Professional selling is a career to which many are drawn and few are successful. In fact, professional selling could be the most difficult profession in the world. Given that reality, let’s examine what I call the “20 Dumbest Things Salespeople Can Do To Derail Their Careers.”

But before we do that, it might be worth asking a simple question. Why would anyone ever go out and intentionally derail their chosen career? The answer to that is, I think, very simple. Most people don’t make a conscious effort to derail their best efforts, they simply don’t know which actions tend to be most destructive to their careers. It is a matter of awareness, recognition and action. Given that reality, let’s take a look at the 20 Dumbest Things Salespeople Can Do:

1. They don’t become a student of their craft. Professional selling is a science that when practiced correctly can become an art form. Unfortunately, there are lots of salespeople who are more a student of their product than they are of the science and art of selling it. Do your best to study your profession daily, repetitively and in-depth.

2. They don’t “narrowcast” their activity. Some salespeople try to be all things to all people. The most successful salespeople are able to define their market and become specialists who are known for what it is they do. No one can be the master of everything.

3. They fail to position themselves correctly. The concept of attracting customers is more often a function of attraction rather than consistently having to find customers. This is a function of positioning yourself correctly.

4. They fail to prospect. Perhaps the greatest cause of failure in salespeople is an inconsistent flow of qualified prospects. What causes this? Becoming overly comfortable with existing customers, believing you are in control of your marketplace… the list is endless.

5. They get in front of the wrong people. Simply making sales presentations is not enough. Salespeople need to be in front of the right people at the right time with the right message. It is essential to be in front of qualified prospects as often as you can.

6. They listen to their peers. There is very little question the 80/20 Rule is alive and well in the world of selling that 80 percent of the sales are made by 20 percent of the top salespeople. The problem is salespeople listen to the bottom 80 percent! Problems, difficulties and reasons why things can’t be sold often outnumber the reasons why they can be sold according to 80 percent of the people!

7. They don’t understand the economics of their product. Would you sell something for $1.50 that cost you $2.00? Of course you wouldn’t. Lots of salespeople don’t understand the concept of margin versus volume.

8. They mentally spend income before they earn it. The problem? No sale is ever consummated until the check is deposited and, in some cases, until that check is cleared!

9. They fail to ask the right questions. This is often a function of talking and not listening coupled with a simple lack of knowledge.

10. They are either digitally compulsive or digitally impaired. We live in a world of evolving digitalization of processes and systems. The problem? Lots of salespeople who love computers won’t sell, and those who sell are fearful of computers. The secret? Become balanced.

11. They fail to manage their time well. Manage your time well and you will sell well. Manage your time poorly and you will sell poorly. It is as simple as that. The only inventory you have is time.

12. They are either too timid or too aggressive. Salespeople either allow the prospect to direct them or they are too directive with the prospect. The bottom line is simply this: You need to know when to be bold and when to retreat.

13. They fail to match their product offering to the prospect’s stated needs. This is the greatest flaw salespeople have.

14. They can’t deal with change, or change too much. There is little doubt there are massive amounts of change going on. Resist it and you will lose. By the same token, if you change things just to change them – you’re going to be in just as much of a quandary as someone who refuses to react to change at all.

15. They place themselves into a situation in their personal life that lacked a strong support system. Most successful salespeople have a support system that allows them to invest the vast amounts of time, dedication and effort that professional selling requires.

16. They fail to pre-call plan and organize for calls. There is a direct correlation between pre-call planning and long-term sales success. It is as simple as that.

17. They never learn how to ask questions. Remember earlier I discussed the concept salespeople fail to ask the right questions … this is a corollary to that flaw. Asking questions in the correct order, and in a way that is non-threatening, open-ended and qualitative in nature, is essential to sales success.

18. They don’t understand service is part of sales. Sometimes it is as if salespeople fail to recall the importance of referral and repeat business.

19. They fail to provide value-added solutions. This is the salesperson who believes people buy products and services. Instead, they buy solutions and answers to issues they are trying to have resolved, and the more value they see in that solution, the more they’ll buy.

20. They fail to ask for the order. In the final analysis, asking for the order is why salespeople exist. Perhaps one or two of these show their heads in your day-to-day sales career. If that’s the case, work hard to eliminate them. Perhaps, if you are a sales manager you may want to pass this article on to salespeople and identify some of the areas where they have specific weaknesses. By the same token, if you have a handful of things to tackle here, take them on one at a time. Remember, sales careers are not built – or ruined in one day. They are, instead, built or destroyed on long term, consistent activity.

Good selling,

Dave Rothfeld