3 ways to prevent sales-killing sidetracks

By SteveLewit

United Advisors

In selling situations, we all get sidetracked. The question is whether we know we are getting sidetracked or plunge ahead blindly, thinking the sale is going fine. Here’s how to make sure you aren't heading down the wrong road in your sales calls.

Selling is nothing more than a journey from A to B, where A is the initial meeting with a client and B is the consummation of business. Top sales professionals never lose sight of the end goal and the road they must follow to get there. Less successful sales pros get sidetracked, taking side roads with their clients that often lead to dead ends or places which are so far from the main road that they become lost, along with their sale.

During the sales process, clients — especially the talkative kind — bring up all sorts of questions, ideas, comments and stories, which are tangents or sidetracks that are tempting to follow. Moreover, these sidetracks seem innocent enough until you find yourself snared by the sidetrack and headed to selling failure. You say to yourself, “Oh, that's an interesting story about their daughter’s divorce, I’ll just be courteous and listen a bit.” Then you ask a few questions; and then a few more. Soon, 20 or 30 minutes have passed and your clients are more involved in their story than they are in why they came to see you. Yes, they like you — you have been a good listener — but they still don’t buy.

Here’s another example: Let's say your client asks a question about how insurance companies can offer fixed index annuities and still make profits. You say to yourself, “Oh, I’ve got that one answered,” and off you go, showing how much you know about insurance company profit margins, the cost of options, long-term interest rates and so on.

Soon, your client asks a few questions about the economy and what will happen in the future. “Oh,” you say to yourself, “I know the answer to that, too,” and now you are off on another sidetrack journey.

While your client is impressed with your knowledge and sees how smart you are, he or she has lost sight of the true purpose of the meeting with you. The result: They think you’re really smart, but they don’t buy.

How then can we stay on course in our selling journeys?

There are specific methodologies you can adopt which will make sure you get where you want to go. In selling situations, we all get sidetracked. The question is whether we know we are getting sidetracked or plunge ahead blindly, thinking the sale is going fine. Here’s how to make sure you aren't heading down the wrong road in your sales calls.

1. To start, you must have a selling road to follow, a true selling system. Most sales professionals think they have a system, but they really don’t. When things don’t work, they just move on and try something new. Their selling strategy becomes a hodgepodge of this or that, a bunch of random ideas. To know whether you have a real sales system or not, just ask yourself this question: “Will my sales system give me a predictable result?”
If the results of your selling can be anything other than predictable, then you don’t have a selling system. With a true selling system in place, a system which you don’t change each and every time something doesn’t work, your road map for getting from A to B becomes branded into your memory. Think of the roads you always travel to your office. They are second nature to you. If you got sidetracked off this route, you would know it immediately. If you know your selling system as well as you know the route to your office, you will immediately be aware of any sidetrack you took with your clients.

The bottom line is, the more secure you are in your selling system, the more aware you will be of any diversion that may sidetrack you from your mapped route.

2. Your second task is to know your ego strengths and ego weaknesses, all from a selling perspective. For example, if you are the type of person who wants to be liked, it's likely you will spend a lot of time listening to your client's stories and lengthy explanations, and asking questions. You will be reticent to interrupt them and turn the journey back to the road your selling system has paved for you.

Or, you might be the kind of person who wants to be respected. When your clients ask you a question, you respond with a detailed answer filled with information and data. You may impress your client and earn their respect, but you'll also take yourself far from your selling roadmap. So, you end up at C or D instead of the B you are aiming for.

3. With your selling system ingrained in your mind and your ego tendencies firmly anchored in your awareness, you have to know how to steer your clients away from sidetracks and back to the selling track that you would like to keep them on.

To turn clients back from sidetracks without insulting them or hurting their feelings, just wait for the moment when they pause say something like: “John, that’s so interesting about your son. It’s a remarkable story that I could listen to for a long time. How about you tell me more if we have a few minutes at the end of our meeting?”

“Mark, like you, I’m fascinated by the details of how these fixed index annuities work. How about we focus on the broad strokes of your plan and then I’ll fill in more of the details as we go along?”

“Rebecca, these are great insights about how you’ve managed your finances in the past. Knowing myself, I could talk to you a long time about that. But that would mean we’d get nothing else done. How about we turn our attention back to what you would like to do in the future, and you can bring me up to speed on the past when we have more time?”


It’s easy to get sidetracked in selling situations. When you are aware that you have been sidetracked, it is equally as easy to change directions and take your clients down the main road. Know your system. Know your ego strengths and weaknesses, and know how to gently turn your clients back, using nurturing phrases to get the job done. When you are in the know about these three selling keys, your sales will be more focused and more productive.