Sales: Three Sins to Avoid at All Costs

To avoid mistakes like these, sales managers need an objective view of their teams’ strengths and weaknesses

While people in all types of roles can – and should – play an integral part in a company’s success, it pays to choose star sales people carefully.

Not only must they represent their firm in some of the most important customer discussions, their appointment and their performance tend to attract a lot of attention.

Despite this focus, there are plenty of stories of sales people – even those considered the firm’s best – who fail.  Gower D. Tailey, sales manager and author, believes he’s identified the worst salesman in the world. His biggest mistake? Selling before he understands the customer need. It’s the most heinous of three all-too-common sales sins:

  1. Not listening: Sometimes this is not the fault of the rep but the company. Dan Siidman of tells the story of how one saleswoman was not allowed near a prospective client until she could show she had memorized the “standard” sales pitch. The speech was so inscribed on her brain she addressed him as ‘Mr Prospect’ throughout.
  2. Not researching: In a world where in-depth information on a prospect is easily obtainable, there is little excuse for not researching a prospect’s business beforehand. Pity the salesman who worked late on a last minute pitch for what he thought was a construction company only to find that the “crane association” was for the preservation of the avian kind.
  3. Not me: An all too common error is to deflect any criticism aimed at the rep onto their company. John Treece, author of “Nuts & Bolts of Sales Management: How to Build a High-Velocity Sales Organization,” tells a story of how a rep told a customer that “her order had been botched by the company’s computer system when, in reality, he’d just forgotten to place it. The customer cancelled all outstanding orders, stating that she no longer trusted the company”.

Finding the Right Reps

People make mistakes in any organization, and sales people are no more immune. But with customers spending less and demanding more, companies need to hire and promote people that are least likely to make damaging errors.

In making those kinds of selection decisions, sales managers often fall back on habitual approaches for which there is scant evidence of their effectiveness. For example:

  • They often rely on subjective manager evaluations or past performance data, neither of which may accurately forecast how a sales person will perform in a new or changing sales environment
  • They sometimes measure and make decisions based on sales behaviours that are assumed, but not proven, to work.
  • They take a one-size-fits all approach to sales development, resulting in costly programs that lead to disengaged sales people and don’t yield the expected results.

CEB data show that 82% of sales leaders are unclear if they have the talent they need to execute their strategy, and the same percentage have no idea how their talent stacks up against competitors.

Telecom Italia’s Story

CEB worked with Telecom Italia on an audit of its B2C sales force. The company wanted to identify and develop salespeople to increase B2C sales, win new market share, and stem the flow of clients leaving the firm.

Telecom Italia found, via an objective SHL Talent Measurement program that those sales people who scored highly in online ability, motivation, and personality assessments were:

  • Five times more likely to sell additional services on top of the standard proposal.
  • 59% more likely to win new clients from competitors.
  • Twice as likely to achieve 150% or more of their individual sales targets.

The results of the talent measurement program enabled the organization to identify and address talent shortfalls, with a training and development program based on the needs of its different consumer sales functions. Telecom Italia has since extended the process to other departments.

Sales will always be a high-octane, edge of the seat activity, where what works today may not always work tomorrow. But an objective understanding of both current and prospective sales people improves the chances of your next appointment being a Steve Jobs or a Donald Trump and not Tailey’s “worst salesman in the world.”

A version of this post originally appeared on CEB’s sales and customer service blog.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at


CEB is the world’s leading member-based advisory company. It has a unique view into what matters — and what works — when capitalizing on drivers of business performance. With 30 years' experience working with top companies to share, analyze and apply proven practices, CEB begins with great outcomes and reverse engineers to help businesses unlock their full potential. Find out more at

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