You cannot succeed in sales if you don’t communicate clearly and persuasively. Although technology has improved dramatically, and sales professionals now have access to many different communication tools and devices, there still are many barriers to effective communication in sales. In fact, in some cases, the new technology has worsened communication between sellers and customers, because customers prefer to be contacted by email rather than meet with you in person.
Recognizing these barriers, and then either minimizing or eliminating the barriers that affect you the most, will help you to make more sales.
Which of these barriers to communication are hurting your sales efforts?
The sales message is too long, which can manifest itself in all three modes of communication:
Poor listening skills. Whether you are new to sales or a sales veteran, many salespeople simply don’t listen well to the customer. Based on over 24 years as a sales training consultant, "listening skills” continue to be cited by sales managers as an important area of improvement for many salespeople.
- A salesperson who talks too much during an in-person sales call.
- A rambling voice mail message that irritates the customer.
- An email that is too lengthy, such that the customer either doesn’t read all of it or only responds to some of the points.
The sales message is not tailored to the customer. If your sales message sounds scripted, whether in person or over the phone, it creates a negative impression. In addition, if you don’t highlight the benefits – or, if you prefer, the "What’s In It For Me” for the customer – your sales message will quickly become tuned out by the customer.
Over-use of email and under-use of face to face sales calls. We know that the world of selling has changed, and it is more difficult to get face time with customers. Email is a critical sales tool but, if you over-use it, you lose the opportunity to view the non-verbals of the customer. For important sales situations, strive to see the customer in person or, at worse, speak to the customer by phone.
Read more of STAR's communication skills for sales blogs. STAR Workshops that address the topic of communication in sales include Essential Selling Skills and our Online Series - Essential Selling Skills.
The way people buy has changed so much over the past decade, that it stands to reason that the way people sell should be changing as well, right? Buyers are more educated, informed, and sophisticated, so the methods of communication used by sales professionals have to reflect this.
One thing that hasn’t changed is the need for salespeople to excel at communication skills. Yet, the way in which we communicate has become increasingly complex and oftentimes, less personal. Today’s sellers have to be consultative, and their means of communication need to be consultative as well. So, how do you communicate most effectively?
With the increasingly wide variety of modes of communication — ranging from face-to-face sales calls, telephone calls, email, and social media —many sellers rely too much on one communication method and under-utilize other methods.
You will increase your role as an effective advisor to your customer if you select the right mode of communication. To make this determination, be sure to ask yourself questions such as:
•What is this customer’s preferred mode of communication?
•How important is it to demonstrate to the customer that you are proficient at newer modes of communication, such as social media and text messaging, and don’t rely only on older modes of communication?
•How urgent is it that the customer replies to you? For example, if the customer receives many emails each day, your urgent message may be overlooked, in which case a phone call or voice mail message would be more appropriate.
In general, the newer generation of sales professionals tends to under-utilize the use of telephone and face-to-face communication with customers. Email and social media are not appropriate for every sales situation. A phone call or face to face meeting would be a better mode of communication if some or all of these conditions apply:
1.The lack of emotional and personal context makes written communication best-suited for the sharing of factual information. It is more difficult, if not impossible, to use an email or other written communication to ask questions to gather information from the customer, or demonstrate that you’ve listened to and understood the customer’s point of view.
2.If you sense that you and/or the other person have misunderstood your written message, pick up the phone.
3.There are times when a face-to-face sales call is best (or perhaps a phone call) but not a written message:•When you are negotiating•When you need a lot of input from the other person(s)•When the situation is emotional (or likely to become emotional)•When you wish to ensure the confidentiality or security of the message; no email is private and all email can be forwarded to unintended recipients
Knowing when to go back to old fashioned person to person communication may seem like common sense, but in our busy lives, we often take the shortcut. Shooting off the quick email saves time, but it may not always be the best method. Don’t take the shortcut next time. Take the time to choose the right form of communication, given the situation and the customer.
"To listen well is as powerful a means of communication and influence as to talk well."- John Marshall, Supreme Court Chief Justice, 1801-1835
The Best Salespeople are Good Communicators
Practically speaking, communication skills can be seen as the foundation for all of the other important skills that a salesperson must have to succeed. Over the past 20 years, STAR has asked thousands of sales professionals and sales managers the following question. Which skills are most critical for a salesperson to succeed? Many of the answers have varied over the years but a few critical skills and attributes have always been cited and are listed below.
A successful salesperson ...
- has good communication skills and listens well
- asks great questions to identify customer’s needs
- has strong product and market knowledge
- builds relationships
- is persistent and good at follow up
Since effective communication is the most fundamental skill, we will provide some tips and guidelines about how to communicate more effectively with customers and colleagues.
Here are some of the most common mistakes that salespeople make when communicating with customers and colleagues:
- The sales message is not tailored for the recipient. Consequently, it sounds scripted and doesn’t highlight for this customer what your product or service can do for them.
- Too much jargon is used. Some jargon is desirable, especially if you want to communicate to the other person that you understand their business or industry. However, be careful not to use jargon that is unique to your company or product.
- They speak too long (or write too much). Get to the point. What is most important for this customer or person? Eliminate unnecessary information.
- Many sellers are poor listeners. In our experience, this is the number one mistake, yet it is the easiest mistake to fix. Communication is a two-way process. If you (the seller) are doing most of the talking, the sales call is not likely to be successful.