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Beginnings and Endings


The writer and businessman David Weinbaum said, "The secret to a rich life is to have more beginnings than endings." The same is true of sales.

When we close a deal, we often think of it as the end of the sales cycle, but the secret to growing accounts and long-term relationships is to be able to assist that customer again and again.

Don't look on the close as the end of anything, but the beginning of the next sales cycle with that customer.

"Anchors Away!"


The next time you watch a presenter, notice if he or she grabs onto or leans on a lectern. Often, if there's furniture close by, it becomes the speaker's "anchor"; he or she feels more comfortable touching some stationary object. However, for the audience, it's a distraction. To us, the speaker looks more nervous and unsure of himself, and we focus on the grabbing and leaning, not on the message.

Lecterns are for notes or your laptop. Get rid of the lectern "anchor" by taking a half-step back, and resting your hands lightly on the edge of the lectern when you speak. Your hands are now free to gesture when appropriate. And there's nothing that says you can't walk out from behind the lectern, which will allow you to be more accessible to your audience.

"Anchors Away" will make sure you don't get stuck at the shore and you sail through your next presentation.

The Nine Principles of Persuasion


Persuasive SpeakingJust over 10 years ago, Communispond published a book authored by some of our senior faculty called The Full Force of Your Ideas. It was a guide to persuasion for business professionals. Persuasion has changed a little in the past ten years, but a chapter in the book on "The Principles of Persuasion" is timeless, and I find it useful to bring these principles out to look at them from time to time. I hope you do, too.

1. Every point of view is reasonable to the person who holds it. You cannot change the point of view of another person unless you respect the point of view they already hold. Paradoxically, you can only change the other person’s point of view by abandoning your own, at least long enough to stand in the other person’s shoes.

2. Persuasion does not result from argument or debate. Persuasion is a not a win-lose proposition. Persuasion is, in essence, a cooperative transaction. It results not in a winner and a loser, but in two winners. You can argue for entertainment. But if you want to get someone to adopt a point of view, change an attitude, or enthusiastically embrace a behavior, avoid argument and persuade. 

3. A persuasion event begins long before you utter a single word. Whether you're trying to make a sale, reorganize a division, or install a new procedure, you can't get buy-in without a putting on a decent performance. Everybody expects a good show and won't be persuaded without one. A good show requires a great deal of prep work, including organizing, planning, audience analysis, and rehearsals.

4. Persuasion takes place in the mind and feelings of the persuaded, not the persuader. This may seem self-evident. People do not change their minds until they are ready to. There is no magical technique that will enable you to persuade. Your job as a persuader is to facilitate the other person’s change of mind. 

5. The more communication channels a persuader uses to convey the message, the greater the chance persuasion will take place. Every individual has a favored channel for receiving information, whether it’s visual, aural, spatial, or some combination. The more channels you use – graphics, text, dramatization, numbers – the more chance you have of entering a person’s mind through the favored channel.

6. Persuasion requires a persuader; visuals can never do more than support a persuasion event. Have you ever reviewed a speaker’s PowerPoint file after the presentation? It’s surprising how unpersuasive the file is without the speaker, isn’t it? PowerPoint can help you make a presentation, but it will never make your point for you.

7. Successful persuasion depends on the audience's trust in the persuader. This is another self-evident one. No one is going to adopt your point of view if they distrust you. First, win the audience’s trust, then make your point.

8. A persuasive message must be memorable, active, or meaningful. People will never be persuaded by your message if it doesn’t get their attention, if it doesn’t stick in their minds, and if it doesn’t relate somehow to their own situation.

9. Persuasion never occurs when the persuasion message is unclear. This is another self-evident one, but it’s surprising how many would-be persuaders lose the possibility of success to jargon, wordiness, vagueness, ambiguity, weak language, complex words, or nested if-thens. 

In addition to the principles, we offer this bit of practical advice: successful persuasion requires as much listening as talking. Maybe more.

