It's no secret that salespeople must be persistent. But some salespeople seem to forget the imaginary line separating persistence from pressure.
The customer is the one who determines the amount of pressure that crosses the line. Therefore, it's wise to remember to pay attention the following customer cues indicating you may be pushing too hard:
• You hear verbal cues like, "hold on" or "not so fast."
• There is a sudden change in their physical demeanor; they pull away from you; or they suddenly look less relaxed.
• Their voice becomes flatter and less engaged in the conversation.
If you're asking too many closed questions (a common cause of feeling pressured), the customer may go from using friendly responses to one-word answers.
Don't give up on your objective-but remember to avoid the line between persistence and pressure.
As most of us are probably aware, Albert Einstein once taught us that time is relative...even if we don't know exactly what that means. However, keeping his now infamous teachings in mind can help you deliver more effective presentations. Most important, remember that pauses feel longer to you than to your audience.
Many presenters speak too quickly, because they are afraid that long pauses will make them appear unconfident or halting. However, pauses almost inevitably seem longer to you than to your audience.
When you finish a key point, hold the pause for one "beat" longer than you think you should. This step will give you time to start your next thought without a non-word, find a set of eyes to look at, and slow down.
"I don't want any yes-men around me. I want everybody to tell me the truth even if it costs them their jobs." This unintentionally funny remark is attributed to the legendary film producer Samuel Goldwyn. I can't find any proof he actually said it, but that's less important than how elegantly it summarizes a certain managerial attitude that most of us have encountered in the course of our professional lives. It's enough to make you pessimistic about leadership training.
I am somewhat pessimistic myself after reading an article this week at the Training Industry website. “How Much Feedback Do Managers Want and Need?” by Joe Folkman and Jack Zenger cites research based on 20,000 global leaders over the past 20 years. Their conclusion? “It’s not just that people get less feedback as they grow older; they get less as they grow more powerful within the firm.” This should give ause to those of us in leadership training circles.
Communispond offers excellent leadership training. We can teach you the behaviors that demonstrate leadership to an audience of one or one thousand. We can teach you how to listen to your subordinates when they provide you with information and how to probe for more. But often, if we try to teach leaders the humility required to get genuine, sincere, constructive feedback from the people who work for them, we run up against personality issues that cannot be resolved in a leadership training program.
If they want to be great leaders, or even just effective ones, leaders need to have a natural willingness to 1) put their egos aside, 2) ask for input, 3) listen to it when it’s offered, and 4) act on it. We can tell people how to do those steps, and we can tell them the consequences of not doing them. But actually doing them requires character, which I am not certain can be taught, no matter how good your leadership training program. Note that all four steps are required. Unless you do each of them, and also create an environment in which people feel safe offering feedback, you won’t get the full benefit of the feedback process, and you may even isolate yourself further.
On the other hand, for a leader, the rewards for getting honest feedback are enormous. Honest feedback helps you improve your own performance (and yes, your performance can stand improvement, no matter how high you have risen in the organization). And when people discover they can offer feedback without risk, you create an environment of trust that aligns the entire organization with your goals. Without feedback, on the other hand, a leader lives in a bubble, protected from both bad news and self-doubt. In my opinion, the loss of self-doubt is one of the most crippling wounds a leader can endure.
We all claim, like Samuel Goldwyn, to dislike being surrounded by yes-people. But yes-people are always the ones in the organization who advance most quickly and enjoy the longest job tenure. The leadership bubble is a real phenomenon, and it’s almost inevitable without a great deal of personal struggle. If you’re in a leadership position, particularly if you’ve had leadership training from Communispond, you are capable of behaving like a leader. But are you capable of the humility and self-doubt that can make you a great one?
When you have a satisfied customer, it's a great idea to ask for referrals. Although many of us already know that, it can often be difficult to remember the most important detail: be specific. Be specific with customers, and I assure you that you'll soon reap the benefits.
Rather than ask "who else do you know who might be interested in this?" which could be anyone from their boss to their brother in law, ask "Do you know of anyone else in your company who might be interested?", or "Do you know of anyone at another software company who has the same problem we could help with?"
Sometimes leaving a question too open doesn't jog the same focus as asking a specific question.
Have you ever been on a Web meeting that seemed endless, and you lost interest after a while? Why would you want to inflict similar torture on your audiences?
Here are some tips for making your presentations more interactive:
• If you can help it, don't make participants hold their questions until the end.
• Use polling, annotation, and other tools to keep people engaged.
• If you're doing a demonstration, stop every few slides or screens and check for understanding or let someone comment.
Taking time to build interactivity into your presentation will help your
audience stay connected.
In all Communispond's communication training products, from Executive Presentation Skills® to Persuasive Dialogue™ to everything in between, we teach learners that there are two sides to all communication. Even when you're holding forth from a stage to a roomful of people, you are still only one side of the communication process. If the audience isn't receptive, then your message isn't received, and communication doesn't take place. And since all audiences are put off by both undue forcefulness and unwarranted timidity, one of your most important speaking skills is finding the area between aggression and diffidence, which is known as assertiveness.
Unfortunately, recent news indicates that area is not as easy to find as we might hope. A paper published in May, “Pushing in the Dark: Causes and Consequences of Limited Self-Awareness for Interpersonal Assertiveness,” in the journal Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin reports on experiments conducted on negotiation by researchers from Columbia University. (The link connects to the Columbia University summary of the paper; the full paper is behind the Sage Journals paywall here.)
