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Memory Slips That Can Cost You Sales

By Roger Seip

Your palms begin to sweat and you avoid eye contact with someone you know is a client, but you just can’t remember his name. Your heart sinks as you hang up the phone after a phone call with a furious prospect; you forgot you’d made an appointment with her. You pound your forehead in frustration as you realize, too late, what you should have told a customer that would have made the sale.  

Have you ever thought, “If only I’d been born with a better memory, I’d be better at sales?” The good news is that you don’t have to be born with a great memory! Like almost anything related to sales, memory improvement is a learned skill that anyone can cultivate. You can become a highly effective and well-respected sales person. Begin by learning how to prevent these sticky memory-related situations that you may already have experienced.

Memory Slip #1: Instantly forgetting a prospect’s name: You meet a prospect and shake his hand. He tells you his name, and no sooner does the handshake break than you have forgotten it. Socially, people find very few things more annoying than having their names forgotten or mispronounced, and in sales, what’s annoying can become deeply offensive, enough so that you can lose sales.

When you immediately forget a prospect’s name, two challenges arise. First, because you know that you have forgotten the name, you become totally preoccupied with trying to remember it, so it’s difficult to pay attention to what the person is saying. Second, if the prospect perceives that you’ve forgotten his or her name, it sends a very negative message about you, as if you don’t care about the person or as if you’re not very smart. Typically, neither of these perceptions is true, but if you can’t pay attention long enough to remember a name, you give that impression.

With a little practice, you’ll find that this particular memory slip is the easiest to avoid. First, slow down and listen. Focus on the customer for five seconds at the beginning of the introduction and concentrate on his or her name. Next, repeat the person’s name back to him or her in a conversational manner. When someone says, “My name is Bob,” respond with, “Bob. Nice to meet you, Bob.”

Memory Slip #2: Forgetting the name of an established client: If you’re a real estate agent, for example, you may run into someone at a meeting that you sold a house to or for, or if you’re a car dealer, you may go blank as you see a previous customer showing up unexpectedly on the lot. Most often, this slip occurs when you meet the client outside the context of your profession: You know that you know the person, but you don’t know how. You may even remember the details of the sales transaction, but you can’t for the life of you remember the person’s name.

This phenomenon is not only frustrating and embarrassing; it can also cost you a lot of money. Learning to avoid such a situation takes a commitment to work on improving your memory. You can improve your chances of remembering a forgotten client’s name by learning to manage your stress. When you know that you know something, but you can’t pull it up in your mind, it’s usually because you are stressing yourself out about it. The stress blocks your brain’s ability to retrieve the information. So try taking a deep breath and doing a little positive self-talk. Tell yourself, “You know that you know this. Just hang in there and be a little patient.” Oftentimes, the name or other necessary information will then come to you.

Memory Slip #3: Forgetting an appointment or showing up late.: Any sales person knows that showing up late is terrible, but forgetting an appointment altogether is even worse. The solution is simple but requires a commitment on your part to be better organized and to take the time you need to plan. Many common memory challenges arise when people have too much going on and try to rush to get everything done. The key here is to be systematic. Take an hour once a week to review what you have coming up and to plan what you need to do and when.

Memory Slip #4: “I should have said…”: If you’ve ever thought of the perfect thing to say to someone ten minutes after you needed to say it…you’re just like every other human in the world. But in a professional context, this can easily cost you a sale. Have you ever thought of the perfect answer to someone’s question or objection right after the prospect walked out the door? Wondering why you didn’t make the sale, your brain suddenly turns up again and you think, “Oh, no! I’m so stupid! I should’ve said that!” (Or shown them that property or demonstrated that feature or followed that procedure in my sales manual.)

You can overcome this challenge by memorizing information systematically. Systematic learning is not rote memorization – the way you learned your multiplication tables – but developing a system to help you store and retrieve information easily.

To recall information and train your memory, you must learn to speak the language of your memory, which means creating pictures. When you must recall information, if you can see something, it becomes much easier to recall it, even with a great deal of detail. Creating mental images and an organizational system in your brain will make the information easier to find; if it’s in a big pile, you may know it’s there somewhere, but who knows how long it will take you to find it!

Learning leads to confidence, the key to success: Sales professionals need to take their business seriously enough to put effort into learning. Many “wing it,” and don’t make nearly as much money as they want to as a result. No one gets rich in selling by accident. Those who dedicate themselves to learning and growing are always the most successful.

The good news is that you can learn to overcome memory slips and will grow as an effective sales person as you do, because you will gain greater confidence. All other things being equal, the salesperson with more confidence will always get the business over someone who has less . The formula for success is the same as the formula for improving your memory: preparation, listening, and proper learning.

Read other articles and learn more about Roger Seip.

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