top of page

Understanding Customers: 10 Mistakes Sales Teams Make

Updated: Sep 6, 2023

Many sales teams struggle to truly understand their customers and connect with them. This leads to misunderstandings and lost sales opportunities.

Understanding customers and helping them make the right decisions is equally important in customer service departments too.

Understanding Customers: 10 sales team mistakes

Piano - Listen to understand not to respond - understanding customers

1) Listening to respond instead of to understand

It’s critical that you’re really listening to your customers.

Deep listening is the key to understanding your customers and prospects, but this needs to be done in the right way, in both public and private sectors.

Approach listening through a new angle. Most sales teams make the mistake of listening so that they can respond, rather than listening to understand how they can best help the customer.

This means you end up steering them towards what you want to say instead of what’s important for them. This leads to frustrations on both sides and prevents you from helping your customers in making the right decisions for them, that’s right for them!

Effective listening will in the long term have substantial effects on your sales figures.

This means your sales teams will resolve issues quicker, find opportunities to sell relevant products and services to your customers and more. It's about getting that sales environment and team culture right...

So always remember to make sure you listen to understand, not just to respond.

2) Writing restrictive sales scripts

Scripts can help sales and customer service teams ask the right questions. However heavy scripting can restrict your conversation with customers.

Customers know when they are part of a robotic script process, and it’s an experience that leaves a bitter taste, which they then associate with your brand.

This effect gets worse when employees are monitored on the script, which is then intrinsically linked to their targets.

This means their focus is not on the customer but on hitting those targets or getting the script right.

To combat this effect, ensure your scripts allow flexibility for conversations to flow and develop your team to have the right skillsets to adapt these scripts effectively in real time.

You can still use scripts to your advantage if they prove helpful too…Converse with your team regularly to craft in brilliant questions into scripts. Then test and share data within your sales teams.

Sales targets as a barrier to understanding customers

3) Targets that prevent great conversations

Often targets are misaligned with your customer’s needs. For example, targets that focus on the duration of calls, or how many calls should be completed each day.

By focusing on quantity instead of quality this can lead to rushed, unhelpful, frustrating conversations for your customers.

In other words be aware that the systems you put in place can prevent sales teams for optimising opportunities through really listening.

In addition company culture can play a role. If you encourage qualitative conversations but then praise or promote sales team members who focus on quantity over quality this will send the wrong message.

Look at introducing qualitative targets such as first call resolution which help customers feel important, and can improve sales team performance on the hard metrics that matter through customer satisfaction.

4) Inconsistencies in the sales process

Every great customer relationship starts with building rapport and trust.

Some sales processes deteriorate when the customer experiences inconsistences, for example by perfecting part of the sales process whilst leaving shortcomings in another area.

For example, if the first person the customer speaks to is amazing but then they handed over to an unresponsive quotations team. Or if they never get past the first person they spoke to because they acted disinterested.

5) Not listening from the start

This happens a lot in sectors where consumers need to be taken through DPA and security questions to confirm their identity.

In these cases the customer service team may forget to listen to the query fully at the start.

If the customer explains their problem or query early on but then gets asked the same question again after they are taken through security then this makes them feel undervalued and destroys their confidence in your sales team.

This is important for complaints too, as being listened to is the most important part of the process.

During our Empathy Espresso session Alison Rothwell, D4S Executive Coach and Facilitator, shared a story around Bill Shock and how following the script meant no-one fully listened to the problem.

Falling leaves as a metaphor for not understanding customers

6) Going through the motions

In some industries, customer interactions are generally monotonous and repetitive.

This can mean the team don’t learn new skills on a regular basis which can make it harder for them to react when a quality call comes through; or if they reach a key decision maker on the phone.

Equally monotony can lead to complacency which means the sales team switch off; this stops them capturing key details and sales opportunities. They can make assumptions about incoming calls, that this call will be the same as the last.

To prevent this from happening, offer regular team development to capitalise on customer conversations, and where possible try and break up the monotony by rotating tasks within your teams.

7) Don’t make assumptions

Delving deeper into the danger of making assumptions…

Emotional Intelligence is a very important skill to learn during team development, especially in a customer service environment.

Our associations and assumptions can hinder us, so we need to be aware of our unconscious biases.

It’s easy to assume that 2 customers have the same needs, thoughts and pain points based on them having a few things in common.

Clear your mind, as if this is first customer of day and be aware that this person may have very different requirements.

8) Beware of voice personality

Communicating over phone or webchat hides the visual cues that can be easier to decipher face to face. This can mask emotion and personally which makes it harder for you to build rapport, understand them and build trust.

Be aware of effects of ‘voice personality’ from pace, pitch, tone, volume, accent, language and vocabulary that both you and your customers use. These all get magnified when the interaction isn’t face-to-face.

Ensure your team develop the right skillsets to connect over these mediums.

Building on Albert Mehrabian's theory that tone of voice is a stronger indicator of emotion than the words themselves with 55% facial liking, 38% vocal liking and 7% verbal liking. There is also ongoing research into how this plays out in the modern world.

9) Confidence

Are your team worried about the assumptions customers are making about them?

If you assume they’ll see you as a negative stereotype, either as a sales person or customer service representative then this will undermine your confidence.

Ensure that you focus on the customer and don’t waste energy assuming they will misinterpret your desire to help them or question your motives.

10) Be consistent and don’t flip the switch

Most of us have had the experience of meeting a very friendly salesperson who exudes confidence and is keen to make you feel welcome and important…

But the moment you ask for time to think about an important purchase they switch to an aggressive, unfriendly manner.

If your sales team do this, you will shatter the trust you’ve built up with the potential customer and potentially cause a ripple effect through word of mouth.

This will greatly reduce your ability to create future sales opportunities with that person, or their lucrative contacts when they are at the top of the sales funnel and not ready to buy from you.

How D4S can help

We can help you understand your customers on a deeper level and help them make better decisions.

We’re actively helping sales and customer service teams increase their performance whilst building trust and empathy as skillsets.

To speak with our specialists and explore development options get in touch with us.

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page