What are the Top 5 mistakes a salesperson can make?

I’m planning to make a film about Selling.  Not, you’ll be relieved to know, about how TO sell, but the opposite – how NOT to.  Can you imagine how much criticism I’d come in for if I tried to make a film showing the perfect salesman?  Mind you, that thought doesn’t seem to have stopped hundreds of writers and would-be video stars from having go, does it?

Jack Brymer

Jack Brymer

I once met a gentleman named Jack Brymer, who was principal clarinettist in the London Symphony orchestra for decades.  He was running a Masterclass, using the Adagio from Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto as the case study, and was asked the question “What does it take to produce a perfect performance?” of this wonderful piece.    I’ve never forgotten his answer:

“There is no such thing as a perfect performance.  All you can do is strive to get closer to perfection.  You will never know how much further you can go, but the thing is to keep getting closer.”

So, how foolish to try and model perfection in sales, for others to emulate!  Far easier, and much more fun, to produce a video showing the classic cockups that people make, and let people try and spot them.

My colleague Spencer Holmes and I have been developing a set of such videos over the last year or so, and we are just contemplating this subject.  So I am using my trusty Blog readership to help me out with making a list of the worst gaffes you can make when you sell.  I’ve been thinking this through for the last hour or two, and come up with this as my top 5 (in no particular order):

  • Interrupting – so you don’t find out what the customer is trying to tell you
  • Not asking good and plentiful questions – so you don’t know what world the customer inhabits
  • Closing too soon – so you don’t widen the conversation and explore other opportunities
  • Not checking out the customer – naively expecting every conversation to lead to a budget
  • Being inflexible – expecting your style to be fit for purpose for every conversation instead of flexing it to be more like the person you are talking to.

What would your list be?  Do please share.

I’ve perpetrated some, if not all of these over the years, I suspect.  I can also think of some horrendous social gaffes that aren’t on this list, because we can take “social flatulence” as kind of a given:  just don’t do it!

£20 a pop.  Bargain!

£20 a pop. Bargain!

There was the time when as head waiter I asked someone “Would you like a cigar sir – a Montecristo Number One perhaps?” and the man sitting next to him said “Excuse me, that’s my wife!”  Shudder.

I remember (I’m cringeing here) selling a publican so much wine on our Christmas drinks promotion that we had to send a brewery vehicle in January to take the lot back.  It only just fitted on the dray.

(I still won the Salesman’s prize for best performance against target on the promotion.  Double cringe).

Oh yes, then there was me trying to convince a group in a training room that some hairbrained of mine was going to work.  “If you like the idea, let’s see thumbs up”, said I.  “But I haven’t got any thumbs!” said the chap sitting at the end of the table.  Gulp.  Thank goodness he and the rest of us belly laughed our way out of that one.

There you are, I’ve told you mine, now it’s your turn.  Let’s call this week “please share” week:  your list of the Top 5 Sales Gaffes, and any special sales anecdotes that you have either perpetrated or been the victim of.

Watch this space, the video will be out before summer.

We’ll finish today with a real treat:  Jack Brymer playing that exquisite piece of Mozart.  it doesn’t get much better than this.  But we still can’t call it perfection.

About Michael Brown Training

I'm a business skills trainer, facilitator and coach. I've been helping people to learn for 16 years, working all around the world on topics such as Negotiation, Conflict Handling, Sales, Leadership, Consulting and Personal Effectiveness. I'm an ENFP, constantly looking for new and inspiring things to do. I love my job for its variety and the stimulation I get from it, and spend most of my time seeing how far we can go with the subjects we work on in the training room. I've recently started a new venture in making video on how NOT to do things, which you can find at www.hownot2.com
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11 Responses to What are the Top 5 mistakes a salesperson can make?

  1. careware says:

    Reblogged this on CareWare.


  2. 1) Asking client if it is still a good time (something might have come up). 2) Trashing competitor. 3) Not doing your homework. 4) Leading with price.


  3. Dave Sharpe says:

    1. Assuming
    2. Giving without getting something of value in return
    3. Continuing to sell when it has been sold
    4. Taking the first response as the the priority without exploring all the competing prorities
    5. Hearing what they want to hear not understanding what is being said


  4. Mandy Green says:

    You could add to the list:
    1. Being generally shifty (subtle non-verbal micro give aways like over blinking, not smiling with the eyes, fractionally over long handshake etc.)
    2. Not caring about the value the customer will get from the transaction.
    3. Rushing
    4. Over complex caveats and add-ons
    5. Promising what can’t be delivered


  5. Hi Michael,

    Interesting – Heres my list –

    1) Not listening to the clients needs
    2) Being infelxible – This is difficult for those people who have trouble empathising (low emotional intelligence) or those who lack creativity (seeing oppurtunitys)
    3) Displaying a lack of understanding of your product service or the marketplace
    4) Being too pushy/confident
    5) Not being honest about whether your product or service is likely to fit the clients needs

    Good luck,


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