Sales and Sales Management Blog

January 27, 2015

Do You Talk To Your Prospects and Clients or Do You Talk At Them?

Knowledge should be one of the most powerful tools in our toolbox. 

Knowing how to use specialized industry vocabularies should also be one of our basic and power tools.

In reality, for many of us, knowledge and specialized lingo are powerful—in costing us business.

Naturally a great many new salespeople are tempted to try to impress prospects and clients by demonstrating their product knowledge and slinging their newly learned industry vocabulary around.  They tend to oversell, answer questions no prospect has ever had, dazzle with words the prospect and client may not be familiar with.  They talk about the fine points of their product or service; discuss how their service or product will impact ROI; how best to onboard new employees or products or services;  how their product or service creates a new paradigm to address the prospect’s issues or needs; and the list goes on.

Impact ROI?  I see, you mean whether or not it makes me more money than it costs.  Onboarding new employees or products or services?  I get it, you mean purchasing and integrating a new product or service or hiring and orienting a new employee.  Creating a new paradigm to address issues or needs?  You mean a different way of dealing with the problem, right? 

You can say ROI, onboarding, or paradigm, or you could just talk to your prospect.  Some say that if you want credibility with your prospects and clients you have to speak their language.  I don’t have a problem with that in the least—if you’re actually speaking your prospect’s language.  But how many prospects actually talk about onboarding a new product or service or creating a new paradigm to address an issue or problem?  And there’s certainly something to be said about just talking to the prospect in plain English.

And very often new sellers butcher their newly acquired vocabulary and confound and frustrate their prospects with their enthusiastic demonstration of their knowledge of the minutiae of their product or service.  Many lose more sales than they capture because of their lack of discipline and their need to impress.

Unfortunately I’ve noticed over the past three years that this desire to impress isn’t confined to new sellers.  I consistently run across experienced sellers who should know better that are making the same rookie mistakes.  The only real difference between these experienced sellers and new salespeople is experienced sellers tend to have a better grasp of the industry lingo.

In the current tough selling environment even experienced sellers are falling into the trap of trying to oversell and to impress with their knowledge and ‘deep’ understanding of the prospect’s issues.  We tend to pull out all the stops and often end up losing our discipline and the prospect’s attention.  We try to force the sale.

Rather than creating new clients, we end up alienating them. 

Whether you’re a relatively new seller bursting with enthusiasm and wanting to impress your prospects or an experienced seller feeling the pressure to produce, you need to step back and relax.  Giving in to the pressure to oversell and force the sale is self defeating.  Address your prospect’s needs and leave the unnecessary demonstration of knowledge and the impressive vocabulary at the office. 

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September 12, 2012

Guest Article: “Selling Your Relevance, Not Your Product,” by Babette Ten Haken

Filed under: Communication,developing expert reputation — Paul McCord @ 10:02 am
Tags: , ,

Selling Your Relevance, Not Your Product
by Babette Ten Haken

Have you ever listened to yourself speak with your prospects and customers? If you’ve gone through any type of sales training, the goal of your discussion usually is finding out what your prospective customer “needs”. Then it’s supposed to be a straight-line shot to showing them why your product or technology is the only solution.

So what?

That’s the spiel your current and prospective customers are expecting to hear.

If you are an engineer, and your current and prospective customers call you directly (trying to avoid this commoditized sales scenario), listen to yourself as well. If you’re an engineer, the customer has you from “hello”. You immediately respond by problem solving and offering up solutions. Even if the person on the other end of the phone or computer is shopping your solution – and your willingness to give it up. Even if this individual has bigger fish to fry than the project they are using to vet you, and your company.

So what if you solved their problem in 10 seconds flat? Sort of like engineering roping and hog tying.

Your customers and prospects want a dialogue. A conversation. It isn’t a contest to see how many solutions or suggestions you can come up with. Or how clever you can be responding to questions they throw at you.

Why are you wasting their hard-to-get time?

The best conversations you can have with customers are those conversations even they didn’t know they wanted to have with you. The relevant conversations that involve industry and marketplace dynamics, economies of scale and nations, the context in which they are (trying) to make a decision, and the chaos of their business model.

Bet they didn’t teach you how to have those discussions in business school, sales training or engineering school.

These are the relevant conversations that stick in customers’ minds long after they have them with you. Because they know you took the time to build up your knowledge base beyond the status-quo of selling your solution. Because they appreciate the breadth and depth of your vision. Because they understand how your perspective helps them run their businesses. Because they are grateful for you taking the time to speak with them.

Relevance could be the definition of “value” that everyone’s been throwing around lately. And value’s just a noun in need of a descriptor.

Relevant value.

I like the sound of that.

Babette Ten Haken provides sellers with a methodology on how to explain a product, its benefits, and its value, in ways that are comfortable for the buyer to hear, and the salesperson or technical professional to say.  Babette is President of Sales Aerobics for Engineers and writes the Sales Aerobics for Engineers Blog.

