How Bad Grammar, Slow Response Times and a Competitive Nature Cost Salespeople (and Companies) Millions


Seemingly innocuous behaviors cost salespeople and their employers millions. For example, in the last sales pitch I received, I noticed the sender used the word “there” incorrectly. The sentence actually called for the use of the word “their.” It was an innocent and honest mistake, but one that cost him a sale.

I reckon, in an effort to hastily meet his stress-inducing quota, he did not have the time to grammar check his work. Perhaps, when he sent the email at 8:03 a.m., the kick from his morning coffee had not yet set in. Or he had a mid-sentence change of thought. Regardless of the excuse, the damage was done. I unapologetically deleted the email and proceeded to scan through the dozens of other unwanted messages that flooded my inbox.

This begs the question: How many emails did this salesperson send out that day? How many of those included the same grammatical error? How many recipients dismissed his pitch for the same reasons I did?

With their heads down, focused on generating and nurturing leads, and closing sales, sales reps may never actually find the time to audit their own behaviors, examine the consequences of their mistakes and take corrective action. To help you build better sales habits, we have identified seven bad behaviors that negatively impact a salesperson’s pipeline, close rates and results.

1. A single contact approach

To meet an aggressive sales quota, individual sales reps juggle hundreds, if not thousands, of prospects at a time. A common mistake they make though is engaging single contacts at unique purchasing organizations.

In an article for Harvard Business Review, sales and marketing experts Karl Schmidt, Brent Adamson and Anna Bird explain, “Sales reps have long been taught to seek out the executive who can single-handedly approve a deal at a company. But whether they’re selling to a customer with 50 employees or 50,000, reps today rarely find a unilateral decision maker. More often, they discover that the authority to make decisions rests with groups of individuals—all of whom have different roles, and all of whom have veto power.” Thus, a failure to persuade multiple decision makers within a prospect’s company can kill a deal long before it hits the proposal stage. Schmidt, Adamson and Bird claim, “On average, 5.4 people now have to formally sign off on each purchase.”

Furthermore, salespeople who take a single contact approach risk losing the sale entirely when circumstances with their contact change. According to social selling expert Koka Sexton, “[Your contact] can very easily be promoted, transferred or fired, and suddenly you may find that the relationship between your businesses is actually quite shallow.”

2. An overly competitive nature

A 2015 study conducted by Steve W. Martin in partnership with Velocify found that high-performing sales organizations consistently possessed a “team mentality.” Martin writes, “A team-oriented outlook was more prevalent among high-performing sales organizations. High-performing sales organizations were nearly twice as likely to describe themselves as ‘a cohesive group of like-minded individuals’ than people at lower-performing organizations, who more often described themselves as ‘a loose collection of individuals.’ The best teams also viewed individual talent as a lesser factor for sales success than mediocre groups but were less likely to have below-average salespeople – exhibiting a more unified sales culture.”

A troubling theme within many underperforming sales teams is competition. Though some sales leaders may insist competition motivates salespeople, it can cause destructive behaviors. When sales reps compete they sabotage each other’s work or they sabotage themselves.

Matthew Bellows, CEO of Yesware, believes a few ways to create a collaborative sales environment include:

  • Sharing information and resources to discover unexpected ways of engaging prospects and securing the sale.
  • Hiring talent that champion teamwork and firing staff who prioritize individual performance.
  • Redirecting competitive energies towards external enemies, including other vendors in your niche.

3. Bad grammar and spelling errors

When entrepreneur Charles Duncombe analyzed the impact of bad grammar and spelling mistakes on online sales, the BBC reported, “A single spelling mistake can cut online sales in half.” With one misspelling, sellers suffer a major loss of credibility. And that, has major consequences for sales. Duncombe’s study concluded, “Poor spelling is costing the UK millions of pounds in lost revenue for internet businesses.” In B2B sales, a typo or communication blunder can compromise an otherwise promising sale.

Several grammar and spelling mistakes we all regularly make are:

  • They’re vs. Their vs. There
  • Your vs. You’re
  • Its vs. It’s
  • Affect vs. Effect
  • Me vs. I
  • Peek vs. peak vs. pique
  • Who vs. That
  • Lose vs. Loose
  • Then vs. Than
  • Assure vs. Insure vs. Ensure
  • Less vs. Fewer
  • Compliment vs. Complement
  • Farther vs. Further

Of course, remembering when to use “its” instead of “it’s” may be the least of your concerns when your goal is to send out or respond to 100 emails every day. One life-saving tool that can automatically spot grammatical errors and spelling mistakes is Grammarly.

