Sales. It’s a necessary part of growing your business.
But not everyone’s a natural at it. Even if you’ve got the gift of gab, are a true people person, or are just plain convincing, you’ll still need to work hard to become great at sales.
Not only will you need to hone your craft, but you’ll also need to learn what to avoid when working with sales prospects. With that in mind, we’re exploring the idea of becoming a well-respected “sales doctor” – and how to avoid committing “sales malpractice” with clients.
The Sales Acceleration Formula on Modern Selling
First of all, what do we mean by “sales malpractice?”
This idea came out of a recent Semify book club involving our sales and marketing team.
In The Sales Acceleration Formula, former HubSpot Sales Division Chief Revenue Officer Mark Roberge likens today’s sales process to a visit to the doctor’s office:
“Modern selling feels less like a seller/buyer relationship and more like a doctor/patient relationship. When a doctor asks, ‘Do you smoke? Does heart disease run in your family?’ You do not lie. You see the diploma on the wall and you tell the truth. You know the doctor is there to help you. She is trying to diagnose your issue and fix it. When she diagnoses your condition and prescribes a medication, you don’t say, ‘Let me think about it’ or “Can I get 20% off?’ You take the pills.”
Of course, that’s the ideal scenario. That’s what a great doctor-patient relationship looks like.
But we know that not all doctors – and not all patients – are created equal. And sometimes, even highly educated, well-respected doctors can make mistakes. That’s where the “sales malpractice” concept comes in.
Before we get into that, let’s stick with the doctor/patient analogy for a minute.
There are bound to be those who want to micromanage their own care and second-guess your diagnoses at every turn. Others may look for free samples of the medication you recommend or may opt for generic over name-brand prescriptions to save money.
Still others may request a second (or third or fourth) opinion because they don’t like their prognosis or doubt your credentials. They may even use the equivalent of WebMD to try to treat their problems themselves – often to mixed results. They might even refuse to accept they have conditions that can be helped, choosing instead to blame their pain on others while they go untreated.
We can’t always avoid these problem patients. But we can work hard to ensure the care we provide is of the highest caliber.
As an agency owner, you’ll want to meet with every qualified client and provide them with the best possible care. Whether or not they choose to follow your recommendations won’t always be in your control. But by improving your bedside manner, you’ll become a sales doctor they can trust.
Defining and Avoiding Sales Malpractice
Continuing with our medical analogy, great doctors will put the needs of their patients first and will vow to do no harm. Those who commit malpractice, on the other hand, will fall short on these oaths. Even if their intent is not malicious, they still have a responsibility to uphold a duty of care.
The dictionary defines malpractice as “improper, illegal, or negligent professional activity or treatment, especially by a medical practitioner, lawyer, or public official.” In sales, we can’t sue a salesperson for following poor practices. But an act doesn’t have to be illegal to beget fallout.
If you fail to follow best practices as a doctor, you might misdiagnose a patient or provide them with a poor experience. More egregious or repeated errors could both hurt the patient and your own reputation.
The same goes for those working in sales. If you don’t take the time to understand the customer’s pain points or listen to their needs, you may find yourself dealing with low closing rates, high rates of customer churn, or customer service woes. In the worst case scenario, you could even damage your brand reputation due to bad sales processes.
Obviously, you’ll want to avoid committing sales malpractice. Here are just a few potentially lethal mistakes that could hurt your business or your “patients” that you’ll want to prevent.
You May Be Committing Sales Malpractice If You’re…
Forgetting to Prepare
Boy Scouts, doctors, and good salespeople have something in common: they should always be prepared.
At the bare minimum, a skilled doctor will take a look at your chart and the nurse’s notes before they enter the room. Unfortunately, not every medical professional will take the time to do this! But those who put in the effort before the appointment will make better recommendations and will gain the respect of their patients.
You can use this same logic for your sales calls. As we’ve said in previous blogs, the #1 predictor of sales success is preparation. Creating an agenda, researching your prospect, and even getting your computer screen ready for an undistracted meeting are all part of this process. Giving your client your undivided attention, familiarizing yourself with their business, and preparing yourself for listening and learning will set you up for success.
Conversely, neglecting to adequately prepare for your sales calls isn’t something that will typically pay off. It’s one of the most common sales mistakes we see. You may think you’re great on the fly, but prospects respond to salespeople who take the time to get to know them and who don’t come in cold. “Winging it” isn’t a great business strategy – and it’ll be hard for prospects to take your recommendations seriously if you don’t do the prep work beforehand.
Failing to Listen
Preparation is only part of the equation. You can do all the research you want and think of questions to ask – but the spontaneous part comes in when it’s time for a prospect to give their answers.
Don't squander your chance to gather information. You need to stay present and in the moment in these conversations. Don’t anticipate what the customer’s problems are; instead, let them tell you (and really listen!). Active listening is a huge part of your job as a salesperson. Great doctors understand this, too.
