Selling is never easy. Never. But salespeople often make it eventougher for themselves by letting customers get away empty-handed.It isn't that customers don't find what they want or what they'relooking for. It's just that they don't want to deal with thesalesperson.

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With the 800-pound Internet gorilla lurking over every sale,today's customers are much more demanding when dealing withsalespeople. If the experience doesn't meet their expectations,they're gone.

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[Related: 4 challenges you must overcome in insurancesales]

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More often than not, misreading customers causes them to lookelsewhere—missed sales. It doesn't need to happen and here's how toavoid it.

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insurance agent talking to woman client

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(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

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1. Speaking to the wrong “customer.”

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Wrapped up in every customer is a handful of differentcustomers, who behave differently depending on the situation. Thefirst job is figuring out which of these customers you're dealingwith at the moment so you can respond correctly. Here they are:

  • The “I want to know more” customer. This customerrequires patience, so ask clarifying questions and get themtalking. Don't push, but gently pull them along until they'recomfortable.
  • The “I have all the answers” customer. Let thiscustomer talk and tell you all about it; don't cut them off. Thisperson wants to be the salesperson so let them feel they made thebuying decision on their own.
  • The “I know what I want” customer. By listening carefully to these customers, you mayfind inconsistencies in their thinking. Then by asking them followup questions, these customers may recognize that what they thoughtthey wanted was not a good idea after all.
  • The “I can't make up my mind” customer. Here, thesalesperson becomes a resource, offering options and comparisonsand making note of the customer's responses so the person canrecognize the best solution.

By making sure you're talking with the right customer,salespeople take a big step toward making the sale rather thanlosing it.

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2. Disregarding the individual.

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Even though everyone is unique, we lump people intogroups—doctors, servers, business owners, blue collar, boomers,Gen Z, old people, Hispanics, and on-and-on. Inreality, we know that all Hispanics, accountants, or electriciansare not the same. For example, out of the nearly 80 million 18 to35 year-old Millennials, there's a segment of 6.2 million with anannual family income of $100,000 or more. They're the AffluentMillennials and they're quite different from the other 62 millionnon-affluent Millennials of the total group.

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According to a study, Money Matters: How AffluentMillennials are Living the Millennial Dream, this group is ina second phase. “Compared to non-affluent millennials, affluentmillennials over index when it comes to changing jobs, buying ahome, and making home improvements in the last 12 months,” and theyalso “over index when it comes to expecting a child in the next 12months,” states FutureCast, the study sponsor.

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It's clearly good to be cautious when making marketing and salesassumptions about any group. Basing decisions on opinion,inaccurate information, or hearsay leads to misreadingcustomers—and missed sales.

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3. Relying on first impressions.

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A marketing manager called about meeting to talk about workingwith his company. After a 400-mile drive, he arrived in anear-ancient pick up truck, wearing ragged jeans, a wrinkled shirt,and dirty boots. There was little doubt about that firstimpression: the meeting was going to be a waste of time.

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Not recognizing it, we instantly pigeonhole customers—and thatcan be a mistake. First impressions may not tell the whole story.The man in the dirty boots is a good example. He was for real; hiscompany became our largest account.

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Never get carried away with first impressions, and be preparedto discard those that don't fit.

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4. Offering too few (or too many)options.

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There's a lot to learn from companies that do a great jobcapturing customers by offering options. The Honda Accord, forexample, comes in several models, each with a basic price: LX,Sport, EX, and EX-L. Choices engage customers so they don't goaway.

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To be effective, options must be realistic and not so many thatthey become confusing or frustrating to customers. A financialadvisor may present three scenarios for a client's consideration,while a real estate agent may show a client several styles ofhomes. Options should create discussion and furtherinteraction.

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saleswoman

(Photo: Shutterstock.com)

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5. Telling customers what to think.

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“Do you love it?” asked the interior decorator after deliveringthe reupholstered sofa cushions. The couple murmured a few words,“It's bright and different.” But at that moment, one thing wascertain; they didn't love it.

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Far too often, salespeople make the mistake of trying to “guide”customers, tell them what to think: “This a great buy.” “Isn't thisa perfect floor plan for your family?” “Don't you just love thecolor?” “This is going to look great in your home.”

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Customers want help and suggestions, but they don't wantsalespeople telling them what to think. When that happens, it's aturn off.

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6. Forgetting about customer loyalty.

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It's only human to believe that we have loyal customers. Whensome leave, we make excuses as to why they left. It's tough seeingcustomers leave. It's as if they are rejecting us. It negateseverything we've done for them. Breaking up is painful,particularly after making customer care a top priority and bendingover backwards to satisfy them.

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We think that customers show their appreciation by being loyalto a company, brand, or salesperson. However, what we label asloyalty may be something quite different. It may be nothing morethan convenience, price, laziness, inertia, or habit. Nothingmore.

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[Related: 100 best sales ideas 2015]

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In other words, customer loyalty is an illusion. It lets usthink the interchange with customers should result in theirloyalty—and that's a big mistake. Today, nothing—absolutely nothing—stands in the customer's wayfrom getting what the customer wants, the way the customer wants toget it, and where they want to get it.

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We misread customers and lose them when we expect their loyalty.Our task is to focus on doing everything possible to give them agreat experience. That's the only reward that counts.

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Misreading customers costs sales. To prevent this fromhappening, it takes doing battle with our assumptions, particularlythose that influence how we think about customers and what weexpect from them.

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