Salespeople often represent a company with potential clients, and as such, should have a good grasp of what makes relationships tick. Too often, however, I notice they are not as adept as they could be. In part, I think this has to do with the pressures they’re under. However, in my opinion, the main reason is the training they receive. Many methodologies are focussed around quick wins and pushing toward a close, and they often ignore the niceties that form the grease which enable the wheels of human relationships to turn.
These are simple (even obvious) skills, but they must be practiced and incorporated into your habits until they are absolutely natural. I think cold calling is the best form of practice, since you’ll be calling many people in sequence and have much flexibility in how you approach each one. You’ll quickly be able to see what works and what doesn’t, and can adapt accordingly.
This is a basic skill which we should all be doing more of. Listening is absolutely obvious, yes, but most salespeople seem not to get it. Instead, they think listening means thinking of the next thing to say. They don’t pay attention to the prospect, nor do they consider their words.
Listening, or “active listening,” is a core skill you need to practice until you do it right. One part of it is truly giving the other person your full attention. Don’t stare off into space or think about what you’ll have for lunch. Only consider what they’re saying.
Make positive noises like “mm-hmm” and “uh-huh,” but to so at a volume that’s just audible and doesn’t interrupt their conversation. You’ll find conversations grow natural pauses for those sounds or for statements like “I understand” and “okay.” Don’t use those pauses to interrupt, but rather allow the prospect to continue.
When they’re done, take a moment to consider what they’ve said. Silence is fully acceptable during this time, but make sure it’s not uncomfortably long. If you need more time, just tell them you’re thinking about what they just said. This is a compliment to them, and they’ll feel it too – you like it when people give your words due consideration, and it’s only polite to do the same.
I couldn’t think of a better term than flattery to describe what I mean in this case. It’s not direct flattery, though honest compliments are, of course, utterly acceptable and should be used (though not overused). With flattery I mean the ability to make somebody else look good without being in the spotlight in any way.
This is a skill that requires great delicacy, and should be practiced. If you’re in a conference call or a meeting, you can attempt to do so with your colleagues or prospects. The best way I know of doing this is to ask them questions whose answer will make them shine. This is always context-based, of course.
Imagine you are your prospect’s wingman (or woman, of course) in a bar. This is precisely the kind of mentality I mean: make them look like a superstar while being merely incidental to the scene. It involves being able to ask those kinds of questions and spark that kind of conversation while at the same time fading into the background.
I’m always surprised about how impolite salespeople can be. Perhaps it’s my own sensibility, but I’ve noticed being polite tends to make every conversation easier and more natural. I would encourage you to consider the phrases you use often, and make sure they are as polite as they can be. Be polite to everybody you speak with; this counts for gatekeepers as well as your prospects. Politeness should not be mistaken for saccharine obsequiousness, so make sure you’re not overdoing it.
A few areas where I noticed a general and very marked lack of politeness with salespeople are:
- Introducing yourself: your introduction should be clear and unhurried. You shouldn’t munge words together, but make sure they know who you are and why you’re calling them.
- Listening: I’ve already covered this, but I thought I’d mention it again. Do not interrupt. Let them finish, and then speak again. Don’t allow yourself to be distracted, and don’t make distracting noises like eating during a conversation.
- Thanking: “Thank you”s seem to be sparse these days. Make sure to thank people for their time and their help, and make sure they hear the thank you. If you like, you can write them an email afterward. I also find it polite to start any email after a conversation by thanking them for it before making any other points.
Another form of politeness is making your prospect feel they are well looked-after. This means you have to demonstrate that you care about their interests, not only about closing the deal. Make a point of being polite and caring, and you will stand out of the crowd.
The highest performing salespeople are those who focus on relationships. They build and maintain them, and they treasure the trust the prospects and clients place in them. I would invite you to guard this trust as well, and to protect your reputation with all your strength.
Politeness, listening, and this specific form of flattery are good ways to build up trust with people, and they are skills which seem to be fading from the consciousness of salespeople. I encourage you to consider them, practice them, and fill your pipeline with people who you’ve established lasting relationships with.
I hope this has been useful to you, and, as ever, I wish you all the best!
Do you agree with what I wrote here? Disagree? Did I miss something? Could I have done something better? Please let me know in the comments!