May 18, 2012

It’s Time We Get Right with Our Words

Filed under: career development,Communication,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 11:35 am
Tags: , ,

Almost every sales seminar or workshop I go to and the majority of sales books I read at some point talk about the need to address the prospect’s or client’s emotional side; that sales, all sales, are at their heart emotion based decisions.  And with that statement, for many the doors to manipulating the prospect are flung wide open.

Language and emotion are so important in sales yet we seem to take them so lightly.  Most sales books, seminars, and courses spend little to no time addressing language and how to use it ethically.

Most of us pick up our use of words and language on the fly, not really understanding the forces behind it.  If we discover something that seems to work we use it, never asking whether it is a legitimate use of language or whether it is nothing more than a cheap way to manipulate.

I suggest that every seller take the time to head back to your local community college or the university in town and take three courses that will help you clarify how you are using the words you use–and in addition will give you some powerful new tools to use when putting together your prospect solutions, not to mention the advantages you’ll gain in terms of constructing your presentations.

The first course would be a good course in Rhetoric.  Many schools call their basic composition class a rhetoric class.  That isn’t the class I’m speaking of here.  Rhetoric is the study of the art of argumentation and discourse with the aim of improving one’s ability to persuade, influence, and motivate–ethically.  You’ll acquire tools that will help you become a better communicator and you’ll be able to recognize some of the flim flam manipulation strategies used in marketing (and heaven forbid, by sellers also).

Next I would suggest an Introduction to Logic course.  Although it is true that emotion plays a strong part in the sales process, so does logic, especially in more sophisticated sales environments.  A course in logic can help attune you to how easy it is to go awry when constructing an argument.  You will learn about deductive and inductive reasoning along with consistency, validity, and completeness, as well as learning about logical fallacies of which there are a ton.  And to your delight, you’ll have the joy (sarcasm here) of analyzing syllogism after syllogism after syllogism. The important thing is you’ll learn how to recognize logical inconsistencies and how to construct an argument that holds together and leads to a logical conclusion.

After your introductory course I’d advise you go one step further and take a symbolic logic course.  You’ll get further immersed in the rules of logic and go well beyond the syllogism.  After this class you should be able to recognize logical fallacies and be able to knock those false arguments down.  (And if you’re not good at or are afraid of math you need not know that this is a course taught in conjunction with the math department and is usually a senior level math class.)

Of course none of these courses are necessary to be a seller–or to be a top seller.  But I guarantee they will make you a better seller.  Take a look at your local college or university’s offerings and register for a class next fall.  You will be glad you did (but maybe not until after the semester).

March 28, 2012

George Orwell’s Negative Influence on Sales Language

The coincidence of timing: My friend Dan Waldschmidt published a post yesterday on why words matter.  After reading my post on how words a misused, I’d encourage you read Dan’s to see how words should be used.

What words do you use to describe yourself and your products and services?  Are there words you intentionally try to keep out the mind of your prospects or clients?  Do you use euphemisms instead of plain English when making a presentation in order to try to elicit a particular feeling or response from your prospect?

As salespeople, we’ve been taught to frame our conversations and presentations in ways that lead our prospects and clients to the conclusions and decisions we wish them to arrive at.  In order to do this, we are advised by some to refrain from using certain words that may evoke a negative reaction—or to use words that will evoke a negative reaction, depending on what we want our prospect to think or feel.

Much of this advice is based on the idea that if we control the conversation we control the prospect’s attitude, thinking, and ultimately, their decision making process.  In other words, by carefully controlling the words used in the conversation, we can control the prospect’s thought process. 

Some sales trainers even go so far as to recommend we not bring up potential negatives—don’t address a non-existent objection so as not to plant a potential objection in the prospect’s mind.  Or if an objection is raised, deflect it and return to the presentation or closing the sale.  Gloss over the objection and it will go away.    

It seems George Orwell has become the director of sales training.  Orwell’s Newspeak is now the new “sales speak.”  No longer is communicating with a prospect as a rational human sufficient; now we are exhorted to in essence treat them as nothing more than a computer, inputting only the data we want them to compute–as though if we don’t give them the words, they won’t be able to think the thoughts we don’t want them to think.

Orwell believed that words are the keys to thought.  If the words don’t exist to communicate a particular thought or concept, it isn’t possible to think the thought or concept.  Consequently, if you can control the words someone has available to them, you can control not only what they think, but eventually how they act.  Orwell later repudiated the concept.  Unfortunately, a version of this concept has become quite popular in some areas of sales training.

Like Orwell’s world of 1984, some view the world of sales as an arena where words are not simply powerful in influencing thought and behavior; they are the creators of thought and behavior.  If we don’t say it, the prospect will never think it.  If we can frame it using the words we want, the prospect will never think of their own words to describe it or question it.

