The single greatest weakness of salespeople today is that they're product-centered, not people-oriented and, to their detriment, they are sadly unaware of this shortcoming.
Salespeople tend to spend most of their time on a call extolling the numerous virtues of the product or service they sell, and yet they never bother to ask a single question or identify any needs the prospect might have. They've talked a lot but they haven't listened at all.
People don't care how much you know until they know how much you care.
Until you show your prospects that you care about their needs, you cannot expect them to care about your goods or services. It makes sense when you understand that people buy for emotional reasons -- not because they fully understand the product or service, but because they feel you understand them.
If they don't feel that you understand them, that you appreciate their position and where they're coming from, you will not be able to sell them anything, no matter how fantastic your product or service is.
You are in the people business and it is crucial to always keep that in mind.
You are, in fact, not in the business of selling your product, whether it be commercial aircraft, imported tea, furniture or clothing. As a professional salesperson, you're in the people business and it's your people skills that will make your product knowledge pay off.
Allow your prospect to do the talking.
There's no magic, sleight of hand or manipulation to it.
Simply let them talk.
It shows them how much you care about their needs -- and that you care enough to listen. It boils down to common courtesy, kindness and a genuine regard for the other person.
If you show people that you care, they will respond positively to you.
Here are seven quick and easy reminders you can use to help you do this.
As I mentioned before, they don't require magic or manipulation, just sincerity and an honest concern for the needs of your potential client.
It's a universal sign of friendship in any culture. The Chinese have a proverb: A man who cannot smile should not open a store. Think about it.
- Be genuinely interested in others.
When you have sincere interest, it shows.
Demonstrate your interest by looking directly at the person when he or she is talking. Use your facial expressions to reinforce your interest.
Ask open-ended questions, allowing your prospect to answer them fully. If you take interest in your prospect's feelings, you'll be able to respond with sensitivity and understanding.
Your body language is a powerful tool. Utilize it by showing your prospect through your actions that you care about what they're saying. Likewise, improve your awareness to the subtle cues of the body language of others.
Watch your prospect's body language for clues.
Become a masterful observer of human behavior and pay attention to what is said, as well as what isn't said.
Talk in terms of the other person's interest. Your prospects may not have the time to talk about what you want to talk about, but they will always find the time to talk about what they want to talk about -- and most people's favorite subject is themselves!
Ask effective, open-ended questions that encourage your prospects to talk about themselves, their personal lives and problems, their business needs and particularly changes in their business climate or conditions. As they describe these issues, have empathy by viewing those situations through that person's eyes, seeing the realities they face.
The more you can listen to and learn from them, the more effective you'll be at meeting their needs.
- Use their name.
It's the sweetest sound anyone ever hears. That's why it's so painful and embarrassing when you mispronounce someone's name. If you're unsure, clarify with the prospect as to how to correctly pronounce their name. Also, never take liberties with their name unless you have specifically been given that privilege.
In this age of casual dress, fast food and informal behavior, it's almost too easy to make an ignorant faux pas like walking into a prospect's office and saying, "Hi, Jim. How's it going?"
Do not allow yourself to make such an unprofessional error as it will do nothing but reflect poorly on you. Instead, start by using someone's title, "Hello, Mr. Smith" and show the prospect the respect they deserve. Then the prospect can respond by saying exactly how he or she would like to be addressed, "Please, just call me Jim."
- Give compliments.
Everyone likes compliments. They must be genuine.
Make a concentrated effort to practice giving three honest and sincere compliments every day. You'll be amazed at what this simple act will do for your relationships with other people.
Further, you should understand the value of a compliment -- both to the receiver and the giver. It is unfortunate that so many young people today reply to a compliment like "You did a good job" with "No problem." This shrugging-off of the flattering remark negates it entirely and even worse, it may make the giver feel belittled. This person was thoughtful enough to pay a genuine, sincere compliment. Offer them the same level of respect they're offering you by responding with a heartfelt "Thank you."
It's the greatest compliment you can pay.
How many people do you know who are really good listeners?
How many people are you really able to open up your heart and soul to because you know that they will listen carefully to everything you say?
The truth of the matter is most of us don't want someone to tell us what to do. We don't want others to give us their opinion. We just want someone to listen.
Listen actively to what your prospect is saying. This means taking in the information, processing it, remembering it and using it to help meet your prospect's needs.
Give your prospect feedback when he or she is talking so you communicate that you are understanding what is being said.
Use simple phrases like, "I see," "Of course," and "Yes, I understand," to convey your comprehension.
To be sure of what your prospect is saying, you can also practice reflective listening by paraphrasing their comments and repeating them back for verification. Then you'll both be clear about what was said.
- Make the other person feel important.
Every person is important. Let your prospects know they are meaningful to you.
When people are given courtesies, they inevitably pass that goodwill onto others. It's what's known as "paying it forward." It is very powerful.
Treating others, whether in business or in your personal life, with courtesy and respect speaks volumes about your values and integrity, not just as a salesperson, but as a human being.
Common courtesy, unfortunately, seems to be disappearing from our society. In Germany, Juergen Schreier, the minister of education in the state of Saarland, is fully aware of this phenomenon. His plan to implement a "social competency" program to instruct German children how to behave properly is a seemingly radical idea that is meeting with overwhelming approval; over 80 percent of the population supports his plan nationwide. It's not a program about discipline or regulating student appearance, its focus is on basic good manners, punctuality, presentation, paying and receiving compliments and practicing common courtesy. The curriculum, which starts with children in the first grade, will be implemented starting at the first of the year 2004. As Juergen Schreier has said, "Education is more than simple factual knowledge. It's also about social competency and demonstrating courtesy and consideration."
The concept of good manners, and the evidence of a global departure from common courtesies, has alarmed the Germans enough to take action to improve the situation -- and to invest in teaching their children the proper and decent way to treat each other.
Developing your "social competency" reaches far wider than simply improving your sales or succeeding in business. When you polish your people skills, you'll find they pay off in your personal life as well. When you build people up and show them the respect they deserve they will return that courtesy to others. This approach of genuine kindness toward your fellow human beings will reach further than you can know.
- Finally, it is vital to evaluate yourself.
How effective are the solutions you've offered to solve your customer's problems or fill their needs?
Have you listened?
Have you assessed the situation accurately?
Do you have something to offer your prospect that is both practical and on target?
Bear in mind that people will buy from you not so much because they understand your product or service, but because they feel you understand them. Your product knowledge or technical skills are very important and they give you credibility. However, as a professional salesperson, it should remain paramount in your mind that before anything else, you are in the people business.
It is only through your finely honed and intelligently applied people skills that your product and technical knowledge will truly pay off.
Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.