This broken link is to blame for sales teams’ biggest closing mistakes.

“My salespeople can’t close.” This is the frustrated lament I hear regularly from sales leaders. But not closing sales is never the real problem. It’s just a symptom. The problem is that sales reps neglect important activities during earlier stages of the sales process.

Unless you address the broken links in your prospecting system, your sales reps will continue to struggle with closing the deal. It’s like back pain. You can stretch and put heat or ice on an aching back, but unless you treat the source of the pain—a pulled muscle or degenerating disc—your back will continue to hurt.

Reasons Why Salespeople Fail to Close Sales

When you analyze what really went wrong with missed sales opportunities, you’ll typically discover that your sales reps didn’t make time to prepare for their meetings. They didn’t plan agendas, do their research, or even check the clients’ LinkedIn profiles to identify shared interests, connections, and similarities. They just gave a demo and the standard pitch.

(Image attribution: Canva Studio)

Other reasons why salespeople fail to close sales include:

  • The initial prospects were unqualified. The buyers had no idea why they were meeting, and the salesperson didn’t ask enough discovery questions to offer tailored solutions.
  • The salesperson left without getting agreement on next steps or scheduling the next call.
  • Follow-up consisted of a series of emails that promoted products, didn’t address the client’s unique concerns, and had no calls to action.
  • The salesperson was clueless as to why his emails were greeted with radio silence.

This is not how you wow buyers, build relationships, and convert prospects into clients. No wonder these folks are not closing sales. Would you buy from them?

Why Your Team Is Not Closing Sales

If your team has trouble closing, go back to the beginning—qualifying prospects—and examine your entire sales process for missing links and ineffective tactics.

Ask yourself:

  • How are sales reps sourcing leads?
  • How are sales reps qualifying their leads?
  • Are salespeople asking the right questions to identify prospects’ problems and propose thoughtful solutions?
  • Do sales reps demonstrate product features, or do they discuss the benefits for buyers?
  • What is their sales plan for following up?

Don’t even think about training your sales team on closing the deal. Save your money. They’re not closing sales because your prospecting system is broken. Instead, give them a sales process that lets them pre-qualify leads and pre-earn trust.

The Only Fail-Proof Prospecting System

The most common closing mistakes are really prospecting mistakes. If your reps chase cold leads, they’re set up to fail. They’re not closing sales because they’re reaching out to people who don’t want to talk to them, much less buy from them.

That’s why there’s only one kind of lead that should be in your pipeline. Only one kind of lead with a 50-to-70-percent conversion rate. Only one kind of lead that sales managers should care about. And that’s referral leads. When you source referrals from trusted colleague and clients, you: 

  • Bypass the gatekeeper and score meetings with decision-makers every time.
  • Pre-earn trust because your buyer’s trust in your mutual contact gets transferred to you.
  • Only talk to people who want to talk to you, because your prospects are pre-sold on your ability to deliver results.
  • Score more new clients from fewer leads (because all those leads are qualified).
  • Get the inside track on your prospects and ace out your competition.
  • Convert prospects into clients at least 50 percent of the time (usually more than 70 percent, according to most sales pros I talk to).

If your team is getting in front of the right prospects and still are not closing sales, they’re not engaging in insightful discussions or asking compelling questions.

Thoughtful and provocative questioning has a huge impact on close rates and sales revenues. When sales reps ask smart, probing questions to understand what their clients really need—not just what the clients think they need—the scale of projects increases, creating win/wins for everyone. Your company gets bigger deals. Clients get solutions that actually solve their problems and create measurable business results. And they are happy to introduce your sales reps to their networks.

Bravo! You’ve addressed the problem, not the symptom of your closing mistakes. Your client looks good, your team is prepared, and deals are yours to win.

How can you generate more hot leads with referrals? Register for my Referral Selling Insights and gain access to the 14-question Referral I.Q. Quiz. It’s quick and anonymous, and most people find the results eye-opening.

 NOTE: This article originally appeared in Top Sales Magazine.

 (Featured image attribution: Mikael Blomkvist)