Making assumptions about the customer’s pain points, budget, or time frame can result in frustration and miscommunication. Really hear what a prospect is saying, rephrase and repeat it, and ask thoughtful questions. Remember to take great notes, too! This will keep the conversation flowing and provide a ton of valuable intel you can use to meet your sales goals.
Customers won’t respond well to a salesperson who talks over them or who thinks they know everything. Don’t let your desire to close the deal get in the way of your humanity and our innate need to communicate.
Making Premature Recommendations
You can’t diagnose a patient without a thorough examination. You’ll need to ask questions about their health, run some tests, and rule out possible diagnoses before determining the root of the problem.
It’s the same in sales. Digital marketing isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution. And if you want to avoid making some of the most common sales mistakes, you need to personalize your process. Every customer will have a different history, contributing factors, and symptoms. You won’t immediately know the source of the issue before you really delve in. And it’s important not to let personal biases get in the way of an accurate diagnosis.
Resist the urge to jump in and make suggestions before you really know the extent of their pain points. Your recommendations might work well for one prospect, but not for another. Take the time to get to know your prospect before you write them a prescription. If you don’t, you’ll waste their time – and you might end up giving them the wrong medication for a condition they don’t actually have.
Guaranteeing or Overpromising Results
In the medical field, it’s important to maintain realistic expectations. That means you can’t make promises about how a certain medication or procedure will work for a given patient. You can provide likelihood percentages, clinical study results, and anecdotal evidence. But making guarantees isn’t something you’ll hear any reputable doctor do.
It’s the same with reputable salespeople, especially in the digital marketing sector. We can’t definitively say that a certain product or service will produce exact results within a certain time frame. Instead, we can show case studies, provide statistics, and share what we know about industry best practices.
But as far as guaranteeing that a course of treatment will work 100% of the time, we need to steer clear throughout the sales process. If you fall into this trap just to make the sale, you’re going to deal with irate customers, high rates of churn, and brand damage later on.
It can be tough not to over-promise if you’re concerned about telling a prospect what they want to hear or if you’re worried about losing the sale. But it’s always better to put the customer’s needs first – even if that means you can’t help them in good conscience.
Placing Blame or Interrogating
No patient wants to hear that their lifestyle choices, prior experiences, or genetics are to blame for their health problems. While those may have contributed to their condition, patients don’t want to feel ashamed. Likewise, they don’t want to feel like you’re prying unnecessarily. Instead, they want to know what they can do moving forward with the information they’re willing to share.
To avoid common sales mistakes, the same rule applies. Placing blame on what a client has done wrong in the past or bad-mouthing previous vendors won’t get you very far. Finding a way to frame those challenges as a positive – like empathizing with their frustration, hearing their concerns, and showing how you can help them – is a much better strategy. Let them know they caught the problem early and there’s still a lot you can do together to improve the outcome.
How to Become a Decorated Sales Doctor
We’ve gone over the most common sales mistakes and how to avoid them. But how do you translate that into a foolproof sales process (and become a true sales specialist)? Check out our prescription below to heal what ails you.
- Establish Trust: Although there are certainly those who distrust doctors, most of us will put our faith in those with a PhD. That isn’t the case when we start talking to Joe Salesman. Generally speaking, we’ll be skeptical of whether or not this person is just out for themselves. You’ll need to first deal with that credibility gap before doing anything else. By demonstrating that you’re authentic, trustworthy, and accountable, you’ll show prospects that you’ll put their needs ahead of your own. So how do you do that? Besides sharing unbiased data and examples of social proof (like customer reviews), you can…
- Ask Questions: When your doctor comes in the room for your appointment, what do they do first after the basic niceties? They ask questions. They want to get to the root cause of your problem before they determine how to solve it. If a patient’s knee was hurting, a good doctor doesn’t simply tell them to take an aspirin. Instead, they’d ask a number of questions about prior events, level of discomfort, visual changes, and more. You’ll want to really become adept at asking questions. Be curious and show genuine interest in (and concern for) your prospect’s business. You’ll know you’ve asked enough questions when you start to feel a little uncomfortable. Use our video to learn which kinds of questions to ask in sales calls.
- Inspect and Test: Next, you’ll want to dive in a little deeper to explore the source of the prospect’s problems. A doctor would perform an examination and perform a series of tests to diagnose the issue. For digital marketers, you’ll want to use a similar approach – but you’ll use tools like Ahrefs, SEMRush, or Semify’s online resources to inspect the health of your customer’s online presence. Not only will this provide you with the information you need to develop an effective strategy, but it’ll show the prospect that you can provide a high level of expertise and quality of care.
There are all kinds of tips to improve business sales that you can try. But by and large, today’s business owners don’t respond to a hard sell. Instead, they want to work with providers who understand their needs, listen to their concerns, and guide them to the right answer.
Get Your Sales Process On the Mend
Before you can treat someone else’s issues, you’ve got to address your own. Committing sales malpractice is a far more common (and more serious) problem than many people realize. But that doesn’t mean it’s inevitable.
By avoiding the common sales mistakes outlined above and committing yourself to becoming curious, you’ll gain trust in your prospects and ensure your sales process gets a clean bill of health.