Can you relate to this? You’re looking across the table into the face of a couple who would be perfect clients for you. You know your product is perfect for them and you’re 99 percent sure they will accept your offer. Then something shifts. They walk, and you don’t know why. Sounds familiar?

We’ve all been there, some of us more often than others. The good news is, as disappointing as those situations are, they serve as unmistakable learning experiences. They also provide rare opportunities to examine and improve the way we connect with our prospects and clients. You can’t fix something until you know what’s broken, so let’s begin with the twelve ways we screw up sales meetings and see how we can fix them.

1. Focusing on Yourself
You, your product and your company are only valuable to your prospects to the extent that you can address their needs or give them what they are looking for. Who you are, where you come from, what you value and what you do are only relevant within the context of their specific needs and wants. Those are what the prospect wants to talk about. Get to them quickly. Heed this rule: it’s never about you—it’s always about the client.

2. Talking Too Much
Many networkers fall into this trap. You’ll be on a roll and realize that you’ve been talking for a long time while not focusing on the prospect. The safe rule of thumb for the ratio of listening to talking is 80/20. If you’re in a meeting and find yourself talking more than 20 percent of the time, just switch to a question and be quiet. Remember, the key to selling, or to any situation involving influence or motivation, is to ask questions and help people come to conclusions on their own.

3. Not Asking Questions
Questions serve two purposes. Their first purpose is to involve prospects and help them come to their own conclusions. Often, this is the same conclusion you would have presented. The difference is, if the prospect comes up with it, she believes it instead of doubting it. The second purpose of questions is to elicit information that will help you frame your product or service within the prospect’s criteria and values.

4. Asking the Wrong Questions
Some sales people ask way too many questions or they ask irrelevant questions. The prospect must perceive the questions as valuable and relevant. Prospects must believe that your questions are important and that their answers will enable you to create a better result for them.

5. Confusing Them
Confusion is uncomfortable and people don’t say yes when they’re uncomfortable. If you deliver too much information or use terms and references that aren’t familiar to your prospects, their analytical mind will take over and say no until it has gathered enough information to make an informed decision.

6. Ignoring the Real Decision-Maker
When you are in front of more than one person, it is your responsibility to connect with each one. Never assume you know who the primary decision maker is. Too often in a situation with a husband and wife, the sales person will assume that the husband is the primary decision maker. Big mistake. Give equal attention to each person.

7. Claiming Credibility Rather Than Demonstrating It
Saying you know x or your product has y properties isn’t relevant to the prospect, unless you are able to show how those things help the prospect. How can you gain credibility before you get to demonstrate it? Simple. Use the Law of Other Messengers. People believe what others say about you and your product more than what you say about yourself or your product.

8. Not Speaking the “Language”
We honor our prospects by presenting information in a way that matches their mental preferences and personality. If I am a visual person, it is your responsibility to recognize that and explain your product or service in visual language. If I prefer structure and a process, then it is your responsibility to provide the structure or step-by-step process.

9. Ignoring the Hassle Factor
If you ask me to fill out forms, provide scads of data or answer lots of questions, the value of your offer will be reduced by the “hassle factor.” And if you collect lots of information, you darn well better use it. Recognize that my time and energy are valuable to me. For example, deliver applications that are already filled out. Simply sign here, please.

10. Not Recognizing “Hot Buttons”
Recognize both the negative and the positive “hot buttons” and respond accordingly. For example, if you’re paying attention to me, you will quickly see that one of my negative hot buttons is someone telling me what’s best for me. If you do this before asking appropriate questions or getting to know me, I’ll walk away and you’ll have an adversary. The key to recognizing this is simply to pay attention and read your prospect.

11. Not Showing Respect
Once again, we go back to the hard and fast rule: it’s never about you—it’s always about the client! You may assume I don’t know beans about antioxidants or financial planning, and that may well be true. But if you act as though I’m an idiot, you’ll lose me as a prospect and gain me as an adversary.

12. Being Needy

We’ve all been needy at some point in our lives. We know what it feels like and we’ve seen how other people retreat from us. Neediness is a powerful emotional state that is easily and quickly perceived by others. When they feel it, they get suspicious of your intentions. Come from a place of wholeness within so you can focus on your clients’ needs.

PAM HOLLOWAY is a business psychologist and 
cofounder of AboutPeople, a training and consulting
firm that helps companies and entrepreneurs maximize
the people side of business.