Rather than trying to communicate, we are told by some that if we create the conversation we wish to have with the prospect, the prospect will unknowingly go along with us.  If only we learn the right words and phrases to use—and the words and phrases to avoid, we can direct the prospect to the ”proper” decision.  Selling in this view is simply an exercise in rhetoric.

So, we learn the right words and the right phrases; we engage the prospect by making sure we eliminate any words that might evoke thoughts, feeling, or concepts we don’t want them to have; and we ask for the order.  Instead of the automatic ‘yes’ we expected, we hear a resounding ‘no.’

What could possibly have gone wrong?  We did everything right.  We used the right words; we avoided the wrong ones.  We were careful to implant the ideas, concepts, and emotions we wanted the prospect to have.  We executed perfectly.  And they said no.  How could this possibly have happened?

Could it be that they did the unthinkable–they actually thought words and concepts that we worked diligently to keep out of their head?  Despite our best efforts to implant the right “data,”  when we pushed the “enter” button they exercised independent thought and rejected our attempt to manipulate their decision making process?

Is it possible the words we use aren’t as important as the communication and connection we make with the prospect?  Is it possible that our attempt to finesse the prospect by trying to direct their thinking through the careful manipulation of language isn’t as effective as we have been lead to believe?  Is it possible that less rhetoric and more communication would serve us better?  Could it be that more listening, more understanding, and more straight answers to prospect questions could prompt more trust in the prospect?

Maybe it is time to rethink the Newspeak of selling and learn instead to listen, to answer honestly and forthrightly, to drop the euphemisms and begin once again communicating with prospects and clients using plain English.  Maybe rather than the belief that the words we use will create the reality we want in the prospect, we should seek try to understand the prospect’s needs, wants, and issues and try to present our best solutions to those needs and wants as honestly and forthrightly as possible. 

The Orwellian experiment has been tried—and failed.  Orwell recognized the failure of the concept before he died.  Certainly, many trainers in the areas of communication and persuasion recognize the legitimate uses of rhetoric in the sales process.  Yet, there are still large numbers of trainers selling the Orwellian concept of easy sales through language manipulation and its false promise of controlling prospect thought and behavior.  There is a difference between the legitimate use of persuasive influence and the intent to deviously manipulation. 

We are selling to independent beings who exercise their capacity to think autonomously of our attempts to stage-manage their actions and decisions.  Our words can influence, they cannot create the reality we want.  Our words can help create an image, they cannot eliminate independent thought.   Our words can create conversation, dialog, and real communication, they cannot produce a pre-determined outcome.  The sooner we recognize their independence, the sooner we can get back to creating relationships built on trust, not on linguistic manipulation.

February 6, 2012

Guest Article: Smartening up your message as part of your sales strategy for success, by Colleen Francis

Filed under: Presentation Skills — Paul McCord @ 11:15 am
Tags: , ,

How do I help my sales team sell more and be more successful? It’s a question that’s never far from the thoughts of many managers and executives these days.

Yes, there are a host of proven lead generation, prospecting and follow-up techniques that can make a real difference in your organization—and I talk about these often in my sales training sessions and webinars.

That’s only part of your solution though. In fact, that’s the second part. The first part of the equation involves personalizing your message, thinking smart and going beyond trust—creating winning conditions that you can later capitalize on.

Thinking personal.
You can’t sell very well to people who either don’t remember you, or can’t remember why they bought from you. Today, all selling is personal. Even in enterprise situations.

To be effective at being personal, however, you have to have to be ready to scale some walls. It’s a busy, noisy world out there, and odds are good that your customers filter out as much of it as they can. Who can blame them, given all the impersonal messages and wooden pitches that inundate inboxes everywhere?

Being personal sells because it transcends the act of selling. It requires a regular, thoughtful investment of your time to do this properly. It also happens to be what will set you and your team apart from those who still treat selling purely in transactional terms.

Thinking smart.
To be effective at being personal, think smart. You have to provide something that people want and can find useful in their own work. It can be a highlighted extract from a brand-new report, new research on market behavior, fresh data on a subject that matters to your audience. It can be a link posted on Google+ to a brand-new blog post, or a tweet. Or it can be a free webinar or podcast on a subject that provides a solution to a problem they are struggling with.

Just make sure that there’s substance to it. You are the subject authority.

No audience has to look hard to find run-of-the-mill tips or fact-free opinions. What they value is unique insight, validated by other subject matter authorities. Andrew Rashbass, Chief Executive of The Economist magazine (which has nearly doubled its profits since 2007) recently observed a growing phenomenon in the marketplace, which he calls “the mega-trend of mass intelligence.” People, he says, are “smarting up” rather than “dumbing down.”

That trend should be on your mind and that of every member of your sales team as you brainstorm for ways that you can provide better, more personalized value to your customers and prospects. Companies want to do business with thought leaders and industry experts—not sales people. Now is the time to start creating high-value content that sets you apart from all the other vendors.