Selling in Tough Times


"Forget about the business outlook, be on the outlook for business." - Paul J. Meyer

Let's face it-what happens in the economy in general impacts your customers, and thus you. It can be harder to sell, but it doesn't mean it's impossible. What changes most in tough economic times are the reasons customers will buy. Some of the motivators that emerge in these times are:

  • Longevity of the product and long-term maintenance

  • Financing

  • Return on investment

  • Consequences of not purchasing now

More than ever, when times are tough we have to determine our customers' personal and business motivators, including fear of the future.

Don't Talk to the Computer...


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One habit many presenters get into is looking at the computer while they are speaking in order to smoothly change the slides. This can be a problem, because your voice trails after your eyes, and if your eyes move from the audience to something inanimate and close to you, your volume will drop and important points might not be made. Additionally, you give the appearance (to someone who doesn't know better) of lacking confidence.

One way to make sure you finish your thoughts before changing slides is to try to finish your main thought to someone at the back of the room. That way, you are conscious of where you're looking, and your voice stays strong through the end of your point.

The computer has no authority to approve your project or to buy from you-so don't talk to it.

Five Ways to Get the Most Out of Performance Reviews


describe the imageChances are, you conduct the annual performance review ritual because HR says you must. But a performance review can be a powerful communication experience, and it is likely to strongly influence the behavior of your employees, whether you like it or not. I have five tips to help ensure that influence goes in the direction you want.

Start with praise. A wonderful thing happens when you begin an employee’s review with remarks about what he or she has done well. The employee listens to whatever else you have to say. The order – praise first, then criticism – is important. Employees who hear criticism first are likely to become either fearful or resentful, either of which can interfere with their comprehending anything else you say. This can prevent conversation about remedies and solutions, but it also misses an opportunity to shape behavior. You’re going to influence their behavior more with your praise than with your criticism – that’s just the way people are. So you want to make sure they hear the praise, and if you preface it with criticism, they won’t.

Don’t bother with “attitude.” For as long as there have been bosses and workers, bosses have been criticizing employee attitudes. This is really bizarre, because you need to be a mind reader to understand another person’s attitude. As a manager, the only thing you have to work with is behavior. It’s not only presumptuous and demeaning to seek the origins of the behavior, it’s a waste of time. You can influence that behavior through positive (and, to a lesser extent, negative) reinforcement, so why analyze it? If your organization’s performance review form has a question that deals with attitude, go ahead and explain to the employee that you assume his or her attitude is good, but you would rather discuss behavior. Mark all of your employees as having good attitudes.

Be specific with both praise and criticism. General remarks about behavior offer little guidance for the future. Provide performance details both when you praise and when you criticize. Furthermore, if you commit to always taking the extra step of relating those details to the organization’s goals, it will give your remarks particular weight. It will also serve as a useful discipline for you to ensure you are shaping the behavior the organization needs and not just trying to mold people to your personal likes and dislikes.

Invite response. Ask for the employee’s reaction to every point. Use active listening techniques to draw the employee out. Probe. This isn’t about “things at home bothering you.” It’s about relations with other employees and departments, structural problems that interfere with the work, or even your shortcomings as a manager. Bear in mind that you’re not infallible, and you may learn something that might make you reconsider a judgment or would be useful to you in managing your organization. Put any defensiveness aside, and stay open to what the employee says.

Incorporate the employee’s own goals into the review. If you want to go beyond being a manager and be a leader, the best thing you can do is show the employee how his or her long-term interests align with those of the organization. Don’t just rely on the employee’s desire to keep the job. Help him or her grow and realize personal fulfillment in it, and you will be amazed at the depth of loyalty and motivation you can tap into.

A great performance review – one that’s effective for both the employee and the organization – doesn’t just happen. It’s a dialogue, and it calls for communication skills. Fortunately, there’s training available for that.

Split-Second Selling


If you want to know what people are thinking, seconds count. In fact, fractions of seconds-scientists have proven that even people who can effectively mask their emotions often use give-away cues like flinching, blinking or smiling. The problem is they only last for as little as 1/20th of a second.

