence and control.
Know when to negotiate: The best salespeople know how to turn a disagreement or confrontation into problem solving. This is based on a concept called “Principled Negotiation,” also called a “win-win.” You can use this method to reach a business agreement that satisfies both people and can actually strengthen relationships by giving both parties the opportunity work together to find a solution.
Leverage the Social Styles Matrix: Everyone can be categorized into one of four “social styles” in the Social Styles Matrix: analytical, driving, amiable, or expressive. To communicate more effectively and build stronger relationships, identify a customer or prospect’s social style and then modify your own social style to be more compatible.
Marketing and Sales Communication Tips
A great salesperson isn’t just good at effectively communicating with prospects and customers. You also have to master concise communication with different departments in your company, especially marketing.
Here are four sales and marketing communication tips:
- Make time for face-to-face interaction: You can only communicate so much via email or chat. Make sure the sales and marketing teams meet on a frequent basis with face-to-face meetings. In those meetings, have different people from both teams talk about projects they’re working on, challenges they’re facing, or any lessons learned. Not only will everyone be on the same page, it’s immensely helpful for sales to hear how marketing talks about certain projects (and vice-versa). For more interaction, you could even have sales and marketing sit together.
- Agree on a common language: Jargon and buzzwords aside, many issues with miscommunication come from different interpretations of the same word. Marketing may understand “wins” as one thing, whereas sales may have a completely different definition. Make sure everyone is working off the same framework and literally write down these definitions for everyone to have.
- Reference data when possible: No one can disagree over cold, hard facts. Include data points when talking about a successful campaign or explaining why a deal didn’t go through. These stats can help sales and marketing understand the bigger picture and how it affects business goals. It’s one thing to say that sales landed a big deal, but it’s another thing to explain the numbers behind that deal.
- Encourage feedback: In both sales and marketing departments, it’s easy to run off and work on a project in your own silo. Marketing often forgets that salespeople have the best insight into customers’ wants and challenges, and sales often forgets that marketing can help sharpen messaging in a demo or presentation. Encourage feedback between both departments. Make time for marketing and sales to work together and share their knowledge.
Resources to Learn Effective Sales Communication Strategies
- Join Toastmasters: Toastmasters International focuses on communication and leadership development. With more than 332,000 members, Toastmasters helps people improve their speaking and leadership skills with its regular club meetings. You give speeches in front of your club and receive feedback to improve your communication skills.
- Dale Carnegie’s Blog Resources: Dale Carnegie Training gives people in business the opportunity to sharpen their skills and improve their performance. The site has some pricey training courses, but there are also many helpful, free resources specifically for salespeople to improve their communication skills. The blog has a whole category devoted to sales and sales management tips, with resources like “8 Effective Listening Skills for Sales Professionals.”
- Free Online Training: There are many online education sites that offer free training courses. For example, Udemy, an online education marketplace, offers a course on professional communication essentials. Or, edX, a massive open online course (MOOC) provider, offers a communication course from Purdue University about communicating strategically.