5 Common Sales Mistakes New Inside Sales People Make (and How to Avoid Them)
Over the course of my career in inside sales, I’ve worked with a host of high-tech firms surfacing new business opportunities in the federal government, manufacturing, retail, financial, and healthcare industries. This experience has allowed me to see firsthand what works and what doesn’t. I’ve been fortunate to work at a company that believes in continuous training, professional development, and coaching. Like all of my contemporaries, I’m provided with a blueprint to follow.
While having a proven plan in place is crucial, it is essential that you adjust it to fit to your unique style. What works for some people doesn’t work for others, so it is critical that you are adaptable and not afraid to try new tactics.
My first few months in inside sales were not met with great success. I was trying out different strategies and making sales mistakes. After three months of not hitting my goal, I began to worry that high tech sales might not be the best fit for me.
Fortunately, I am too competitive of a person to give up easily. I looked back and evaluated everything I had tried to determine what was working and what wasn’t. Through hard work, refinement of technique and a relentless commitment to improve, I was able to become a top-performing SDR in less than a year.
Below are the five biggest lessons I learned on my path to sales success. I hope you can avoid some of the common mistakes I made.
Sales Mistake #1 – Poorly Defining the Target Market
“Cast a wide net”
When I first started in inside sales, my opening strategy was to “cast a wide net.” Basic math suggested to me that the more prospects I contacted, the more sales opportunities I would create. I was given a list of several thousand prospects — in my case, Information Technology professionals working in the United States for companies with at least 100 employees. I went to the top of the list and essentially started calling each prospect one-by-one, treating them all as equally valuable (potentially).
After two weeks, I barely had any results from my near-constant calling strategy. Frustrated by the lack of success, I approached my manager and mentor for feedback. After a little coaching, and some self-reflection, I decided to adopt a new strategy.
“Narrow the scope”
Despite limited success, my initial calls were not a complete waste of time. I received real-time market feedback and realized that my client’s solution was a better fit for larger companies. I also noticed that certain titles (roles) within IT departments showed much more interest in my call than others.
Adjusting my approach, I decided to exclusively prospect specific titles within companies of at least 1,000 employees. Additionally, I only looked at companies that were physically located within a 300-mile radius of my client’s headquarters.
Before you start haphazardly calling down a big list, take time to gain a clear understanding of:
- The company profile that is best suited for your solution
- The titles/roles and characteristics of typical decision makers for your solution
Research by CEB shows that complex B2B sales typically involve at least five members of the organization in the decision making process.
Source: Corporate Executive Board
It is imperative to understand who these people are in the organization and then target these individuals. If you know that the decision on whether or not to buy your software solution is typically made by the VP of Sales, you would be wasting your time by reaching out to IT.
While this may sound like common sense, I’ve seen even veteran sales professionals make this mistake.
Sales Mistake #2 – High Volume Dialing vs. Intelligent Dialing
As illustrated above, my original outreach goal was to see how quickly I could dial down to the bottom of my prospect list (the “more calls must equal more sales” thought). While this can be a good way to practice, it is not the best way to produce high quality sales opportunities.
If you call someone only knowing their name and title, you will not be well-informed and the prospect will quickly dismiss you as “just another uneducated salesperson.” Decision makers at companies are constantly being contacted by salespeople, so you need to make yourself stand out from the pack. One great way to do this is through pre-call research.
Instead of just moving from one contact to the next, I started to invest a little time doing some quick research about who I was contacting. The key here for me was to understand why the prospect should want to talk about my solution. Walking a mile in their shoes made me better prepared to tackle their basic questions and overcome minor objections. However, as valuable as this strategy is, one thing worth noting is to be careful not to fall into the trap of spending so much time conducting research that it greatly inhibits the amount of calls you make.
Sales training experts generally recommend that salespeople spend 2-3 minutes conducting basic pre-call research on a company before making contact. This can be done through a variety of channels:
- Google News
- Company Web site
- Basic competitor assessment (especially if you work with any of them)
By spending a couple minutes researching who you are calling, you will increase your credibility and effectiveness.
Sales Mistake #3 – Giving Up Too Early
Sales is a game of patience and persistence, yet many new salespeople want instant gratification. I was no different.
I would call a prospect 1-2 times and then move on to the next one (in part because of Mistake #1: Poorly Defining the Target Market). This was not a successful strategy. I began to realize that sales success does not happen overnight; it takes time and persistence.
This research clearly demonstrates that if you are not contacting a prospect at least 5 or 6 times, you are giving up too soon.
The best strategy to use is a multi-touch drip campaign that combines calling with voicemails and emails over the course of 2-3 weeks.
By adopting this path and exercising professional persistence through a multi-touch approach, I saw a significant increase in my response rates and overall success.
Sales Mistake #4 – Selling Prematurely
A common flaw shared by rookie and veteran salespeople alike is the tendency to try and sell too early in the sales process.
In my early days, I spent a great deal of time explaining up front why a prospect should want my client’s solution. Instead of simply building rapport and identifying pain, I stayed focused on what I thought they should do (which was, of course, buying my client’s solution). I found that this approach led to what seemed like an endless number of objections from my prospects.
There’s a time to thoroughly explain the features and benefits of your solution, but it is almost never on the first outbound prospecting call.
Many new salespeople make this mistake and want to “drop candy” on the first call. Instead they should “ditch the pitch” and stick to the basics of qualifying by asking intelligent questions, building rapport, and scheduling a next step (if appropriate).
Before conducting these preliminary steps, any attempt to sell to the prospect will cause them to put up a shield and shut you down. After all, prescription without diagnosis is malpractice. This holds true in both medicine and sales.
Sales Mistake #5 –Trying to Bulldoze the Gatekeeper
When it came to gatekeepers, my initial belief was that I should do whatever it takes to avoid, get around, or dominate them. I was only interested in talking with “decision makers,” so my thinking was that these individuals were simply roadblocks that needed circumventing.
What I failed to understand is that a gatekeeper can actually be your most valuable resource in the sales process.
Collaborate with gatekeepers.
By simply being polite and saying, “I think you might be able to help me,” you can tap into a gatekeeper’s insider knowledge. While a gatekeeper might not be a formal part of the buying process, they usually know who the players are and what the decision making process looks like.
In addition to being respectful and treating the gatekeeper as an important component of the sales process, it’s important to convey a value statement as to why you are calling and how your solution can benefit their organization. If the gatekeeper sees you as someone who can help their organization – or more importantly themselves – they are much more likely to connect you with the appropriate decision maker.
By using this adapted approach, I’ve secured a number of key meetings with VPs and C-Level Executives through positive, professional collaboration with their executive assistants.
In sales and life, you are always going to make mistakes – but those mistakes can lead to big breakthroughs, as well.
Adapt and improve your craft based on hard-fought lessons learned. Combining this self-analysis together with ongoing training and professional coaching will allow you to set yourself up for success.
By knowing who to target, understanding who you are contacting, being persistent, ditching the pitch, and collaborating with gatekeepers, you can accelerate your sales success and avoid some of the lessons I learned the hard way.
Senior Account Executive Robbie Connors began his career in high-tech sales with memoryBlue in June 2014. His portfolio of clients includes data storage, market research, webcasting software, and healthcare IT firms. Robbie currently mentors three inside sales professionals and is a proud alumni of Radford University, where he graduated Magna Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Marketing and minor in Communications.