Marketing consultant Simon Sinek argues in his book, Start With Why: How Great Leaders Inspire Everyone to Take Action, that “people don’t buy what you do, they buy why you do it.” When[A1]  you take the time to be an authority on something and share it with others, you’re making a powerful statement about why you are in business. Work hard to show that what matters to you is also what matters to your audience.

Beyond trust.
For the last several years, there has been much talk about the need to forge trust with your customers as part of winning more sales.

Trust isn’t enough.

In fact, trust is an outcome. You can’t buy it. You can’t demand it. You only can earn it. Therefore, look carefully at the ways in which you go about earning that trust. That’s where people are paying attention and forming opinions.

What I see in the marketplace today—backed by the winning habits of the top salespeople across the full range of industries—is that people have an unquenchable thirst for knowledge. They are looking to work with those who are experts in their subject area and who are prepared to share what they know. What you have to sell to them—while important—is secondary.

An opportunity of a lifetime.
Being in sales today is an opportunity of a lifetime. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise with their gloomy forecasts on what they call a bad economy, which is just a form of shorthand for making excuses for failure. There is a $61 trillion dollar global economy out there, populated with more people than ever who are in a position to buy your products, services and ideas.

Many old barriers to entering the marketplace don’t matter anymore (e.g., distance to market). New barriers, such as attracting and sustaining your audience’s attention, are entirely solveable.

The question you and your sales team need to ask yourself is why are you in business? Where does your passion live? How can you showcase that passion and the knowledge that comes with it and share it with your audience? Answer these questions, coupled with the time-honored, field-tested methods that we talk about so often at Engage to immediately improve your sales results, and your team will be hitting and surpassing sales targets like never before.

Colleen Francis, Sales Expert, is Founder and President of Engage Selling Solutions (www.EngageSelling.com). Armed with skills developed from years of experience, Colleen helps clients realize immediate results, achieve lasting success and permanently raise their bottom line.  Start improving your results today with Engage’s online Newsletter Sales Flash and a FREE 7 day intensive sales eCourse: www.EngagingIdeasOnline.com 

 

February 1, 2012

Killer Communication Strategy

So many prospects and clients to kill, so little time.  But don’t worry; salespeople all over the world are doing their damnedest to kill as many prospects and clients as possible every day.  Their weapon of choice?  Communication—or more specifically,  communication fraud.

I suspect you are like me, getting dozens of emails, phone calls, snail mail letters, and even face-to-face meetings with sellers who seem to have only one goal—waste as much of my time as possible.  They email and call wanting to know if I’m doing OK, or if I need anything, or if they can show me a new product or service without having the slightest idea if I could actually use it.  Some call to simply let me know they’re still around and want my business.

Many of these intrepid sellers have bombarded me with so much time wasting junk communication that they’ve taught me to completely ignore them.  When I see an email or letter from them or if I get a voice mail message from them I know that I need pay absolutely no attention to them.  Their time wasting communications have completely killed me off as a prospect—and, worse, I’ve even had some sellers kill me off as a client because of their insistence on trying to waste my time.

Sellers work hard to find and connect with quality prospects and then to win them as clients.  Why in the world would they want to then commit prospect and client genocide?

Obviously, their intent isn’t to become mass murderers, but that is the final result of many sellers’ communications.  Their killer communication strategy is to unintentionally kill off massive numbers of their prospects and clients by teaching them to ignore any of their communications. 

So many sellers think of communication as nothing that important.  Their object is to keep their name in front of the prospect or client and to that end they feel a need to contact the prospect or client even when they have nothing of import to communicate.  Actually and more correctly, they feel the need to draw attention to themselves even when they have nothing of value to communicate.  And even more correctly, they are just too damn lazy to find something of value to deliver to the prospect or client. 

In other words, their killer communication strategy is tell their prospects and clients in no uncertain terms that they just aren’t important enough for the seller to invest the time and energy necessary to add value for them.

Now that’s a killer communication strategy.

There is a very simple communication rule that I teach my clients:  every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them to either pay attention to you because you bring value to them or to ignore you because all you do is waste their time.  In other words, every communication you have with a prospect or client is teaching them that it’s worth taking your phone calls and reading your emails because they know you’re not going to waste their time–or you’re teaching them to avoid you because you have nothing of value for them. 

The next time you pick up the phone or write an email or want to schedule an appointment, ask yourself one simple question: “am I adding value to them or to just me?”  If your honest answer is that you’re only adding value for yourself, don’t make the call, don’t send the letter, don’t send the email until you have taken the time to make sure you’re adding as much or more value to them as you are for yourself.

