Fact or fiction: 10 sales myths to help avoid sales mistakes

Written by Huthwaite International

Knowing what’s true and what is perceived wisdom can make a huge difference to your sales success.

Understanding best practices is essential to reduce sales mistakes and missed revenue opportunities. Understanding common sales myths can have a profound impact on your business performance.

In this article, we’ll share the definitive research behind the top 10 sales myths. Learn which actions lead to sales success and how to avoid those that don’t, and Understand bad sales habits within your company and increase awareness of what to change and why.

10 sales myths: Fact or fiction?

1. A good salesperson can sell anything

Fact or fiction? Research indicates this isn’t strictly true. A seller involved in smaller sales might well move from selling stationery to selling household goods, proving very successful at both as each sale can typically involve a single call to close the business. What would happen though, if the stationery seller moved into selling large, complex cloud technology?

Yes, the seller would require a new set of knowledge, but the skills required to operate in this long cycle, multidimensional sale are also very different.

Our research into the top 10 sales myths shows that in small sales the seller is product-focused and uses much of the airtime. The seller tends to push his product at the customer.

In successful large sales, much of the strategy focuses on truly understanding the customer and their needs. It’s often the customer who uses the airtime, responding to many and varied questions from the seller. The seller is seen to encourage the customer towards a successful outcome.

For an organisation selling large sophisticated solutions that want to introduce a new low-priced range of products, it may not be the smartest move to expect their current sellers to sell the new range – the skill set required may well be very different to those they currently use.

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2. More calls equal more orders

Fact or fiction? There’s a link to Myth 1 here. In low-value sales where the seller is acting the role of a talking brochure, then one could extrapolate more orders from more calls. Double-glazing selling is one such example.

However, Huthwaite’s research shows that in large-value sales approaches where the salesperson takes time to understand customer needs and leads the customer through a diagnostic and solution-focused process, Myth 2 falls down. This type of call requires planning and preparation, a skilled interaction and time for reflection afterwards.

Small sales are all about efficiency whilst larger, more complex sales methods are focussed upon effectiveness. It’s a numbers game versus an application of skills.

3. Start at the top!

Fact or fiction? Why waste time when you can deal with the decision-makers?

One thing that Huthwaite noticed when observing highly effective sellers - they don’t rush to the top. Instead, they spend time in the middle of the organisation with the problem owners to fully understand the issues before approaching more senior colleagues.

Senior people are hard-pressed for time. When a seller talks to the C-suite, it’s crucial for them to engage the executives by:

a) showing full understanding of their issues

b) showing how their solution meets their company’s needs and demonstrates the benefits it can bring

c) talking their language.

4. Open questions are more powerful than closed questions

Fact or fiction? This one has been around for a long time. Huthwaite research finds no correlation between open questions and success. The calls we’ve observed have a mix of both open and closed questions and differing balances between them.

Furthermore, the responses to open questions aren’t always a flow of information. In fact, 10% of open questions receive a simple closed answer. What’s more, 60% of closed questions receive a lengthy answer.

Whilst open and closed questions can assist the process of the interaction, the real effectiveness behind sales questions lies in their content.

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5. Always be closing

Fact or fiction? They’ve been telling us for years, “Always Be Closing” but, it’s not what we see effective sellers do. In fact, in high-value sales, timing is critical when closing a deal. Acting prematurely can lead to you losing business.

Skilled sellers explore the customer needs in-depth, demonstrate their capability to meet those needs and show a clear business case for their solution before they start to close.

Effective closing follows a simple three-stage process.

  1. Check no issues (opportunities) are missed

  2. Remind the customer of the key benefits of the solution

  3. Ask for an appropriate commitment from the customer.

Progress in large, complex sales will be staged. Initially, it may take the form of a commitment from the customer to take action in advance of making the decision. No movement by the customer equals no progress in the sale.

6. First impressions count

Fact or fiction? “Most people know if they are going to do business with you in the first 60 seconds.”

Linking back to Myths 1 and 2, it depends on the nature of the sale. In some small sales, yes this can be true. In larger, complex sales we find no correlation between call openings and successful outcomes. Indeed, even a frosty reception can warm when a customer sees the business benefits the seller can provide.

This isn’t to say that sellers can open carelessly. It’s important to establish the reason for the discussion, expectations from the meeting, timings and to position the questioning process. This may be a new and improved experience for some customers.

7. Salespeople are born, not made

Fact or fiction? What a myth! Some early sales studies in the 1940s and '50s indicated a high level of extroverts among sellers. However, much of the selling was for low-value products which needed an efficient and repeatable process. Now, most of that happens via the web.

Customers demand empathy, trust and integrity. The sophisticated seller nurtures relationships with decision-making teams over long sales cycles for high-value solutions.

Observation reveals that many successful salespeople do not fit into the extrovert mould, they are often quiet, considered, skilled professionals that care about their customers.

8. Objections are a sign of customer interest

Fact or fiction? Let’s rationalise our poor performance, shall we?

We do a mediocre persuasion job, the customer objects so we tell ourselves they wouldn’t bother to object if they weren’t interested. Where on earth has this myth come from? If customers object, it’s because they have been offered a part or whole solution they don’t value.

We’ve failed in our job as sellers to establish that value. The objection stems from the seller not fully understanding customer needs and offering something unsuitable.

Our research into the top 10 sales myths shows that many objections are a response to salespeople offering solutions where the customer has not expressed a clear need. The research also correlated the use of questions against objections received - the more questions, the fewer objections. The questions were generally those that helped the seller to understand and develop needs.

9. Never attack the competition

Fact or fiction? In the literal sense, this is pretty sound; don’t attack the competition directly. However, our research shows that there are ways to stand out from the competition in a more subtle way. Compare the following:

  1. “Widget are a small company and their service coverage is very thin at the best of times.”

  2. “Small companies quite often have difficulty matching the service levels of larger organisations – and you are looking for a three-hour response are you not?”

The message in statement 2. is clear, but is not aimed directly at Widget.

For sellers to remain professional, it’s crucial to avoid direct attacks on the competition. Effective sellers remind the customer where they’re strong and where the competition is weak by using business scenarios.

10. Focus on the big customer

Fact or fiction? Although true once upon a time, the sophisticated buyer of large organisations today paints a very different picture. Procurement aims to create the greatest efficiencies possible resulting in greater demands on the seller as both a resource and a cost centre.

Effective sellers are beginning to realise that middle-sized customers, especially those in growth markets, can present a better proposition. Competition may not be so fierce, which can result in more profitable business. Decision-makers are more accessible and decisions are made more quickly, which means a shorter sales cycle for the seller.

So where should sellers focus their time and effort?

‘The biggest accounts’ may not be the answer any longer. We know that 80% of profit typically comes from 20% of accounts, but sellers beware – don’t confuse large with profitable and be sure you fully understand your customer’s needs. Download our free guide below to learn more about the key behaviours used by top sellers:


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