Over the decades that I’ve been involved in sales, I’ve worked with tens of thousands of salespeople.  Certain negative tendencies — mistakes that salespeople make — keep surfacing.  Over the next few weeks, I’ll share my top five. Here’s number one, not necessarily in order of priority.  See to what degree you (or your sales force) may be guilty of it.

Mistake Number One: 

Overconcern With Strategy Instead of Tactics

Gather a group of salespeople together around a coffee maker and listen to the conversation.  After the obligatory complaints about all types of things, the conversation inevitably drifts to questions of strategy.

How do I accomplish this in that account?  How do I get this account to this?

In my seminars, I often hold a “clinic” where salespeople write down any sales-related question and submit it to the group for discussion.  These questions are almost always related to strategic issues.

In one form or another, they ask the same question:  How do I achieve this effect in this account?

While this thoughtfulness is encouraging, it reveals an erroneous mindset.  The belief behind these questions is this:  “If I can only determine the right sequence of actions of my part, I’ll be able to sell this account, or achieve this goal.”

This, unfortunately, is rarely the case.  These salespeople, based on this erroneous belief, are looking for a solution in the wrong place.

Almost always, the answer to the question is not a more clever strategy, but better execution of the basic tactics.

It is like the football team whose players don’t tackle well, miss their blocks, throw erratic passes, and fumble frequently.  The solution is not a better game plan.  The solution is better execution of the basic tactics.  Learn to do the basics effectively, and the strategy will generally take care of itself.

The real problem with this over-concern for strategy is that it seduces the salesperson’s energy, substituting the pursuit of a better strategy for the real solution – better execution of the basics.

When I’m asked these “strategy” questions, I find myself asking the salesperson to verify the fundamentals.  Have you identified the key decision-makers and influencers in the account?  Have you created trusting personal relationships with each of them?  Have you understood the customer’s situation at a deep level?  Have you presented your solution in a way that gives them a reason to do business with you?  Have you effectively matched your proposal to the intricacies of the customer’s needs?

This line of inquiry almost always reveals a flaw in tactical execution.  It’s not the strategy that is the problem, it’s the tactics.  Focus on doing the basics first, and the need for a clever strategy diminishes.

Overcoming This Tendency

Clearly, the solution is to focus on improving the basics.  What skills are the “blocking and tackling” of sales?

Here’s the short list:

Now that you have the list, how do you improve these skills?  The same way a football or basketball player would improve their skills.  You study the techniques, and then you practice them.  That means that you search for good models of each of these skills.  It could be books, seminars, podcasts, online classes, or teaching from a competent manager or sales trainer.  Regardless, you regularly expose yourself to the best practices of those who have a record of success.  You gain ideas from them, and then you practice.

I have been a Detroit Pistons fan for years.  In their Bad Boy days, they were led by All-Star Isaiah Thomas.  One year, the Detroit News reported that Isaiah had a new home built.  In it, he had a basketball court, so that he could practice free throws in his spare time.  Imagine that.  An All-Star practices the most basic basketball skill in his free time.  That dedication to excellence in the basics is exactly the same thing to which I’m referring.  Focus on the basics, practice forever.