4. Inefficient resource management

Data from Sirius Decisions shows, on average, large enterprise organizations waste $2.3 million every year on unused or underused marketing content. And despite the abundance of available marketing assets, salespeople spend as much as 31% of their time searching for or creating their own sales collateral.

To bridge the disconnect between the content created and used, here are a few suggestions:

  1. Take a full inventory of the marketing content that is available.
  2. Store those assets in a centralized hub.
  3. Add special labels to the most up-to-date versions of each piece of collateral.
  4. Communicate what is missing and what needs to be created to your counterparts in marketing.
  5. Test the effectiveness of each piece of content that marketing develops and work with your colleagues to improve those assets.

5. Lack of customer onboarding

Some salespeople believe their product speaks for itself. As soon as a prospect agrees to a free trial, sales reps leave it up to the user to discover its potential and value. Unfortunately, customers may get overwhelmed with the product or they may simply forget to use it. In a blog post, Ashli Norton writes, “66% of the companies that use the free-trial-to-pay model have less than a 25% conversion rate. Why? Users enter the SaaS equivalent of the Bermuda Triangle. They enter the trial and are never heard from again, and that’s mostly because companies fail to keep in contact.”

To convert more free trial users into paying customers, salespeople must build automated programs that engage users at different times during their free trial to prompt them to use the product. Norton recommends:

  • “Send a welcome email.” This acknowledges the start of the user’s free trial. It should invite the user to reach out in case he or she has questions or runs into any issues.
  • “Send out emails to engage inactive users.” A couple days may pass before users can find the time to tinker with your product. Send follow up emails with information on how they may get started. Remind them about what they can accomplish with the platform too.
  • “Offer a trial extension.” Some prospects need more time to see the value in your product. This works mostly for users who have already tried your product a few times, so use this selectively. Survey these users to understand what else they want from your platform. Then, reframe your pitch to more effectively address their needs and concerns.
  • “Ask for feedback by text.” Customers are inundated with email. Though text messages may feel invasive, they are more likely to be read and responded to.

6. Slow response times

According to research presented at MarketingSherpa’s 2007 B2B Demand Generation Summit, “The odds of contacting a lead if called in 5 minutes versus 30 minutes drop 100 times. The odds of qualifying a lead if called in 5 minutes versus 30 minutes drop 21 times.” In other words, there is an inverse relationship between how long a potential customer waits to hear back from a sales rep and how responsive he or she may be to the salesperson’s pitch. Thus, sales teams should prioritize responding to leads as fast as they come in. In fact, a more recent study surveyed 14,000 sales organizations and concluded that 50% of buyers were more inclined to choose the vendor that responds to them first.

For salespeople, increasing their response rate to inbound inquiries can significantly widen the top of their sales funnel. This, in turn, impacts all other downstream metrics. Of course, it is unrealistic to expect a salesperson to drop everything he or she is doing to react to an incoming message from a new lead. To ensure you are not forced to multitask and have time to concentrate on and complete other projects, block out a few hours throughout your day to contact leads. Coordinate those times with other salespeople on your team to ensure at least one person is always available to respond to new leads during normal business hours.

7. Unwillingness to nurture long leads

A hot topic these days is: “How to shorten your sales cycle.” On Google, the search term produces more than 195,000 results. Yet, you can’t find good advice, if any, on how to intentionally elongate your sales funnel.

That is because salespeople are motivated to learn how to push prospects through the sales funnel in the fastest manner possible. Because their livelihood depends on high sales productivity, few salespeople think about the long game. Generally, they expect sales to close within a certain timeframe. Customers that fail to commit within that timeframe are often forgotten. This is especially true for teams that have a never-ending pipeline. When new leads come in, old leads that have not yet converted are categorized as “dead” or “tire kickers.” Though in doing so, sales reps prematurely abandon some of their most promising deals. For some of the most rewarding contracts, salespeople must be patient; some leads need time to mature.

In the meantime, sales teams can continue nurturing older leads to identify new ways to motivate them to purchase. Eventually, the time will come when that prospect plainly rejects your sales offer or finds himself with the budget, authority, need, and timing to commit to the sale. With enough patience, you can consistently land million dollar sales.

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Danny Wong

Danny Wong is a marketing consultant, sales strategist, and writer. He is a member of the marketing team at Tenfold, which provides a seamless click-to-dial solution for high-performance sales teams. Connect with him on Twitter @dannywong1190.