Without realizing it, many salespeople confuse activity with progress. They stay busy but don’t close much business. When a manager asks about all the opportunities in these sellers’ pipelines, they may hear, “If I close 20 percent of these opportunities, I’ll be in great shape.”

The problem with this approach is that the achievement of pipeline milestones is based on seller opinions rather than buyer actions. In addition, sellers who are less than year-to-date against their quota face pressure to show enough activity to reach that quota soon. The further they are behind quota, the more optimistic sellers become.

Here are five common pitfalls salespeople should avoid:

1. Failing to Uncover Buyer Goals

Most people would agree that over the last 20 years, companies have been under pressure to meet profit margins. Absent significant top-line revenue growth, many CFOs have taken several passes at reducing expenses and are running lean. If and when a seller starts to talk about offerings, finding budget will be a challenge.

Many sellers try to create demand for their offerings. The underlying problem? At executive levels, there is no demand for B2B offerings. These buyers are not interested in being educated about offerings. Sellers need to step back and ask, “Why would the title or company I’m calling on be willing to spend the money I’ll be asking for?”

The first sanity check is to find out what business goals (or problems) your offering can achieve (or solve). If the prospective customer company has a buying committee, it is likely each title will have different goals, and sellers should identify as many as they can.

If goals aren’t articulated, there is little sense in trying to push boulders up steep hills. It’s better to find a real opportunity. Simply put, if no goals have been articulated, you don’t have a prospect.

2. Failing to Gain Access to People Who Can Buy

Many sellers spend a great deal of time with lower levels and try to climb the organizational ladder. This means talking to layers of people who can’t say yes but can say no. Lower levels may be unaware of the business goals in play. Sellers often just let things play out and waste time, effort and resources.

When lower levels ask for a resource (demo, reference, etc.), many sellers fail to ask whether, if the prospect likes what they see, they be willing to provide an introduction to a higher-level key player who could be a champion by providing access to the other titles the seller must call on.

3. Failure to Create Key Player Visions

While executives don’t want to be subjected to product pitches, they do want to work with sellers who help them understand why they can’t achieve their desired business outcomes. If they knew what barriers existed, they would be attempting to address them.

After a thorough diagnosis, they want to have a high-level conceptual understanding of the capabilities they need to achieve the goal. An executive with a vision can articulate his or her goal(s), barriers that stand in the way, and specific capabilities needed to address them. Such buyers are empowered (not sold to) and take ownership for achieving the goal.

4. No Compelling Value Established

Before making purchase decisions, buyers need to see that the costs are more than justified by potential savings. Sellers not only compete with other vendors, but they also compete for funds. If a seller calls high enough and can help build a strong cost/benefit analysis, the buyer can find the money for an otherwise unbudgeted initiative by reallocating money, which can mean that they will tell another seller or sellers that they will revisit their proposal at another time.

5. Thinking That Proposals Sell

Sellers are excited when they gain traction and interest within organizations. If their contact is a non-decision maker, a common mistake is failing to gain access to higher levels. Sellers will go through need development, offer proof, and then provide copies of proposals that their contact will circulate to higher levels and implore those people to read them. There are several possible consequences of this approach:

  • Key players don’t have the time to read proposals.
  • Key players try to read them and don’t understand the offerings or their potential value.
  • The seller’s contact is told that there’s no budget.
  • The proposal remains in the pipeline for more than 60 days.

Ultimately, you can’t sell to people who can’t buy. Without key players’ involvement, unsolicited proposals are a waste of time, because they are unlikely to result in closing sales. If your salespeople can avoid falling victim to these common mistakes, then they stand a much better chance of making their number, just as your company stands a far better chance of hitting its revenue targets.