To shine in sales, polish your people skills

I feel that the greatest weakness of today's salespeople is that they are product-centered, not people-oriented.

The sad part is that most are unaware of this shortcoming. They spend the majority of their time on sales calls telling their prospects every physical detail about their product or service. But in reality it is your people skills that will make your product or technical knowledge pay off.

People buy not because they understand your product or service, but because they feel that you understand them. People buy emotionally. As a professional salesperson you need to be more people-oriented, not product-centered.

If you sell insurance, don't think of yourself as being in the business of selling insurance. You are in the people business. If you sell computers, you are not in the business of selling computers. You are in the people business.

It doesn't matter what your product or service is, it is ultimately your people skills that make your product or technical knowledge pay off.

Here are seven quick and easy techniques to improve your people skills. These techniques do not require any magic, personality changes or manipulation of any kind:

Smile. It is the universal sign of friendship in any language. The Chinese have a proverb: "A man who cannot smile should not open a store." Think about that. Give a smile and you will get a smile in return. Develop a genuine interest in others. When you have sincere interest, it shows. Look directly at people when they are talking to you. Let your facial expression register your interest. Ask good, open-ended questions to let people know that you are interested in what they say. Talk in terms of the other person's interests.

You will never meet anyone who doesn't have time to talk about what they want to talk about. Your time is better spent encouraging your prospect to discuss his or her interests, needs and priorities rather than launching into a discussion about yourself, your experience, your product or service or your company. Use the other person's name. Using a name builds personal rapport and shows you are listening with respect. Be careful about overusing the person's name, which is even worse than not using it. Give compliments. Everyone loves a compliment when it is genuine.

Make a concentrated effort to give at Least three sincere, honest compliments every single day of your life. You will be amazed at what it will do for your relationships. Listen. Listening is the greatest compliment that you can pay. When you assume the role of the listener, it relaxes the sales climate. As you listen you are demonstrating that you truly care about the other person and you are genuinely interested in what he or she has to say. Make the other person feel important. When you are sincerely impressed by something the prospect has achieved or owns, let them know it. Understand that fundamentally, every person is important and treat him or her accordingly.

There are additionally four factors that determine your success with people: Your impact. First impressions may not be fair but they are a fact of life. Your first impression to your prospect will have a strong influence on the success of your sale. Stand in front of a full-length mirror in the clothes that you would normally wear to make a sales call. Carry the same materials that you would carry on your call. How do you think your prospect will see you? Remember: You only get one chance to make a first impression.

Your sensitivity. How sensitive are you to the moods and personalities of your prospects? How well are you able to read between the lines? How well do you respond, letting your prospect know that you really do understand? Your perception. How perceptive are you to your prospect's problems and needs? Are you conveying to your prospects that you are viewing the situation through their eyes? Are you seeing the same realities that they face? Your judgment. How effective are the solutions that you offer to solve your prospect's problems or fill their needs? Have you listened, evaluated the situation accurately and offered something that is both practical and on-target? These four factors help you develop empathy. Empathy is the ability to put yourself in your prospect's shoes ... to see things through his or her eyes.

It is this empathy that makes the distinction between being people-oriented rather than product-oriented. People buy because they like you. One final point is on body language. You may be surprised that the way you sit, gesture, or hold your hands or head can be sending signals to your prospect that you don't mean to send. Your understanding of body language can help you communicate effectively and make you more perceptive of your prospect's moods. I urge you to research the many fine books that have been written on the subject and understand all there is to know about nonverbal communication. Remember, you are not in the product business, you are in the people business.

Roy Chitwood is an author, trainer and consultant in sales and sales management and is president of Max Sacks International, Seattle.