January 23, 2012

Dealing with Uncomfortable Questions from Prospects and Clients

Filed under: Client Relationships,Communication,politics — Paul McCord @ 12:20 pm
Tags: ,

Once again we are in the middle of the presidential political season.  For the next few months the Republicans will have center stage as candidates wrestle with one another to gain the Republican nomination to run for President.  Once that contest has been decided the focus will shift to a tussle between the Republican nominee and President Obama.

Whether we tend to be politically active or not, we will all have opinions about the candidates and issues involved in political combat this year.

We’ll also have some—hopefully just a very few–prospects and clients make comments about these people and issues or, worse, ask us directly about our opinions regarding them.

When these uncomfortable topics come up what should our response be?

As salespeople we spend a great deal of time trying to develop relationships built upon trust, honesty, and openness with our prospects and clients. We claim that we want to build relationships with our clients; we want to get to know them as people and not just as potential purchasers, and that we want to create friends, not just accounts.

Many of us go to great lengths to learn how to read body language, to communicate in a manner that caters to the prospect’s personality type, to read the unspoken signals the client sends through how they dress, how they decorate their office, what they drive, and what they do for recreation and relaxation. Our goal we say is to treat the prospect as a whole person.

Nevertheless, our holistic approach to sales is one sided. Most of us have been taught to avoid the social and political issues that could offend a prospect or client.  Let the conversation get close to the area of political or social opinion and all the sudden we’re no longer too anxious to build the relationship on honesty and openness. Rather than being open and honest when these subjects come up we try mightily to obfuscate or avoid.  The last thing we want is for our prospect or client to know where we actually stand on a candidate or issue.

Consequently we’ll spend the next few months doing a delicate dance of avoidance, trying to offend no one while insisting that we are open, honest, trustworthy individuals, intent only on meeting the prospect’s needs and becoming trusted advisors. We’ll try to build relationships based on getting to know our client while allowing them to get to know only what we have determined is safe for public consumption and that will allow them to get to know us only superficially. We’ll try to balance on the head of a pin, afraid that if we reveal ourselves as a politically or socially aware person we’ll offend, we’ll step on toes, we’ll lose a sale.

In my opinion–and experience–not only is this behavior disingenuous, but it is itself destructive. Prospects and clients expect each of us to have opinions and they are quite aware that those opinions may be counter to their own.

What are we communicating to prospects and clients when we try to sidestep discussion of the issues or candidates? Some will immediately assume we’re avoiding the issue because we hold opinions we believe are counter to theirs—so whether their assumption is correct or not, by avoiding the discussion we risk offending the prospect by unintentionally communicating a contrary opinion to theirs. A few may assume that we’re not informed well enough or care enough to have an opinion. Most will assume that we’re simply trying to play the game, trying to be ‘real’ as long as that reality doesn’t involve anything of substance in our personal lives.

Conventional wisdom has been to avoid political discussion at all costs. Conventional wisdom comes from a time when the emphasis wasn’t on building long-term, trust based relationships with prospects and clients.

I’m not advocating you initiate political and social discussion, but avoiding it isn’t going to advance the relationship either.

Seldom have I found discussing these issues to be, well, an issue. I have lost a few sales that I can trace to these types of discussions, but I can identify many more sales I’ve made where the sale had its roots in a willingness to answer questions—especially uncomfortable questions–honestly. 

As long as you are respectful of the prospects point of view, have reasoned arguments for your stance, and don’t engage in inflammatory or degrading language, there is no reason to fear alienating a prospect or client. In fact, if you can intelligently discuss the issues in light of how they may impact your prospect’s business, you may find that your discussion instead of being a potential minefield may be one of the most compelling reasons to do business with you.

Prospects and clients not only respect honesty, they also respect salespeople who understand their business and the future prospects for their business. By demonstrating an understanding of how political, economic and social issues may affect your prospect’s future, you demonstrate an intimate knowledge of their business—and prospects love to do business with people they trust and who really understand their problems, issues, and opportunities.

Follow Paul on Twitter: @paul_mccord

January 7, 2011

Guest Article: “The Five Steps To Successful Sales Communication,” by Nick Morgan

Filed under: Communication,Persuasion,sales,selling — Paul McCord @ 11:21 am
Tags: , ,

The Five Steps To Successful Sales Communications
By Nick Morgan

The sales world has accumulated many myths about what makes for success, especially in the tricks and techniques for communicating during the sale — a huge part of any sales process. Following are some myth-busting insights from the latest communications research. Follow these five steps and see your close rate skyrocket!

1. It’s not about your product, it’s about listening to your customer’s need.

Most salespeople know that they should listen to the client, but too few of them do, and usually not soon enough. And they don’t listen in the right way. You should be listening for the underlying messages more than the superficial ones. What emotion is the (potential) customer putting forward? Excitement about a new purchase? Fear about a new technology? Resistance to change? Resentment at the old product?

