You hear a lot about a brave new sales world these days: trends, gadgets, and gimmicks that will transform the way you do business. Block out the white noise of that for a moment. The fact remains that the most significant “trick” in sales is no gimmick at all; it’s conducting an effective conversation between the customer and the sales rep. Dialoguing with the customer is central to our profession. And it’s particularly important to take a strategic approach to the dialogue when the customer is seeking your insight prior to making a buying decision.
There may not be a brave new world… still, the sales-verse is expanding—customers are more informed than ever, and the global marketplace is at their fingertips. So it’s ever important to have meaningful and productive customer interactions. To get the most out of your one-on-one time with customers, keep in mind the following:
Modes of Communication
If not in person, the phone remains the best tool for communicating effectively in sales. If you can’t get your customer on their landline, request a mobile number. Certain customers respond better to email or a direct message via LinkedIn or other social media platform. Whatever the preferred mode of communication, accommodate the customer. (One gamechanger to note: Entire companies are moving away from voicemail.)
Know Your Motivation
Gain an understanding of what motivates your customer. What prompted them to reach out to you? What’s their business dilemma? Do they comprehend the urgency of their situation? Or is this even the conversation you want to have at this juncture? There’s a big difference between those who are ready to make a purchase and those who are just informationgathering. Travel to the epicenter of the customer’s business challenge to find out what’s motivating them to talk to you in the first place.
The Words Behind the Words
Whether we’re in a sales meeting or on the couple’s counseling couch, even good people have a bad habit of tuning out the one with the talking stick and just waiting like a dog at the back door for their turn to bark. In talking to customers, instead of actively listening, sales reps sometimes turn a deaf ear because they think they’ve heard it all before.
Actively listening means you’re part psychologist and part detective. It means you keep your ears open for content, meaning, and emotions via customers’ verbal and nonverbal cues. You’re paying attention to the words they emphasize, and noting oft-repeated words and phrases. Your antennae are picking up tone. Then you’re putting all that information under your thinking cap and deducing hidden needs—ones the customer might not even know they have. Often the nonverbals will provide you with more information than the actual words the customer uses.
Every Body Speaks
During face time, whether in person or via video chat, note your customer’s body language. We all use body language, and like it or not, it reveals things about us. Say the customer never makes eye contact. Pay attention to that. There may be a reason for it—for example, they could be momentarily distracted, or perhaps there’s something preventing them from sharing how they really feel. Where you go with the conversation should be in part based on what you’ve intuited about them via their body language. Positive gestures, including smiling, eye contact, approaching you confidently, and leaving an open space between you and them (not standing with their arms crossed, for example) are all body-language code for “I’m open to discussing your solutions.”
Keep the dialogue on track and stay in control by using your experience as a skilled questioner. An effective combination of open- and close-ended questions will give you more insight into the customer’s needs. Each customer is unique and their needs specific to them, so don’t go by a boilerplate script. Pull at the conversation threads you’ve found the
beginnings of by asking close-ended questions that lead you toward clarification and a holistic understanding.
Talk is cheap and there’s a lot of free noise out there. So be intentional when it comes to your customer dialogues. Master that and, in the sales-verse anyway, you could be the talk of the town.