During my 30 years in sales, I've worked with hundreds of salespeople and sales leaders to help them sharpen their skills and increase their success. Regardless of their differences in personality or style, I have seen the following five mistakes made over and over, and I want to share some tips on how to avoid them.

  1. Don't think you can live off your account base

    Most of us enjoy prospecting about as much as a root canal, but did you know that 10% of your account base will disappear every year just through acquisitions, closures and relocations? In nature, nothing stands still. We are either growing or dying and the same is true of our business. You need to prospect both for new accounts and for new business within your accounts to keep your business growing and healthy. If prospecting is the thing you most hate about sales, consider taking a prospecting workshop to update your skills and increase your confidence. Invest in yourself to get over your fears and learn how to develop a prospecting plan and how to work it for best results. Make growing your business an essential part of your week, every week.

  2. Lead with a solution for a customer's problem, not with a product brochure

    Do you do a demo as early as possible in the sales cycle hoping that the product will sell itself? Do you tell the customer everything you know about your product and hope that some of it gets their attention? A demo or a product presentation should be used only as proof once you and the customer have agreed on what is needed to solve the problem. It should be tailored to the customer's needs, only showing the capabilities your customer identified as helpful and desirable to address the issue. Anything else produces glazed eyes or perceptions that the product is too complicated. Many sales are lost with a poorly timed or badly executed demo. Get the customer's goal and stick to it to guide your efforts.

  3. Call above the power line

    If you don't call on the decision maker or the financial approver, who are you expecting to do the selling for you? You are a trained professional. Your coach is not. Don't ask them to do something that you struggle with yourself. Why don't salespeople call at the higher level? Often, it's the fear that they have no value to bring to an executive. After all, what do they know about finance or operations or running a company? Don't forget that you have knowledge and expertise, too. You and the executive are both trained professionals with knowledge and expertise to share. Together you can you can pool your expertise and come up with ways to solve a problem or achieve a goal that he or she will embrace as their own. Remember, people are best convinced by ideas they discover themselves. The saleperson's job is to lead the voyage of discovery and help them arrive at a clear vision of a solution.

  4. Don't accept what the customer says without really understanding it

    How many ways do customers say, “No?” How about, “We don't have the budget” or, “We're not ready to do anything right now” or, “I need time to think about it” or, “Give me a call in a couple of months and we'll talk then.” All of these are ways to say “no” without hurting the feelings of the salesperson. Another is to blame the product, saying something like, ‘We really wanted to go with you but you didn't have the XYZ superwidget.’ Sorry.”

    When a customer says no to us, however politely, we have the right to ask for more information. We have the right to say we really want to understand their thinking so we can be more successful next time. Taking their statement at face value doesn't give us any feedback to help improve our skills or our probability of success in the future.

  5. Don't forget how much value you bring to your customers

    Sometimes salespeople forget what value they bring and think their job is to say “yes” to every customer request. They think their relationship-building skills will win the day. That's really the wrong way of looking at it. We need to remember that customers don't agree to see us because they're lonely. They take the time to see us because they believe we may be able to help them solve a problem or achieve a goal. It's business and our power is in our experience and knowledge and our integrity. We are a source of expert information and advice beyond what they can get from the internet. We may be able to do something for them, but they should also expect to do something for us. It's a quid pro quo. You get something before you give something. That's how professionals interact — they allow each to own their experience and their knowledge. No one wins when we “overcome” the customer's concerns. Our job is to understand them and help them envision a solution to their problem that uses our products and services.

If you want to sharpen your skills and improve your results, look at your own sales behavior and attitudes and see if any of these common mistakes are holding you back. Self-awareness is the prerequisite to self-improvement.

Sharon Parker is the author of Selling with Soul Version 2.0 and is a professional sales trainer and coach. Her website is www.sparkercoaching.com.