What’s memorable — and important to people — in communication is emotion; that’s what you should be listening for and responding to, not just the expressed content. If you acknowledge a client’s emotions, and figure out an appropriate way to respond to them, you’ll be his favorite salesperson in no time.

Begin by reflecting back the basic messages. “So what I hear you saying is that you’re in the market for a new flibbertigibbet, is that right?” Once you get the basics settled, then move on to the emotions. Ask questions to elicit them, like, “Were you sorry to see the old one go, or was it good riddance to bad rubbish?”

Keep it light; this is a sale, not therapy. But don’t duck from stronger emotions if they come up. Put on your therapist hat and go to work. Your goal in all this is to be able to complete the following sentence: “Customer X is in the market for a Y, and she’s Z about it.” X is the customer, Y is the product, and Z is the customer’s attitude.

You’ll have time to sell your customer on products, features, and upgrades later. For now, focus on establishing a connection. We want to feel that connection is real and strong enough to last through the after-sale (or repeat-sale) care, so don’t rush it or fake it. Connections between people get established at the surface first, but if they’re to be durable, then they must have emotional glue to hold them together.

2. It’s not about eye contact; it’s about personal space.

Of course we all know that eye contact is important to communicating — and selling. But it’s not as important as most people seem to think. The exquisite dance of eye contact between two people who are talking to one another is largely regulated by our unconscious minds. The point is to signal — along with a symphony of other gestures — when one person is done or almost done and the other person should start talking. It’s only noticed when one person indulges in too much — or too little — eye contact. Then it interferes with the regulation of the conversation.

It’s like catching the eye of a waiter. A good waiter makes it effortless; the harried or incompetent make it difficult.

More important to communication and to sales is the amount of space between the two people. We all have incredibly sensitive monitoring capabilities keeping constant track of where we — and everyone else — is in space. It’s for obvious safety reasons, it’s mostly unconscious, and it works very well.

We monitor four zones of space. Twelve feet or more is public space — and our unconscious brains don’t pay much attention to that, because that means that people are far enough away that we have time to react.

Twelve feet to four feet is social space. That’s warmer, and our brains are now paying attention, but it’s still a cool relationship. Things heat up in personal space — four feet to a foot and a half. And things get really hot in intimate space — a foot and a half to zero.

Here’s what’s important: The only significant things that happen between people happen in personal and intimate space. As a sales person, you can’t go into intimate space, usually, so here’s the takeaway — to close a sale you must get into the personal space of the client/customer. It’s why car salespeople spend so much time shaking your hand — they want to build your trust by getting into your personal space repeatedly. Good tactic, just a bit overdone.

For the rest of us, a successful sale involves the delicate art of creating trust without pushing it. Use personal space subtly and tactfully and you’ll accomplish this with style. Let the eye contact take care of itself.

3. To close a sale, you need to first establish two things with your customer: credibility and trust.

To succeed with an audience, or a customer, you need to establish credibility first and trust second. Credibility comes first, because that’s what happens when you show that you understand the customer’s problem. Trust comes second, because that’s what you establish when you solve that problem.

Failing either one, your relationship with the client or customer won’t be durable. Without credibility, you’ll find that your customer will be likely to go elsewhere in search of expertise, even if they trust you as a human being. Do you really understand my paint color issues? Without trust, a client will be tempted to mine you for expertise, and then go make the ultimate purchase from someone else. Will you really follow through on the after-sale?

How do you establish these two key aspects of a relationship? Begin by listening to the customer’s problem. Show that you understand it as well or better than the client does, and you’ll create credibility. She gets that I loathe chartreuse! Finally, someone who knows something about paint!

Then, show how you can solve that problem. You’ll forge a strong bond of trust with that client when you take away the point of pain that sent them to the marketplace in the first place. That shade of lavender will be perfect for the room.

Credibility and trust. The two key ingredients for a strong, enduring relationship with a customer.

4. Closing a sale is all about understanding the customer’s decision-making process.

Where are your clients or customers when they get in touch with you?

Are they happy with the product they have, but want to be reassured that they made the right decision?

Or are they in the throes of the problem, uncertain of which way to go, looking for answers?

Or have they already decided on a course of action, and are basically looking for you to take the order?

Each of these states of mind requires very different handling; it’s axiomatic that you need to understand your customers’ state of mind clearly in order to be able to talk to them effectively.

Customers in the first stages of decision-making just need help with framing the problem. Less information is better. Just give them a statistic, or a very brief verbal portrait of what the future might look like. Do you realize that the 2011 version of the Fabulator uses half the energy of its predecessors?

Customers deep in the problem want information — comparisons, data, detail. This stage is where all that product or service knowledge you have is actually useful. Don’t go to the point of eyes glazing over, but do satisfy the urge for information. Both models will get the job done, but the Fabulator-B is smaller and quieter, not to mention faster operating.

