There’s a great strategy in communication that, I promise, will revolutionise the way you gain an understanding and rapport with a prospect. It’s something that I have to practice time and time again, as it doesn’t always come naturally in conversttion; but when it does, it works well and gives you that clarity that so many conversations lack.
The process is called Listen, Pause, Clarify, Validate, and it will simply skyrocket your communication quality and get you closer to your goals than anything else you can try in the sales process.
It flows like this; you really listen to the point the other person is making. Then, you ensure a slight pause to assimilate the meaning of what the person has said. Clarification questions ensure you are on the right lines. Finally, validation strokes the ego and allows you to format your next part of the conversation by earning the right to do so.
Listen: Respectful listening earns respect. Try to listen with the whole body, not just the ears. Make sure you don’t think ahead to answer the person, as you might miss a vital point…you can’t listen to the other person while you’re listening to yourself talking!
Pause: This ensures the person has finished their thought and it also stops you from risking interrupting the other, which can be rude and condescending.
Clarify: Having heard their view, there may be some points that are not 100% clear. Were they being too vague, too generalistic? Did what they say have a double meaning or were some of their words unclear? Could the meaning they gave be misconstrued?
This is the chance for you to determine the real meaning, their meaning. You could ask something like: “When you say you need to get this sorted ‘soon’, what sort of time are you talking about?”
Or “As you say, morale is important is any business. What have you seen in your team that makes you feel morale is so low?”
You’re clarifying the meaning so both you and they are singing from the same song sheet.
Finally, Validation: By validating someone’s position or opinion, you’re telling them they have a right to feel that way. In fact, if you were in the same situation, you’d feel that way too. It may suffice by saying something like, “Yes, many companies tell me the same kind of thing, and I can see it’s a concern of yours”.
You’re showing the other person you are in harmony with them, yours is a listening ear, and you’d like to work with them in going forward and solving it.
So, try the four stages in your next prospect call. Listen fully to a point they make, allow a slight pause by not interrupting or butting in (it gives you a chance to consider what’s been said), clarify any points that aren’t that clear to you so there’s no misunderstanding, then show them you understand (not necessarily agree) with their point by validating how they must feel.
You may find it builds good rapport and helps you to achieve a deeper understanding of their current position and future needs.
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Communication, communication and more communication. No pun intended here, but for some sales managers, communication is just talk.
Effective and proactive communication is as integral to your sales team as professional training, solid sales support and even good sales people. In fact, communication is the glue that holds all of the pieces of the team’s puzzle together.
Here are three powerful tips to use to help you communicate more effectively and proactively with your sales crew.
#1 – Input
Like anything, you can only get out of it what you put into it. The same goes for your sales crew. You have to set up a system for sales people to give you their input. They must be able to feel confident that they can voice their honest opinions to you without fear of reprisal.
Do not assume that since you have a proverbial “open-door” policy , that sales people know that they can share their feelings with you. You may not be as much a part of the “inner circle” as you think you are.
Set up a system so that you know for sure that sales people can freely share their fears, grievances, wishes, hopes and dreams.
#2 – Listen
If you are fortunate enough to have those conversations where sales people can sit down and tell you the “truth” then you also have to listen, and I mean actively listen.
Be careful not to formulate an opinion or solution in your mind before you have completely heard the sales person point of view. Also, maintain deep and steady eye contact and show genuine concern and empathy.
I know that often some of the “major news flashes” that come from a sales team member, to you may be something as old as the hills that you have heard of a thousand times and been aware of for years. So, how do you listen intently and show interest, empathy and even excitement for something that is clearly old news?
Active Listening Tip
Try this, as the person is talking, take an idea or topic they have just spoken, and interject. Stop the speaker and ask if you understand exactly what he or she is saying. To do this, rephrase the statement in different words and recite it back to the sales person. This will force you to listen carefully and to reformulate the topic you must understand it. Simultaneously, it demonstrates to the speaker that you are indeed in tune and following closely.
This is an old sales technique that you should use in any conversation. Just rephrase the question or topic. Whatever you do—-listen actively.
#3 – ACT
As I mentioned, some communication is just talk. You must follow up what you say and act on anything and everything you say—immediately. To ask for input, listen to the sales team and do nothing about what they told you, is worst than if you never heard them in the first place.
Such inaction will cause team members to shut down and not trust you and create a non-productive, negative atmosphere. Sales people will feel as if you are actually working against them, hampering their efforts to make money. In sales management, action delayed equals income denied.
If you do not intend to do anything about a situation, then let them know. If you DO intend to take some action—THEN DO IT!
Talk WITH your sales team, not AT them
Communication is indeed a two way street, and talk just by itself, really is cheap.
