Recently one of my students told me he learned something. “James, I’ve finally learned how to sell manufacturers.” I asked him what had changed. “I speak to them with a more serious tone.” This student happens to have an outgoing personality and approaches most people with an open, joking style. “James, when I sell distributors, they love the jokes and the negotiating back and forth, but these manufacturers are more serious. They want me to slow down and explain the product and the logistics of delivery more.”
We can all learn from this student’s experience. It’s not that we must speak seriously to manufacturers and joke around with distributors. What we learn is that whatever our natural style is, if we want to sell a broader range of customers, we will have to develop other styles or approaches.
I think this is one of the most difficult things that I teach. Let’s face it, most of us have lived through childhood and adolescence working on our personalities and how we approach our fellow man. Some of us have struggled more than others to get along socially, but we have all found a way to communicate in the world.
As salespeople, we need to be more flexible than non-salespeople. Because we deal with a larger number of people than most and because we are trying to move those people to action. It’s one thing to sit around talking about the latest ball game or the weather; it’s a different thing to talk to someone about spending money. This is where professional level communication skills are needed.
Two Common Problems and Solutions
I work with salespeople nationwide to help them communicate in a way that will help them sell more. Here are a few of basic mistakes we work to correct with salespeople.
Hesitant speech. We must prepare. Many salespeople are just saying what comes out of their mouth. This is not professional. Sure, we can wing it, but somewhere in an important call there will be hesitation on an answer or a solution. When we hesitate, the customer begins to doubt what we are saying and will buy less. I’m not talking about sounding sure about something we are not sure about. I’m talking about sounding sure about things we know are true! The knock on salespeople is they are liars. They say they are sure about things they are not sure about. There may be a small percentage of salespeople that are giving the rest of us a bad name. But the majority of salespeople I work with are honest, hard-working people.
What I see more often is salespeople who are afraid of living up to the poor reputation of the few bad apples who do lie. The problem is these salespeople speak hesitantly even when they are sure of what they are talking about. “We are selling these” is better than “This might be a pretty good deal.” Preparation is the best cure for hesitant speech. We plan out our calls before we make them. We have a plan for how the call will progress. We think about, write down and practice our answers. This way we will sound more confident and our customers will want to buy from us.
Couching Statements. Anytime we use a weak qualifier in our speech we are telling people we don’t truly believe what we are saying. “This might be a good deal.” “I think this will work for you”. “We will probably deliver this on time.” If we know something to be true, then we say it is true. “This is a great deal!” If it’s a great deal say so! If we are going to do something, we say we are going to do it, we don’t say we are probably going to do it!
Change a losing game. We have to be smarter than the monkeys in the zoo. As with my student above, if we are pushing a button and no candy is coming out, we need to push a different button. Whether our approach is light or serious, it will not work with all customers. When our current approach with customers isn’t working, we change that approach!