And clients who have already made up their mind will appreciate some visualizing of the benefits, but very little else. They don’t want to be slowed down, so don’t make it hard for them to buy. You’ve made a great choice. The Fabulator Supreme will take care of all your issues and also make you a spectacular cup of morning coffee. Now let’s get that paperwork out of the way.

That’s why it’s so important to listen to your customers before you launch into any kind of explanation. If you don’t know where they are, you can’t point them to where they should be going.

5. Involve your customer with small steps to get them comfortable to take the bigger ones.

It’s imperative that you don’t do all the work in the sales process. If you keep your clients passive, don’t be surprised when it’s hard for them to suddenly get active and agree to close the sale. Too many salespeople think that it’s all up to them. But the real secret is to get the customer working on the deal too. Begin with little steps, steps that don’t involve big commitments, and then work up from there.

In the 1987 comedy Tin Men, 1960s-era aluminum siding salesman Richard Dreyfuss initiates a younger protégé into the magical world of sales. In one call on a housewife, Dreyfuss drops a dollar bill on the floor, and allows the housewife to pick it up for him. He explains to the initiate that he can tell whether or not he’s going to get a sale with this trick. If the housewife picks up the bill, she’s a nice person and can be talked into aluminum siding. If she doesn’t, she won’t be won over.

The psychology is right, but the execution is wrong. Dreyfuss should have been seeking to create a real relationship with his customers, rather than just exploiting them. And by getting them involved, not in sneaky tests of their malleability, but in genuine steps along the road to the sale, he would have increased the amount of aluminum siding gracing the houses of Baltimore.

Take your clients from passive to active. Involve them in the process. Don’t do all the work.

Dr. Nick Morgan is one of America’s top communication theorists and coaches. In his blog he covers modern communications from a variety of angles, including the latest developments in communication research, the basic principles and rules of good communication, and the good and bad speakers of the day. His passion is to connect the latest brain research with timeless insights into persuasive speaking and writing in order to further our understanding of how people connect with one another.

April 7, 2010

Are You Hearing Without Listening?

Oh, our wicked ways! 

A reading of much of the Old Testament sounds like a modern day sales meeting—a great deal of hearing, very little listening of what is being said. 

When we read those passages where the Israelites hear the words being spoken but understand nothing because they don’t really listen, we self-righteously tend to think “oh, those evil Israelites, they deserve all the wrath that descends upon them.”   And in reality, they do.

But listen in on many of our sales calls and the only conclusion we can come to is “oh, that wicked salesperson, they deserve all the failure that descends upon them,” for we salespeople tend to be just as guilty of hearing without listening as the Israelites 2,500 years earlier.

Just as the wages of sin is death, the wages of not listening to our prospect is the equivalent of death in sales—no sale.

The problem is most of the time we aren’t even aware that we’re not listening because it is just plain human nature to hear what we want to hear and to be thinking about what we want to say instead of what our prospect is saying. 

No, I don’t think listening is the natural human state.  Talking is.  Probably more correctly is talking without thinking is the natural human state.

In terms of hearing, what is natural is to be thinking of our rebuttal while the other is takling and to be listening for the words we want to hear and to skip over the ones we don’t. 

Listening, really listening to what is being said rather than what we want to hear, is something we have to learn to do. 

We have to force ourselves to concentrate on the words being said by our prospect which means consciously NOT thinking about our next statement.

We have to force ourselves to listen to the meaning of our prospect instead of reading into their statement what we want to hear.

Let me give a couple of recent examples from a couple of my coaching clients.  Names have been changed but the words are real:

“Paul, I’ve got a great referral coming from one of my new clients,” said Richard.  “He said he’d talk to his business partner and see if he could set up a lunch meeting with the three of us.”

A few days later I got this email reply when I asked if he had spoken with his new client about the referral lunch: “He said he hadn’t spoken to him yet and probably wouldn’t anytime soon since his partner is in the process of getting a divorce and is in a surly mood and pre-occupied most of the time.”

That’s not what I was expecting.  I asked Richard what led him to believe his client would be setting up a lunch meeting.  He said he had recorded his session with the client as he often does and would play the referral meeting request section for me if I wanted. 

I wanted.

Here’s what his client actually said: “Well, I’ll see if I can set up a lunch with Don.  I’m not sure now is really the right time since he’s got some really serious personal issues he’s dealing with, but I’ll see if maybe there might be a good time to ask in the next few days.  If now isn’t good, can we wait until he has worked through the issues that are occupying him right now?”

My client heard “I can set up a lunch meeting with Don.”  The rest, to Richard, was just filler.  He heard the words he wanted to hear.

What I heard most loudly was “If now isn’t good, can we wait until he has worked through the issues that are occupying him right now?”  The client wanted to help Richard but was obviously uncomfortable asking Don for the meeting at this time and was asking permission from Richard to wait for a better time but Richard didn’t hear the request because it wasn’t what he wanted to hear, consequently he was disappointed and a bit upset when the referral lunch didn’t happen.

