Richardson has identified Six Critical Skills to be used in dialogue with buyers needed for sales excellence. 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.
1) Presence. Projecting interest, conviction, energy, professional appearance, and confidence. What image do you portray as you stand before your potential clients? Too boyish (and therefore unseasoned) to understand the complexities of business? Too old (and therefore too seasoned) to connect with the way things work today? Do you come off as smug and overconfident or too humble and possibly desperate?
To be effective, you need the right combination of each of these traits that will cause your prospect to want to work with you.
2) Relating. Connecting with the client includes three levels of relating: rapport building, acknowledgment, and empathy. One you’ve established the right presence with your audience, you then need to show that you can relate to your client and their needs and interests.
- Rapport: 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.
- Acknowledgment: 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: Further to acknowledgment, 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 judgments beyond stating the obvious.
3) Questioning. Probing to understand the prospect’s needs or wants. 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). Realize 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. Listening in an effective way vs. efficient listening is one of the most critical skills to master in sales. You have your own agenda for the conversation, but don’t forget that 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. This brings to mind one of my favorite movie quotes:
“… You can listen to Jimi [Hendrix], but you can’t hear him. There’s a difference man. Just because you’re listening to him doesn’t mean you’re hearing him.” — from the movie White Men Can’t Jump (1992).
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 upsell 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. 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, too. 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. 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.
You can also use the Six Critical Skills as shorthand to prepare for and critique your calls and give yourself and your teammates feedback.