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5 Reasons Most Small Business Owners Suck at Selling (Don't Let It Be You!)

08/29/2013 09:24 am ET | Updated Oct 29, 2013

I'm just going to up and say it: Most small business owners suck at selling. I say that with certainty for two reasons. One, I have worked with hundreds of small business owners to help them develop their strategy, and most were a disaster at first. Two, I myself was once one of those small business owners who couldn't sell his way out of a paper bag.

The problem is not the small business owners themselves. In fact, I've watched many small business owners go from sales chump to sales star in only a few months' time. Instead, the root problem is that small business owners are following bad advice. There's an overwhelming quantity of sales advice out there, and most of it is bad. Unfortunately, most small business owners are applying that bad information to their sales efforts. As I discuss in my latest book, Game Plan Selling, the application of bad -- and often dated -- sales advice is costing small business owners millions of dollars in lost sales.

Most business owners who suck at selling are making the same five sales blunders. Here are the five most common sales mistakes that small business owners make -- and advice on how you can avoid making them:

1. Chasing the flavor of the month: Both small businesses and larger organizations are guilty of implementing a totally new sales strategy as frequently as every other month. This tactic is not only ineffective, but it is also crippling to an organization's infrastructure. The most effective organizations commit to one well-thought-out strategy and keep at it for the long haul. Selling strategies are like seeds that need to be planted with care, and given plenty of time to become productive fruit trees. So stay focused on one strategy!

2. Trying to be part of the "in-crowd": Most people in sales are like kids on the first day of middle school: Everyone wants to be popular, but nobody is willing to stand out from the crowd. What ultimately happens is that most business owners just do what everyone else is doing. They pitch their products in an enthusiastic, persuasive manner. The problem with this strategy is that prospects are weary of the traditional enthusiastic and persuasive sales pitch. It's time to make yourself totally distinct from the competition by using sales meetings as opportunities to fully understand prospects' challenges -- not just as opportunities to make your pitch.

3. Winging it: Many business owners went to school to learn accounting, finance or their craft, but none of them has ever received a degree in sales. This leaves what is arguably the most critical skill for a small business owner -- selling -- to be learned through trial and error. Rather than figure it out the hard way, small business owners should learn a system for selling, just like a new hire at a large company would. This means that before any selling situation, the business owner will already know what questions she is going to ask a prospect, when she is going to present and how she's going to close the sale. Identify a selling system that works for you, and follow it religiously.

4. No selling discipline: There is no resource scarcer for the small business owner than time. I can't tell you how many times a small business owner has told me that he "just doesn't have the time to sell all day long." First of all, with the right strategy, selling all day isn't necessary. Second, success in sales is about consistent action in the right direction that fills a sales pipeline of prospects. This means that the effective small business owners recognize that selling is one of the most critical activities in a day. Make sure to carve out that critical time each day to focus on selling.

5. Don't know how to find prospects: Cold calling is rarely the most effective use of a small business owner's time, yet I see it being done all the time. Most small business owners are unsure of how to find new prospects, so they resort to cold calls. The better solution is to develop a total of three sales-related activities to be performed regularly to find prospects. This could equate to asking for one referral each day, going to one networking event a week, and giving one local speech every month to drive business. How much time does that total in the course of a week? Not a lot. But if done consistently, that adds up to 250 requests for referrals, 50 networking events attended, and 12 speeches given over the course of a year. That's huge! Develop your three activities and stick to them in order to find prospects.

As you can see, becoming successful in sales isn't rocket science. It simply comes down to taking the right sales advice, acting on that information, and then sticking with your new strategy.

Which of these five sales mistakes have you been guilty of making? Please share below in the comments.