Another example happened last week when I was doing a web meeting “ride along” while one of my clients was doing a web based presentation to a prospect.  I was a silent attendee of the presentation, in the background as an observer only.

My client, Henri, was sailing along with the presentation when the prospect said “I really like this.  I need to get you set up to do this for Grace Turner; she’s the one I’m using to compare the various systems and will make the final recommendation.”

Henri, in a stunned voice, said “I’m sorry, Bill, I understood you to say that you were the decision maker on this.”

“I am,” he replied, “but Grace is the primary evaluator of the systems.  She is the one who is comparing each of the systems, so will be the one making the final recommendation and I seriously doubt I’ll not take her recommendation.  I thought you understood that last week when we set up this meeting and I said I’d see if Grace could sit in on the presentation also.”

“I’m sorry, Bill, I guess I should have asked what role Grace would be playing in the process.”

Henri heard what she wanted to hear—Bill was the decision maker and therefore she ignored anything and everything else.  In her mind she had THE MAN.  And she did in terms of who would authorize the purchase.  But she failed to listen when he indicated there was someone else involved in the decision process.  Henri believed that since he was authorizing the purchase, he was the only person she needed to influence.

Ouch.  Both of these situations were easily avoided with just a bit of careful listening.

So if not listening is our natural state and we have to force ourselves to listen, how do we do that?

Concentrate on the Prospect:  Hard to do, at least at first, but the single most effective thing you can do is to consciously concentrate on each word your prospect says. 

Focus on Context and Agreement:  While listening to your prospect, consciously focus on what your prospect is saying in the context of the overall discussion.  Are there hidden meanings?  Is the prospect giving a subtle message between the lines (i.e., “please give me permission to wait to ask Don for the lunch meeting”)?  Also, do the words your prospect is saying match their body language?  Concentrating on what they are saying in context and examining to make sure words and body language are in agreement force you to really concentrate on what is being said.

Pause Before Talking:  When we’re anxious to get our point across we tend to interrupt and break into our prospect’s discourse.  Not only is this rude, it is a solid indication we really aren’t listening.  Wait two seconds after your prospect finishes talking before putting your mouth in gear.  Not only will this keep you from stepping on your prospect’s tongue, that pause gives you a bit of time to think of your response and if you know you have time to construct your thoughts, you will feel less pressure to construct your rebuttal while not listening to your prospect.

Restate Your Prospects Statements:  Once your prospect has finished their statement, reword it back to your prospect to make sure you understand.  Say something like, “So, Ms. Prospect, I understand that your concern is . . .” or “I want to make sure I fully understand, you are suggesting that . . . . “

Although hardly natural for most of us, listening is a skill we can—and as sellers must—learn.

Now, go my children, listen well and sin no more—and if you catch me slipping up and interrupting you, obviously thinking about my next argument while you’re talking, or just plain ignoring what you’re saying, feel free to remind me that I deserve all of the sales failure I’ll experience.

Can I have an Amen?

April 1, 2010

Guest Article: “How to Deliver a Difficult Message,” by Marcus A Smith

How to Deliver a Difficult Message
by Marcus A Smith

Delivering difficult messages is a part of life.  For simplicity’s sake difficult will be defined as anything that will create animosity within your audience.  Gut wrenching situations such as engineering a layoff, breaking up a relationship, or denying service to a customer come to mind.  These situations are uncomfortable for all parties involved.

When forced to prepare a difficult message focus on the following things:

  1. Remove Personal Feelings – This is a counter intuitive yet imperative step.  Bad news is best delivered in the absence of emotion.  Emotions always make a situation murky.  If you can not remove your emotions then pass the task to someone who can.
  2. Prepare for Backlash –  There is one certain thing about delivering bad news.  Everyone’s response is DIFFERENT.  That can not be emphasized enough.  Do not make the mistake of assuming that your listener will go on his/her merry way without causing a commotion, asking pointed questions, or otherwise making the situation uncomfortable for you.
  3. Be Very Specific – If you intend to chastise someone or deliver bad news then your ducks need to be in order.  Think about it for a second.  Have you ever received general negative feedback from a boss or relative with no specifics?  If you have then you know how frustrating of a circus this is.  You end up jockeying for position and leaving the situation annoyed and confused.
  4. Stand Firm – Last but not least.  You must stand firm in your message.  Most people’s response to negative feedback (yours truly included) is to defend themselves.  It is truly amazing what a person can remember and conceive when defense mode kicks in.  Be prepared for this and stand firm on the facts.

Hopefully, your use of this article will be scarce.  We all prefer to deliver well received, positive, happy messages.  The ebb and flow of life will often dictate otherwise.  When this occurs heed the advice in this article and come out of the situation relatively unscathed.

Marcus A Smith is a professional speaker and speaking coach.  Visit his website

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