Learning takes place in many ways. Most often, we introduce something new or we learn by imitating a best practice, step-by-step. Sometimes, however, we can make the most progress just by learning to avoid mistakes. That's especially true when it comes to sales performance. Everyone has something to gain from correcting errors — even veteran sales-people, who often and without realizing it fall into habits that are detrimental to their success.

Over the years, I've compiled the following list of Top 10 mistakes to avoid. Salespeople should check this list from time to time to make sure they aren't backsliding. Eliminating even a few of these mistakes can dramatically improve your sales performance.

Judging the book by its cover. Salespeople who prejudge prospects by the car in the driveway or the condition of the home's exterior often lose out on some of the best clients. Instead of making judgments based on appearances, rely on a consistent sales process to inform your opinion.

Not asking for the business. Prospects want to work with people who genuinely want their business. Homeowners have no way of evaluating your level of interest. Don't assume that just by showing up you've made your interest clear. You have to ask for the opportunity to work with them.

Not walking away from the “wrong client.” According to one expert, 18% of all homeowners will not allow you to make a profit. With these people, it takes more guts to walk away than it does to agree to proceed. With “right clients,” you make money, reduce everyone's stress, and build your reputation.

Not listening. Don't talk yourself out of a sale. The 80/20 rule applies: You need to spend some time talking about your company, but you should spend 80% of your time listening. Homeowners love to talk about their problems and ideas. They didn't call you to hear you talk about yours.

Selling up instead of down. In the architectural community, only about 30% of what is designed gets built. If you let the prospect's idea grow into a fantasy project, it may forever remain a fantasy. A better strategy is to allow the fantasy discussion, but try to close on a realistic project. (Let the fantasy happen in Phase 2.)

Not having all the decision makers at the initial visit. Your potential close rate drops by more than half when you don't have all decision makers present.

Not differentiating yourself. Every remodeler claims to do quality work. You must communicate the differences not the similarities. Try writing it down. If you don't know how you are different from other remodelers, don't expect your prospect to know.

Becoming an unpaid researcher for your prospect.Your selling process should be designed to get commitment from a client, not the other way around. You may not get a construction contract, but you should get something — a design agreement, a visit to your office, or a specific time for a second meeting.

Not using visual aids. Homeowners find remodeling confusing and they don't remember much of what you say. Learn how to draw flowcharts or outline your process on paper or sketch an idea, all while they watch. They'll not only understand more, they'll be less fearful and more confident in their decision to proceed.

Not expressing enthusiasm about the prospect and their project. Enthusiasm sells, and passion is contagious. If you show enthusiasm for both the prospects and their project, they'll return the favor.

So how would you grade yourself on avoiding these 10 common mistakes? The black belt salesperson has mastered them. With focus and commitment, you can, too.

—Mark Richardson is president of Case Design/Remodeling and Case Handyman Services, Bethesda, Md., and author of “30-Day Remodeling Fitness Program.” 301.229.4600; mrichardson@casedesign.com.