Our understanding of speaking skills comes from all sorts of places, and here it came out of a negotiation course. The researchers, Daniel R. Ames and Abbie S. Wazlawek, conducted three elegantly simple experiments among MBA students enrolled in the course. The students were organized into negotiating pairs and asked to conduct mock negotiations over issues like licensing rights. After the negotiations, they answered questions about their assertiveness and their counterpart’s assertiveness. But they were also asked to guess what their counterpart said about them.
- 57% of those who were deemed under-assertive by their counterparts thought themselves either suitably assertive or over-assertive.
- 56% of those who were deemed over-assertive by their counterparts thought themselves either suitably assertive or under-assertive.
In other words, when people are trying to be suitably assertive (as you need to be when exercising your speaking skills for a negotiation, a presentation, or just clear communication) have about a 50-50 chance of finding the right level.
There was also another surprising pattern in the study results. Many people who got assertiveness right mistakenly thought their counterparts believed they were pushing too hard. The researchers called this the “line crossing illusion.” These people believed that they had crossed the line into aggression, when they were really just suitably assertive. Ames and Wazlawek pointed out that the line crossing illusion can be expensive. When people think they have been aggressive in a negotiation, they are more likely to try to repair the damage to the relationship establishing during negotiations, and this often means accepting a less valuable deal to smooth things over. Such people, in other words, try to fix something that isn’t broken, which can mean both sides might lose out on what might have been a better deal. At Communispond, we have always felt that deficiencies in speaking skills are costly.
Any kind of communication, whether it is a negotiation, a presentation, or just a conversation to conduct business, requires assertiveness. But if it’s as difficult to find the appropriate level of assertiveness as Ames and Wazlawek have shown, then we have to add a new capability to the standard portfolio of speaking skills. i.e., determining suitable assertiveness. In the meantime, it may be a good idea to test your level of assertiveness with an honest, friendly audience before risking the real communication event.
Every sale, even the most highly technical, has an emotional component. Tap into that component to give your customer a compelling reason to buy.
When describing your product or service, don't merely rely on specs and a list of features and benefits. Have examples of how existing customers use the product, as well as the results of its use. And always remember that the more tangible the results the better.
If it's a new product, tell a story about what it might do for the customer. For example, tell the customer, "Imagine if you could..."
The closer the stories tie to the customer's world- and the more dramatic the results-the more they'll be open to all those fabulous specifics and features you're so fond of sharing.
Maybe it's just us here at Communispond, but did your mother ever tell you, "It's not what you say, but how you say it." Well, if she did, call her and tell her she was absolutely right!
Many of us plan our messages to be conciliatory, neutral, and/or not threatening. However, our audience sometimes reacts emotionally. What gives? Usually, it's not what we say (our message), but how we say it (our tone of voice and word choice).
Some of the simple words you can use to defuse an emotional situation include the following:
"Topic" instead of "issue"
"We" instead of "you" or "I"
"Concern" rather than "problem"
So, if you're anything like us, you've been reminded that your mother was indeed right ...yet again. Now, what did she used to say about washing your hands?
I may have mentioned here before that as a youth I was a fan of the original Star Trek television show. I always loved the moment, which occurred in nearly every episode, in which the Enterprise approached another ship. Captain Kirk would say, "Open hailing frequencies," and Lieutenant Uhura would flip some switches and say, "hailing frequencies open." In later years, I came to think of that moment as a sort of metaphor for communication skills. If you truly want to communicate, don't confine yourself to just one frequency, open them all.
Anyone who studies communication skills understands the importance of opening all frequencies (i.e., channels) of communication in order to get a message across. There are a lot of variables (including germaneness, realism, simplicity, and size), but it is well known that adding graphics to a text message increases both learning and retention in adults. If you have any doubts, just look at advertising. For most of us, it’s second nature to create a PowerPoint file when we have to do a presentation. PowerPoint slides give the audience something to look at. As long as our visuals are relevant and well designed, they increase the richness of our message.
Use your communication skills to approach your audience (whether of one or a thousand) through both their hearing and their vision. Visuals can illustrate, support, and amplify your remarks. Making a point graphically, with a chart or a picture, can be more effective than simply stating it. And doing both at the same time can dramatically increase the point’s impact for anyone, regardless of their favored communication channel. In most live communication, our other senses (touch, smell, taste) don’t usually come into play. But sometimes you can recruit even those senses to an extent with visuals or descriptive language that stimulate those senses.
But there’s another reason that effective communication skills involve using all communication channels. If an audience absorbs and processes information through multiple channels, that means they are attending to those channels whether or not you intend to use them. Audiences take in a lot of information about you just from looking at you. A generation ago, Albert Mehrabian, a UCLA professor, researched communications extensively to determine the impact of different kinds of information on audiences. In studies of inconsistent communication (in which the speaker's words don't match his or her body language), he estimated that the receiver takes 38% of meaning from how the speaker sounds, 55% from how the speaker looks, and only 7% from what the speaker says.
The fact is, your audience probably attaches more importance to their interpretation of your posture, your mannerisms, and your facial expressions than they do to anything you tell them. From watching you, they gather information they use to make judgments about your sincerity, your credibility, and your intelligence. They can't help it. Human beings are virtually hard-wired to make these judgments. Helping them make those judgments accurately is what communication skills are all about.
There's an old fable about a greedy dog that sometimes applies to sales professionals.
One day, a dog found a terrifically yummy bone and was carrying it back home to enjoy it at her leisure. While crossing a bridge, she looked in the water to see a reflection of another dog with what looked like a much juicier bone. Suddenly, she snapped at that bone and dropped the one she was carrying into the river, never to have it back.
When on a sales call, it's easy to be distracted by new information or other sales opportunities. Have the discipline to note them, so you can follow up-but don't lose sight of the deal you went there to make or you may miss out on each one.