Recognising and understanding the skills and capabilities necessary to be be a great sales person is the first step towards improving your own sales performance. When we think of the people that we regard as great sales people, first to mind tend to be those who consistently hit and exceed target. Whilst these people clearly have lots of strengths, they will inevitably have weaknesses too which, when addressed, would enable them to really excel and reach their potential. The point is, that every sales person has things that they’re great at and things they could be better at. Take a look at the skills highlighted below and see how you measure up.
Communication – Since the entire sales process is driven and shaped by the strength of the customer/sales person relationship, communication has to be first on the list, but it’s a large umbrella which covers a number of core sales skills:
- Active Listening – Sales people who are good at listening know the difference between listening and active listening. Active listening requires much more than just giving your customer time to talk without interruption. You must absorb that information, gain clarification along the way and then use the information gathered to shape a proposition that delivers a solution that meets (and preferably) exceeds their need.
- Questioning Skills – Hand in hand with listening goes questioning. Sales people who are good at questioning are more likely to identify additional opportunities, create greater value and therefore secure bigger wins, all the while further strengthening relationships. I have seen countless sales people fall into the trap of assuming they know what the customer needs too early in the conversation. Not only does this stop them from active listening, but it closes them off from asking questions. Questions allow you to identify information that your customer would otherwise never have given you; information that provides the opportunity to sell additional products/services and/or demonstrate how your solution creates even greater value than you had first anticipated, thereby strengthening your proposition.
- Emotional Intelligence – EI is the ability to identify your own and others’ emotions, tendencies and preferences and then to use that information to adjust your own behaviours and language to improve interactions and their outcomes. Sales people with high EI are adept at looking for and recognising certain personality ‘types’ and their corresponding preferences and then flexing their own style in response. This, inevitably, results in greater rapport and increased understanding during sales conversations.
- The “gift of the gab” – OK, the language might be a little outdated and carry with it the unfortunate comparison to the slick and sleazy sales person you might once upon a time have seen schmoozing their way around a car showroom, but great sales people are often described this way. What we mean by it, of course, is the ability to communicate with others in a seemingly effortless manner. Typically regarded as a skill you either have or you don’t, everyone can improve their ability to communicate effectively and effortlessly. Whilst boosted by the skills we’ve already outlined above, it is driven primarily by confidence and although a certain amount of this is dictated by our personality (it is no coincidence that the majority of sales people are extroverts) confidence is also greatly accelerated by knowledge. Put simply; the greater your knowledge on a subject, the more confident you will be talking about it. For sales people, the greater your knowledge about your customer and their need, the more confident you will be at every step of the sales process.
Sales people who do their research, who build strong relationships with stakeholders across their customers’ businesses, who really listen to their customers, seek greater clarification and insight and who apply Emotional Intelligence to their interactions, will be the ones who can more effortlessly engage in constructive conversations that lead to more favourable outcomes.
Pitching – Sales people who are great at pitching combine fundamental presentation skills with the art of storytelling and an in-depth understanding of their audience to deliver engaging and powerful pitches that win hearts and minds.
There is no end of resource available on ways to improve your presentation skills, but key points to focus on are:
- Don’t make slides overly wordy, instead use engaging images that act as subject prompts.
- If you struggle with nerves, use breathing exercises to slow down your heart rate beforehand.
- Practice running through your presentation, preferably with some kind of audience to give you feedback. It will give you greater confidence in the content and flow of the presentation.
- Do it as often as you can – However hard you find it, look for opportunities to give presentations/speak to larger audiences. Push yourself out of your comfort zone and put yourself forward. This is the one thing that will have the biggest impact on your ability to deliver with confidence.
Getting the basics right will help you hold the attention of your audience, but if you are to really engage them and, crucially, encourage a decision in your favour, you need to help them see why their lives would be better with your solution. You should start by getting to know your audience – determining who will be in the room, what their role is in the decision making process and what is important to them with regards a solution. But, more than that, by getting to know your audience beforehand, you can apply Emotional Intelligence to tailor the style and content of your presentation to suit their preferences. This is a little more involved when you have a number of people in attendance, but enables you to cater to each person.
The final piece of the puzzle is the use of storytelling in your pitches – the ability to evoke emotion in your customers by making them part of a story which maps the stages of their buying process to the typical components of a story, culminating in the arrival at their ‘happy ending’, where they are able to envisage how much better their lives will be with your solution in place.
For more on storytelling, take a look at:
Negotiation – The key to successful negotiation is giving yourself something to negotiate with. As a sales person, your job is not just to win as many deals as you can, but to maintain as much margin as possible. Much to my continued amazement, there are still organisations out there whose sales incentive schemes reward those sales people who deliver the highest turnover, regardless of margin, thereby actually encouraging sales people to discount.
Sales people highly skilled at negotiating build value into their proposition early in the process and only give anything away when they are getting something in return. When you attach greater value to something, you will inevitably be more likely to better communicate that value to others and try and hold on to that value when it comes time to negotiate.
Consider for a moment something you own which is very valuable to you (it can be sentimental value, monetary value or a combination). Now imagine you have the task of selling that item – of course, you want to achieve the greatest price, which is representative of the value of that item to you. Imagine how well you will describe the value the item brings to the potential buyer and how hard you will work to achieve the price you believe is right. If you cannot apply this same level of conviction in the solutions you’re selling to your customers, ask yourself why not?
A note of caution – when you’re fully invested in a product/service and confident of the value it brings, it can be easy to assume others will just ‘get it’ and see it in the same way as you. You need to very clearly articulate every inch, pound and penny of value your solution delivers (value waterfalls are an extremely effective tool for doing this).
Closing – Why do some sales people seem just to be better at sealing the deal than others? Well it’s not because they’re great at closing, as such, but because they’ve done all the hard work upfront. Sales people who are great at closing play to win from the outset, putting everything they can in place to significantly reduce the chances of their customer saying no or, even worse, making no decision at all!
There are 5 main reasons why deals fail to close:
- No immediate need
- No budget
- The person you’ve been speaking to turns out not to be the main decision maker
- You have have not clearly created and/or demonstrated the value your solution brings
- Unexpected/unanticipated change to the business
The sales person who appears apparently great at closing, addresses the first four of these swiftly and efficiently. To avoid wasting time, they establish that that there is a clearly defined need and budget at the outset. They determine who the key decision makers are and get them involved in the process as early as possible, ensuring they uncover and address each decision maker’s individual needs. Then they build value into their solution, along the way seeking confirmation that every member of the decision making unit has absolute clarity over the value it will bring. Having done all of this, the customer would have no reason to not make a decision, unless, it is for reason number 5. This is a little more challenging for obvious reasons, but it’s where it pays to do your research, build strong relationships and have “your ear to the ground”. Many of these ‘unexpected’ changes do not in fact come out of the blue and can be anticipated simply by keeping abreast of what’s going on within your customer’s business and their industry.
In my next post, I’ll continue my exploration of sales strengths, including prospecting and maximising sales opportunities. You might also be interested in our infographic ‘The Anatomy of a Sales Person‘ which highlights additional strengths of successful sales people.
If you’d like to talk to us about how we can help your sales people with negotiation, pitching or any of the other skills outlined here, please give us a call on 01778 382733, or click here to fill out our contact form.