Note: This Steve W. Martin Sales Research Article Originally Appeared in the Harvard Business Review
In the late sixth century, Pope Gregory described the seven deadly sins from the least serious to the most, as superbia, invidia, ira, avaritia, tristia, gula, and luxuria. Translated from Latin, they are pride, envy, anger, avarice, sadness, gluttony, and lust. What do you think are the seven deadly sins of salespeople? Here’s my list, in order of least to most severe.
Salespeople talk too much on sales calls for a variety of reasons. Some are nervous chatterers who just can’t keep their mouths shut. Others think they know more than the customer so they lecture the customer to death. Many salespeople feel compelled to recite their canned pitch regardless of the customer’s actual interest. You have conducted a perfect sales call when the customer has been persuaded to buy even though you listened far more than you spoke.
Millionaire railroad tycoon Diamond Jim Brady was a legendary gourmand who lived at the turn of the twentieth century. For breakfast he ate eggs, pancakes, pork chops, cornbread, fried potatoes, hominy, muffins, and beefsteak and drank a gallon of orange juice. Lunch consisted of two lobsters, deviled crabs, clams, oysters, beef, and several pies. A platter of seafood and carafes of lemon soda constituted his 4:30 snack. The evening meal began with three dozen oysters, six crabs, and turtle soup. The main course was two whole ducks, six or seven lobsters, a sirloin steak, and servings of vegetables. Dessert included a platter of pastries and often a two-pound box of candy. Does your sales organization include a “Diamond Jim Brady” who devours company resources to the point of gluttony?
Salespeople must be short-term thinkers and long-term planners. An inactive salesperson neglects the future and does not spend time on activities that build his future pipeline. Inactivity is not to be confused with laziness. Many hardworking salespeople are completely focused on the here and now. Unfortunately, they forget about next quarter and next year. Other salespeople place all their eggs in one basket, never really thinking about what will happen if their big deal collapses. They have been lulled into a state of inactivity and could be jolted into reality at any moment.
Many salespeople don’t take the time to understand how customers fit within their own organization. I am continually amazed at the lackadaisical attitude many salespeople have about understanding the organizational structure of the companies they call on. When they are asked what a person’s title is, they will answer, “manager,” or something equally nebulous, when they should answer, “manager of application security who reports to the director of application development, who, in turn, reports to the CIO.”
Salespeople who don’t know their product well enough to build customer credibility cannot be expected to drive account strategy. How can you determine your next course of action if you don’t understand the customer’s technical objections and how best to emphasize the product’s strengths? Worse, in this situation you are completely at the mercy of someone else because another member of your company has to explain how your product works.
Assuming information you really don’t know is one of the worst sins for a salesperson. Salespeople who are not certain but make their best guess about who the ultimate and final decision maker is within an account are more than halfway to losing the deal.
Ignorance is the deadliest sin. If you do not have a spy within an account who is telling you what is happening in closed-door meetings, defending you when you are not around, and disseminating propaganda on your behalf, you will most certainly lose.
Your success is your responsibility. The road to the top is paved with hard work, diligence, and self-discipline. The salesperson who avoids committing these seven deadly sins is well on his or her way to becoming a Heavy Hitter, a truly great salesperson.