The good news is that in studies people are really good at picking up these non-verbal cues-if they know to watch for them. Here are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  • These signals are universal--a flinch is a flinch is a flinch, seemingly anywhere in the world.

  • The more familiar you are with your customers, the easier it is to read these signals.

  • You have to be watching for them, which means making eye contact when you deliver a piece of information or ask a question.

  • The more different ways you ask a question, the more consistent the response is.

Saying Goodbye to an Audience


Bye Trimmed

One common mistake presenters make is to plan their whole presentation except for the very last thing the audience sees. They make a great presentation, full of excellent points, and then close by shuffling their papers, looking down or acting like they have nothing to say.

Plan the last words the audience hears. Take the time to deliver them with as much conviction and passion as you have the rest of your presentation. Look them in the eye as you say, "Thank you for listening." After all, the last thing they see and hear is the impression they'll leave with.

Talking vs. Listening in the Selling Process


SalesThere are two ways of talking in a sales meeting. You can talk with the customer, or you can talk at him. Can you make a sale by talking at somebody? I suppose in this multifarious and unpredictable world of ours, it's a possibility. But think for a moment about how well-informed today's business buyer is about your and your competitors' products. When buying stuff is part of your job, failing to take advantage of information sources is dereliction of duty. And there is enough information at a customer's fingertips today to make her exceedingly well informed. Much of your product knowledge is wasted on a customer who knows all about your product, including complaints about it that dissatisfied customers have posted on the web. So you might as well wait to dispense this knowledge until the customer asks for it.

The salesperson is no longer the source of all information in the sales process. Now, add in the fact that everybody is under more time pressure than ever before, and you can see the forces that are at work during a sales meeting. Well informed customers plus increased time pressure equals reduced patience with salespeople who talk at customers. 

In the 30-odd years we have been doing sales training, we have learned that the supreme selling skill is listening. Done right, listening is hard work. Most people – whether they’re at work, at home, or anywhere else – don’t listen. As a result, most of us never have the experience of being listened to. When a good sales person gives a customer the experience of being listened to, the customer generally perceives this as both unusual and gratifying. The results are invariably dramatic: customer relationships deepen, sales cycles shorten, new sales opportunities emerge. Much of our sales training is teaching people the skills of listening and the skills of knowing what to listen for.

You can use the skills of listening to succeed in sales, but this is sales training you can apply to other professional and personal relationships. Listening, really listening, connects you to the people you interact with. Listening doesn’t just make you a better salesperson. It makes you a better human being. It makes people want to be with you.

And, in the end, there’s a fundamental principle at work here: when you're talking, you're not listening. When you're not listening, you're not gathering information, which means you're getting no closer to linking your product or service to the customer's need. And when you're not listening, you're not building the relationship. 

I suggest that at least (at least!) half your time in a sales meeting should be devoted to listening. The time for talking is when you present your proposal, which you should not do until you've gathered enough information. Until then, your talk should consist exclusively of questions designed to encourage the customer to talk.

The exception is when the customer asks you a question. When the customer asks a question, you should answer it as briefly as you can, then follow up with another question: “I'm curious. Why do you ask?” And that question restarts the listening process.

Inheriting Accounts


According to studies, when salespeople inherit accounts from another rep, the revenue on those accounts drops 60 percent of the time. This can be depressing, until you realize that 40 percent of the time it actually increases. What accounts for the difference? How can you ensure that you're inheriting solid customers and not someone else's problems?

  • If the former rep is still around, ask lots of questions about the account before you introduce yourself to the customer. Order history is only part of the story.

  • Don't take what you find out from the former rep as the whole truth. Confirm facts by probing your customer and gentlyenquiring as to how they viewed the relationship-they might not be as enamored with your predecessor as they thought.

  • Don't presume a relationship exists with the customer just because they've done business with your company. Treat themwith all the respect and care you'd treat someone you cultivated yourself from a cold lead.

  • Confirm information you've gathered by asking lots of questions about their business. Show you will earn their business all over again.

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