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The old adage, “It is not what you say, but how you say it,” is true and valid. In today’s business environment, the wrong words or tone of those words can cause misunderstanding and resentment. As today’s buyers are more educated and sophisticated, sales management must realize that today’s sales people have evolved as well.
You Said One Thing, They Heard Something Else
When communicating with sales people it is very easy to belittle or disrespect them inadvertently. Your goal was to inspire and motivate; however, the conversation seems to have had the opposite effect and proved counterproductive. When this happens, it is often because although your words may have been uplifting, the message the sales person received was not.
Below are three effective techniques to help you communicate more effectively and positively with today’s modern sales professional.
#1 – Act As if You Have Never Heard “IT” Before
A member of your sales team comes to you with a question or problem that you have not only heard a thousand times, but have also answered repeatedly. In addition, the answer to this problem is on page six of your training manual!
Your first thought is, “What is wrong with this person?” However, you maintain your professionalism and quickly blurt out the answer, which is the mistake. In such a situation, you need to exercise a little more patience and give the question legitimacy and importance.
Should you quickly blurt out the answer, you minimize the importance of the question, which could be one of the reasons why sales people cannot seem to remember it. Likewise, should you abruptly command the sales person go read the training manual, you also belittle the sales person. Instead, lend value to the question and simultaneously uplift the sales person.
“You know Steve that is an important question. In fact, if you are not solid on how to handle that issue, it is sure to cause you problems in the field. Let’s do this to make sure we get you over this problem: We have dedicated a few pages to this issue in the training manual. Go over that material—study it. Then come back to me and we will make sure you are really clear on it, ok?”
#2 – Can You Help Me?
You can give commands and issue threats all day long. However, you will find that people are much more inclined to help you than run errands for you. You may have tedious tasks for someone or you may need to improve processes in a particular area of the sales process. In either case, instead of commanding or demanding improvement, ask for help.
“Listen Claire, your team has to get sales up this quarter. You have three new people assigned to you, and they have not been pulling their weight. You have to get them on target right now or I have to let them go.”
“Claire, I wonder if you can help me? We have a real problem. We must raise production this quarter, it is critical. Would you spend some more time with those three new people? We need to get them up to quota, quickly. Work with them, and let me know what you think. I need to decide what to do with them and I need your help.”
#3 – Make it a Sales Training Session Rather than Pointing the Finger
You find you have a sales person who is making a critical error in the field. It is costing them and consequently you a ton of money and lost sales. You must correct the problem, yet try to keep things positive. How can you correct a negative without bringing up the negative issue?
Instead of singling out that sales person and teaching or correcting in a one-on-one fashion, or pointing to the sales person as the one who is doing wrong in front of the group; make the issue a sales training topic.
First, it is likely that others are making this same mistake. Secondly, for those not having a problem with the issue, it still cannot hurt for them to hear it again. Bring the topic up as a positive and train everyone on the issue. If possible, have sales people demonstrate the issue during the sales training, including the sales person in question.
With this approach, you correct the problem without communicating a negative message. Also, the sales person in question does not feel embarrassed. Instead, he or she feels grateful for your incredibly on-time training sessions!
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Many salespeople tell me that the greatest skill they can develop is that of excellent communications. And I would agree. Unless you are excelling at this most vital of skills, you risk missing many opportunities that exist out there.
However, most salespeople we train overestimate the quality of their communication skills, some by a vast amount. If I were to ask you how you would rate your listening and questioning skills out of ten, how many of you would say ‘minus two’?!
We think we are good at communicating because we get the sale and we have a bunch of customers who keep coming back to us. But what about the next step in communicating? Here’s my take on things: Salespeople with good listening skills will hear the issues their prospect has. Salespeople with good questioning skills will identify the problems causing those issues. Salespeople with both listening and questioning skills will be able to reiterate those problems and issues.
All good and fine so far. But let’s go further. Some of the best salespeople I’ve met have the ability to recognise the one compelling thing for which their prospect will invest money. You must be able to perceive the one thing that might not even be on the list, and this involves deeper listening and reading between the lines of what might be greater opportunities for the prospect than they had originally thought. It’s deeper than just being a salesperson, deeper even than being a consultant.
It’s partnering with the business in a way that creates opportunities for both parties, rather than just solving current problems. That prospect will spend money with your company to no longer feel overwhelmed with their whole list of issues because you will help them achieve things they couldn’t do with anyone else.
Can you imagine being in the prospect’s shoes when they see rewards they hadn’t seen before, see challenges lifted that they couldn’t see past? Can you identify those areas of concern that has been restricting their business opportunities? If you can, you show yourself as the kind of company and salesperson they cannot do their business without.
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