Sales reps are the workhorses of the sales business. Nothing gets done, and no deals close, unless sales reps pick up the phone, make cold calls, and conduct the appointment-setting activities that ultimately lead to the sale. I love salespeople, and I'm proud to be in the sales business.

But, all too often, despite their critical contribution to a business, sales reps can get in their own way. They are often their own worst enemies when making appointment-setting calls and getting in front of decision-makers.

If not careful, they could be turning qualified sales leads into "not interested" responses. Or, they might unwittingly be turning moderately interested prospects into lukewarm business leads.

Here are three of the biggest ways sales reps kill leads—and tips for getting back on track for successful appointment-setting.

1. Ignoring Business Intelligence

Sales leads come in many flavors, yet few sales reps adjust their sales follow-up process to sync with the latest business intelligence available about those leads. On every appointment-setting call, and on every follow-up contact, the sales rep needs to ask herself, "What do we know about this prospect?"

For example, did the prospect already invest in a competitor's solution six months ago? If so, was that solution a long-term investment or a short-term Band-Aid fix? Your qualification questions should probe for those pain issues, and when you discover pain use that as your pathway to appointment-setting. In other words, your solution to the prospect's pain is the logic that drives the appointment-setting process.

How much do you know about the prospect's specific circumstances and specific pain points? If you are not serving up common-sense reasons for prospects to meet with you, you'll have a slim chance of getting time on the decision-maker's calendar.

Solution: Look beyond the immediate urge to conduct appointment-setting and close a deal. Work on understanding the broader picture of the prospect's challenges.

2. Mismatched Expectations

Many sales leads die within 30 seconds of a call because of a mismatch between where the prospect is in the buying process and where the rep's expectations are for how closable the lead might be.

Don't treat every prospect the same, because they're not. Even qualified prospects are not all eager to buy immediately. In the first 30 seconds, be careful not to put words in the prospect's mouth. For example, don't say, "I understand that you are in the market for a new system," or "I am following up on your interest to replace your current vendor." Do that, and the prospect will disappoint you.

After all, your lead-generator probed for pain issues and found out, for example, that your prospect is using a six-year-old system and her present vendor doesn't support the equipment any more. Even though the decision-maker knows she needs a new system, that doesn't mean she is actively shopping. Therefore, the statement you made in the first 30 seconds of the call puts the prospect on the defensive immediately. If the decision-maker says she is in the market, she is giving you permission to advance your sale.

Instead of assuming too much, open your phone call by saying, "I understand you are using one of the older x45 processing units. Those were great machines in their day. Is it still running well?" Ease into the lead by building rapport. You have a sales cycle to deal with that's most likely longer than 30 seconds. You cannot afford to assume that every prospect with pain issues is going to be a slam dunk.

Solution: Don't force the issue or apply a hard-sell approach. Don't approach your prospects with a sense of neediness and urgency. Remember that the focus of the call needs to be the prospect's pain, not making this week's quota.

3. Asking About Budget Too Soon

The dreaded "budget question" can quickly snuff out a promising deal. Too many sales reps are overeager to talk about budget. By asking up front, "What is your budget?" the sales rep will undermine her credibility and make the prospect feel pushed.

Of course, you don't want to waste your time trying to sell to unqualified prospects, but addressing the budget issue has an appropriate time, place, and process. Prospects want to know that you care, first and foremost, about solving their problem, not calculating your commission.

Solution: Instead of asking up front for the prospect's budget, talk about costs and benefits. Show them how your solution can save them money. If you build trust and establish a relationship with prospects, they'll be eager to tell you more about their organization's specific needs—including, when the time is right to buy and what their budget is.

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image of Al  Davidson

Al Davidson is founder of Strategic Sales & Marketing, a leader among lead generation companies, providing appointment-setters for global clients.

LinkedIn: Al Davidson