Want your prospects and customers to think you're obnoxious? Want to make yourself persona non grata?

Here are the most common ways sellers make themselves into  nuisances–plus a few thoughts about better ways to work with customers.

1. Ask Scripted Questions

For decades, most sales training seminars have been built around "sales scripts" intended to uncover customer needs. Unfortunately, scripted questions are irritating–because it's clear from the start that the questions reflect not true curiosity but just curiosity about whether the prospect is likely to buy.

Scripted questions are intended to lead the prospect toward buying; they're designed to elicit the "correct answer" regardless of the actual situation. And questions are, by their very nature, intrusive–and continually asking them, or asking a series of them, is an excellent way to alienate people, even when you aren't in a sales situation.

What works better: Rather than scripted questions, write down a brief agenda of the subjects you'd like to discuss, and share that agenda with the customer.  Rather than giving the customer the third degree, have a conversation where there's a give and take of information.

2. Be a 'Know-It-All'

Right now, one of the most popular books on selling is The Challenger Sale, basically a rehash of the old "solution selling" but with the twist that sellers should "challenge" customers.

Unfortunately, the "challenge" terminology is likely to increase some sellers' tendency to lecture the customer, in the hopes that the customer will be impressed with the seller's expertise. But no one likes being lectured to–and it's easy to sound like you think you know more than the customer about how to run the customer's own business. Would you appreciate that?

What works better: It's fine to have your own perspective, do your own research and develop expertise in your own offerings–but approach every customer with the assumption that the customer knows more about their own business than you do. Use your time with the customer to hear about the real situation she is experiencing. And never, ever lecture.

3. Give a Sales 'Pitch'

Nobody likes hearing a sales pitch–but that doesn't seem to stop people from giving them. Sellers keep trotting out lists of features and functions, bragging about their company, talking about their guarantees, and so forth.

Why does this insanity persist? It's probably because people have been told for years that giving a sales pitch or presentation is what selling is all about–and that what's important to the customer is the "solution" that's being pitched.

What works better: After you've had a conversation with a prospective customer, take some time (like a day or so) and really think about what you've learned.  Then draft up an email or similarly brief document encapsulating what you learned and how you think you can help.

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