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Serena Williams is arguably the most prolific women's tennis player of all-time. January 4, 2017, was not one of her better days. As the number 1 player in the world, she dropped a match to 72nd ranked Madison Brengle.  That day, in uncharacteristic fashion, she committed 88 unforced errors. To add insult to tournament injury, Brengle said her strategy that day was simple. It was to "play 'ugly' off the return." In other words, to purposely play bad. She quipped, "I think she was surprised how bad I was." 

In tennis, if you expect that a player should have made a shot but didn't, it's called an unforced error. Unforced errors in sports are often the achilles heel of prominent professional athletes. They would have and should have, won on that day. But they didn't, and they were defeated. 

Leigh Fatzinger, CEO of Turbine Labs, held an insightful webinar that recently interviewed Sykes Enterprise's EVP Jim Farnsworth. The topic was "How to Prepare Your Sales Team for the Second Half of the Year." In it, Fatzinger talks about what his organization calls "Avoidable Errors." Post-pandemic, the "opportunity cost" of squandered strategic prospecting and presenting will be magnified more than ever. 

In my experience, most unforced sales errors fall into four categories:

1. Preparation.

Poor or incomplete preparation is an unforced sales error. There was a day when you could present or prospect with rusty or routine pitches. Jim Farnsworth rightly states the days of "showing up and throwing up" are done. New business insights and intelligence are needed to move the sales needle. 

2. Dedication. 

This unforced sales error is all about mental management. My good friend and CEO of Sales Symphony, Dr. Mark Bartlett, states that "Practice doesn't make perfect. Practice makes permanent." Lazy sales logistics and lyrics will get you left behind. Executing effectively is about daily, disciplined mental management. Be ready mentally. Leave no sales opportunity behind.

3. Application. 

These types of unforced errors are what Farnsworth calls "diagnostic or direction" errors. When reps are not correctly applying available sales solutions to the sales struggles and challenges clients face, they are committing unforced sales errors. 

There are fewer and fewer market mulligans in sales conversations. Avoid application errors at all cost in today's environment. 

4. Organization. 

For more and more organizations, selling is no longer a solo sport. A sales rep not tapping into the larger team's sales capabilities is an unforced error. Selling is done better together. No need for heroes that come back with zeroes. Collectively collaborating as a team to acquire new customers and grow existing ones is a winning sales strategy that will work well post-pandemic. 

In short, as sales professionals, we should avoid shooting ourselves in the financial foot. Unforced errors result in lost revenue and renewals. Your clients have changed in the past six or seven weeks. Perhaps forever changed. Proper preparation, diligent dedication, appropriate application, and using all of the organization's available options will protect you from poor sales performance. 


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Topics: coaching, #sales preparation, #salesproductivity

Dan Whitfield

Written by Dan Whitfield

Dan is dedicated to "coaching up" leaders of growth-oriented non-profits and cause-driven organizations. His goal is to help you gain and retain new donors.