Often bad habits are simply overdoing good things. Penicillin cures people, but too much can kill.

In sales the situation is similar. Here’s a list of good habits that, when overdone, may develop into bad habits:


Habit No. 1: Winning too much

This is the most common behavioral problem in successful salespeople. There’s a fine line between being competitive and over-competitive, between winning when it counts and when no one’s counting. Some salespeople cross that line too often. They argue too much because they want their view to prevail. In winning the small battles, they may come across as arrogant and patronizing.


Habit No. 2: Adding too much value

It’s difficult for some salespeople to listen to prospects tell them something they already know without communicating somehow, “We know a better way.” The higher up they go, the more salespeople need to make prospects winners and not make it about winning themselves.

This means monitoring comments. If you find yourself saying, “Great idea,” then dropping the other shoe with a “but,” you might want to cut off your response at “idea.” Taking a breath before you speak and asking yourself if what you’re about to say is worth it, is an effective way of breaking this habit.


Habit No. 3: Passing judgment

There’s nothing wrong with offering an opinion in the give-and-take of sales presentations. But it’s not a good idea to pass judgment about what a prospector customer is saying. Try to accept ideas that are presented to you with complete neutrality. By not taking sides or expressing opinions, you may significantly reduce the number of pointless arguments some salespeople accept as a normal way of doing business.


Habit No. 4: Making destructive comments

These are the cutting sarcastic remarks that run the gamut from thoughtless jabs at competitors or unkind remarks about former customers. A good way to cure this habit is to ask yourself whether the comment will help your customer, your company or the person you’re talking to or about.


Habit No. 5: Starting with ‘No,’ ‘But,’ or ‘However’

When salespeople start a sentence with any of these words, no matter how friendly the tone, the message is “You’re wrong.” It’s a good idea to avoid using these words when talking with a prospect or customer.


Habit No. 6: Telling the prospect how smart we are

Salespeople who try to be the smartest person in the room usually have it backfire. No salesperson will do this deliberately, but they develop bad habits that deliver the message. When they nod their heads impatiently when a prospect is talking or drum their fingers on the table, they’re sending a message that they don’t want to hear what’s being said or they already know it. In either case, they’re insulting the prospect.


Habit No. 7: Speaking when angry

When salespeople get angry, they’re usually out of control. It’s hard to sell people this way. The worst thing about anger is it stifles a salesperson’s ability to change or adapt to new circumstances. Once salespeople get a reputation for emotional volatility, they may be branded for life. The key is to follow one simple piece of advice: If you keep your mouth shut, no one can ever know how you really feel.


Habit No. 8: Negativity or ‘Let me explain why that won’t work’

We all know negative salespeople. They’re incapable of saying something complimentary or positive to any comments and suggestions from prospects or customers. It’s a major annoyance for prospects because no one enjoys dealing with negative people, especially when they’re trying to sell. Salespeople who find themselves making negative comments frequently should understand this is a serious flaw that may undermine the best products or presentations.


Habit No. 9: Withholding information

Intentionally withholding information from a prospect or customer is the opposite of adding value. Not sharing information rarely helps a salesperson. Instead in inspiring loyalty with prospects and customers, it may arouse fear and suspicion. You may unintentionally withhold information when you’re too busy to get back to a customer or forget to send a prospect new data.


Habit No. 10: Claiming credit that we don’t deserve

We all get upset when someone steals the credit for a success we created. It produces a bitterness that’s hard to forget. People may get upset with us for doing the same thing. The best way to stop being a credit hog is to do the opposite—share the wealth. Make a note of every time you congratulate yourself on an achievement, large or small. Then write it down. Ask yourself if there’s any way possible that someone else might deserve some of the credit. It might be another customer who gave you a referral or someone on your team who helped close the sales. Let them know.


Habit No. 11: Making excuses

You can divide excuses into two categories: blunt and subtle. Blunt excuses sound like, “I’m sorry we missed the delivery date. Our shipping department read Tuesday as Thursday.” The message you deliver is “Blame the shipping department, not me.” This type of excuse doesn’t impress customers or prospects.

The subtle excuse is delivered like this: “Sorry I’m late for the appointment. I’m horrible at time management.” The next time you hear yourself saying, “I’m just not good at…” ask yourself, “Why not?”


Habit No. 12: Clinging to the past

Some salespeople enjoy clinging to the past, especially if going back there lets them blame someone else for anything that’s gone wrong in their sales lives. “Customers didn’t used to be so demanding,” or “I could count on Shipping to expedite an order back then.” We can’t change the past, rewrite it or make excuses for it. All we can do is accept it and move on.


Habit No. 13: Not listening

Prospects and customers will tolerate all sorts of rudeness, but the inability to pay attention holds a special place in their hearts. When you’re not listening, you’re sending out an armada of negative messages, starting with: “What you’re saying isn’t important. Why don’t you be quiet so I can tell you why you must buy my product or service.”


Habit No. 14: Passing the buck

A salesperson who can’t shoulder the blame is not someone prospects or customers develop a great deal of faith in. Passing the buck is the dark flip side of claiming credit that others deserve. Instead of giving them a share of the credit, they saddle them with their own failure. No matter how much they think they’re saving their own hide, they’re actually killing it.


Adapted from What Got You Here Won’t Get You There by Dr. Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter (Hyperion Publishing).