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Six Critical Skills for Successful Sales Conversations

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Richardson Sales Performance has identified Six Critical Skills to be used in sales conversations. They are critical because you cannot be highly effective in sales without mastering all of them. These skills provide the flexibility to be client-focused. If you are weak in any one of the areas, it will reduce your overall effectiveness. Your objective in using these skills is to maintain a 50/50 client-to-salesperson dialogue.

Improving your ability to execute the 6 skills explored in this blog post with fluidly throughout the sales cycle is a proven way to improve your sales conversation with clients and prospects.

What is a Sales Conversation?

Before we jump into exploring the 6 critical skills for better sales conversations in greater detail, let's take a moment to define what a sales conversation is.

Sales conversations are an ongoing dialogue that takes place between the primary sales contact, the client and internal stakeholders from both organizations. It typically takes place over a series of in-person or mediated meetings and communications. The purpose of a sales conversation is to explore the client's needs and determine the best solution for them. During a sales conversation, the seller is responsible for building a deep understanding of the customer's needs and consistently positioning their solution in a meaningful and differentiated manner to build momentum to the close of the sale.

How to Start a Sales Conversation

The 6 critical skills are useful once you have earned the right to have a conversation with a client or prospect, but earning this right is a challenge in itself. Earning the right to have a conversation requires a solid prospecting strategy. Your prospecting strategy should be anchored in developing outreach messaging that is focused on the client. When customers get a sales call, they are looking for a reason to hang up. Too many sales professionals give them this reason by using messaging in their prospecting that is either irrelevant or a mere rehash of what the customer already knows.

To earn the right to start a sales conversation your prospecting approach should be customized to best meet your perception of the prospect's needs, use clear, concise language that is free of jargon, has a clear call to action and a positive tone.

To learn more about effective prospecting strategies download the white paper Prospecting in a Noisy World.

The 6 Critical Skills for Effective Sales Conversations

With the high-level definition and goals of a sales conversation in mind and an understanding of how to start one, we can now we can move forward with a deeper exploration of the 6 skills that will enhance your conversations with customers and prospects.

1.Presence:  Presence is the image you portray as you stand before your potential clients. Presence is the skill of projecting interest, conviction, energy, professional appearance and confidence. To be effective, you need the right combination of each of these traits to convince your prospect that you are the best partner.

2. Relating: Relating is the way that you make a meaningful connection with your contacts. There are three levels of connection that must take place to build the relationship: rapport building, acknowledgement and empathy.

  • Rapport Building: You don’t need to become best friends, but you also have little chance of a successful relationship if you rub each other the wrong way. Building rapport takes feeding off of their verbal and nonverbal cues to know how best to communicate with your prospects on an interpersonal level. Finding things in common to bond over helps, but it isn’t absolutely critical as long as comfort and trust are enabled.
  • Acknowledgement: It’s not about you — it’s about your client and their needs or wants. It’s also about their personal stake in a successful outcome of what you’re selling them to make their company better. Share with them your sincere understanding of why you’re there and of the client’s situation. You could also share what you hope to achieve, but this is in very broad terms at this point — don’t launch off into a presentation, but rather, set expectations for the discussion.
  • Empathy: You need to demonstrate that you not only understand the issue but that you realize the impact it has on their business and the importance of rectifying it. A key factor in conveying empathy is to effectively restrain and hide any critical opinions or judgements beyond stating the obvious.
3. Questioning: A key part of the sales conversation is asking insightful questions. This can be tricky and might take longer than you’d like, so be patient. You know where you want to lead your prospect, but how you get there can vary depending upon the prospect’s degree of understanding and acceptance of the issue and solution. The best outcome is for the buyer to feel as though they had an equal part in leading the way or that it was their idea all along.

Imagine getting directions to a destination. As the seller of the solution, you can see the clearest, shortest path from point A to point B. However, if you rush to get there without the consent or understanding of the buyer, you could lose them (literally). Realise that in questioning, you might be better off taking a more circuitous route that satisfies their concerns and expectations before arriving at the destination. Of course, you also need to collect any relevant information that explains how they got where they are and where they want to go, key stakeholders, timing, etc.

4. Listening: Your ability to truly hear and understand your customer's needs requires conscientious listening. Listening is one of the most critical skills to master in sales. Undeniably, you have your own agenda for the conversation, but don’t forget so does your prospect. You can’t half-listen if you’re going to really engage your audience and respond to what they’re saying or asking instead of simply preparing to barrel forward with what you want to say.

If you’re not actively listening, then several things could happen (none of which are good). You could miss an important piece of information that, while you can inquire about later, makes you look distracted and inattentive for not hearing it the first time around. You could miss an opportunity to cross or up-sell your prospect. Or, you could be seen as what you are: someone with their own agenda regardless of what is of interest to the client.

5. Positioning: Positioning is the act of being persuasive vs. only exchanging information. While it’s important to maintain focus on what the buyer wants and says during the conversation, don’t lose sight of why you’re there. You want to be actively engaged, but don’t be too passive either.

The buyer may already be sold on you and your services, which should make your job easier. But when you’re up against competitors, are facing an uncertain buyer or if the buyer has objections, you’ll need to be able to respond accordingly and persuasively. There is an art to doing this effectively without coming off as arrogant or defensive.

6. Checking: Ensuring that you and the client are having the same conversation requires almost constant checking. Remember that this is a conversation, not a presentation. As such, you must get into the habit of asking for feedback on what you have said.

This is important because it lets you know how the client is reacting and lets you adjust your presentation. It also keeps the client involved. Checking is a key aspect of Questioning, which was covered above. You want to confirm that everyone’s tracking on the same page before you find yourselves in drastically different places. Of course, you don’t want to stop after every sentence, which gets tedious and annoying very quickly. Rather, think in terms of bits and chunks of information to discuss and validate before moving on to the next point.

These Six Critical Skills will allow you to create a dialogue; understand client needs, priorities and perspective; and close profitable business.

To reiterate what was said at the beginning of this post, being weak in any of the skills will reduce your overall effectiveness. Your objective in using these skills is to maintain a 50/50 client-to-salesperson dialogue.

In this video, Richardson Sales Performance CMO, Andrea Grodnizky, explains the importance of being able to effectively execute meaningful sales conversations with your clients.

To learn more about engaging the modern buyer, download the white paper: Elevating Your Consultative Selling Approach to Compete Today

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