Top 10 mistakes salespeople make with customers - Image Magazine


Feature Articles

Top 10 mistakes salespeople make with customers

Top 10 mistakes salespeople make with customers

A better title for this column may be -  ‘Top Ten (I didn’t know that was a mistake) mistakes that (were actually 100% preventable) salespeople make with (future ex) customers’. However, the editor would probably think that it is way too long and if forced to fit the assigned space, the font would be too small to be readable. (Smile!)

First, let’s go over the low-hanging fruit, the biggest mistake that salespeople make. One that is universally acknowledged and any Google-capable columnist could come up with:

1.    Taking a customer for granted

This mistake is easily number one. It tops the charts with every “Why do you switch vendors?” customer survey taken since the day the earth cooled. Solution: Keep dating your customers even after they’ve said, “I do”. The ground beneath your feet is far from solid. The more comfortable you feel regarding an account, the more vulnerable you are as a salesperson.

Okay, now that that is out of the way, we can list the lesser-known sales mistakes:

2.    Constantly arriving late for appointments

No, this is not charming. It’s a character flaw that speaks to your character. Yes, it’s that serious. This habit tells your customer that you do not respect his/her time. It runs counter to your claims of great customer service. Solution: Allow extra time. Check the traffic report before you leave, even in the middle of the day when you wouldn’t think there would be a backup but the State decided that today would be the day to send a bunch of yellow jackets out to the highway to stand around leaning on shovels and look down into a hole for a few hours. If you are going to be late, phone ahead.

3.    Underdress for the occasion

The world is becoming less formal. From the pews to the putting green, it has become acceptable to dress down. Gone are the suits and ties, the dresses and spiffy shoes. Less is expected wardrobe-wise in the workplace. So, why is it a mistake, then, for you to follow the trend and believe that ‘Casual Friday’ means that you can dress casually on Fridays? Because it’s a missed opportunity. Solution: This is a chance for you to differentiate yourself, to stand out from the crowd, simply by addressing one level up from where you are now. Take a look at your personal budget and reassign some money to the ‘Clothing’ column.

4.    Assume that clients and prospects are in agreement with your definition of the word ‘printer’

Let’s say you are calling on a prospect, speaking to them for the first time. You give your elevator pitch and they shoot back, “We already have a printer.” Or what about with an existing account, one who utters those words to your competition when they call? In either case, they are defining the word, ‘printer’ by their own standards. They might think that it means photocopying, like Kinko’s. Or they might think it’s just business cards and envelopes that you are capable of, and nothing else. Solution: In either case, make certain that the other party is aware that yes, you can do those things, but you can also do signage and web design and labels and packaging and ...

5.    Do more talking than listening

Real communication happens when people feel safe. Write that one down and stick it on your wall. And not just safe, but heard. Have you ever lost an account or failed in your attempt to attain new business and had no idea why? One possibility is that the customer/prospect did not like your communication style. You got defensive when challenged instead of listening and accepting a different point of view. When you walked out of a client visit, you left the customer feeling…well, they really can’t define it. They just know that they feel, ‘less than’. Solution: Do whatever you have to do to become a better listener and a more open recipient to an opinion that does not line up with your own.

6.    Ignore the ‘little guy’ and focus only on the decision makers

Where do you think tomorrow’s Director of Purchasing or VP Marketing comes from? You probably pass them every day during customer visits. They sit in their cubicle, taking classes at night and gaining experience while keeping their eye on the job sites, waiting for their turn. Ignore them at your own peril. Solution: Do you want to eliminate prospecting from your life? You can eliminate the need to cold call if you just follow this one piece of advice: Never leave an existing account without having met one new person.

7.    Miss buying signals during a presentation

Through diligence and pleasant persistency and after weeks upon weeks upon months of effort, you finally land an opportunity with a coveted and highly sought-after prospect. You spend hours gathering information for your slides so that when you sit down in front of the powers-that-be, you can knock it out of the park. As you get started, the client asks, “Do you do wide format?” and you respond, “Yes, I’ll get to that later.” Solution: Always be closing. Don’t ever stop looking for opportunities or hints/clues that the customer is ready to purchase on their time frame, not yours.

8.    Learn only the specs of the job, not the story behind it

A customer hands you something to quote on and you focus only on things like ink, paper, and quantities. You are neglecting something far more important: How it is used. Give a customer a great quote and you save them a nickel. Give the customer a great idea and you save them a dollar. Solution: Ask open-ended questions that get to the usage of the document so that you can quote what they have and what they might need. Oh, and guess which one is more profitable for you?

9.    Forgetting to care about their business, industry, threats, and future

When an existing customer calls you right away, do they request, (a) a price or (b) your help with a project? The rep that answers (a) might enjoy a customer relationship that includes a wide variety of items sold, but they will lose that account on price. The rep that answers (b) is seen as a resource to the company and because of his/her demonstration not only of print knowledge but also customer knowledge, has a future that is far more secure. Solution: Study your top customers as if there is a final exam coming up. Because you know what? There is.

10.  Forgetting to tell the customer how great a sales rep you are

Despite years of service, you’ve just found out that a ‘Don’t they realise everything I have done for them?’ rep is gone. No, they don’t know because you have not told them. Forgetting to remind a customer of the value you bring to them is like holding onto a check and never depositing it in the Bank of Goodwill. Solution: Each time you do something well, remind your customer of your ‘rabbit out of the hat’ quick delivery you turn around. Each time you are praised by the customer, send them an email of thanks for the opportunity to demonstrate the kind of service you provide. Then, when some ‘bean counter’ decides to save a few nickels by quoting out the print, your Account Champions are there to speak on your behalf and save the account from wandering.

This is only the start of a list. There are much more than only 10, but it’s a good place to stop. Honestly, it’s okay to make mistakes. It’s healthy, even. What’s important is that you make the mistake just once and that you learn from it. In the early days of Twitter, a poster hung on the wall of the cafeteria. It read, “Let’s make new Mistakes today!”

Just for kicks, it was hung upside down.

Bill Farquharson is the President of and a Sales Trainer for the Graphic Arts. His books, The 25 Best Print Sales Tips Ever! and Who’s Making Money at Digital/Inkjet Printing…and How? are available on


Picture Credit: Austin Distel (Unsplash)

Previous Article Graphic Design Tips for Billboards
Next Article Exotic Graphix - Turning the ordinary into the extraordinary!

If you have a news story, or story about an interesting project or installation please contact

Sign up to Image Magazine Newsletter.