Communication: Magic or Tragic?

This may be the most important article I’ve written on selling.

Why? Because it focuses on communication, the most valuable tool in your sales kit.

We’ve been told that the job of the salesman is to persuade, convince, and talk the prospect into buying. Nothing could be further from the truth.

And what’s more, communication is not just you doing all the talking, it’s a two-way street or it’s not true communication.

Yes, I suppose, theoretically, it could happen that a customer might complain that you’re not doing enough talking, but mostly it’s just the reverse. Usually they won’t say anything while you run off at the mouth, but when they leave without doing the deal the message is clear: you’re talking too much!

Most people, including your clients, do not believe you have heard them or that you understand them if you’re the only one talking. There is only one way to convince prospects that you are interested in them and understand their troubles, that is by listening to them.

Most successful salespeople listen at least seventy-five percent of the time, so if you’re talking more than twenty-five percent of the time, you’re losing sales.

How do they get the prospect talking?

By practicing the delicate skill of asking the right question at the right time. And of course, you have to listen attentively to know the precise question to ask at the right time.

In my opinion, this is by far one of the most important rules of effective communication: listen carefully and they’ll tell you exactly what you need to know to be able to ask the right question. 

One Minute Summary:

Communication is the activity of conveying thoughts, feelings, and information; derived from the Latin word “communis” – meaning “common” or “to share.”

If you have something in common with someone, and you’re sharing information about it, you’re communicating.

Your communication skills are the methods you use apply this concept. It’s all about finding commonality with others.

For example: people like people who like them, and who are like them. More commonality equals greater the potential for effective communication.

This old saying is still relevant today: They don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.

People often feel that because they can talk, that they are communicating; and in social situations this may be true. But in the business of selling, the stakes are higher.

The professional salesperson must communicate with a purpose, and this purpose initially is to find out what you have in common with the customer.

For example, if you both have the purpose of finding the right car at the right price, most difficulties melt away because you’re both working with the same purpose.

Purposeful communication is not just important, it’s a requisite of the success in the profession.

And this takes requires both verbal and nonverbal communication skills.

In face to face communication, body language and physical impressions can sometimes have more impact than spoken words, for better or for worse. Also, written communications can further your purposes or stop them cold by conveying the wrong message.

The process of communicating requires skill in correctly observing, speaking, listening, questioning, evaluating and responding appropriately as any weakness or breakdown in any of these factors can have tragic results.

What salespeople must understand is that communication is both the taking in of another’s ideas (inflow) and the relaying of one’s own ideas (outflow). If a customer is inhibited from the outflow part of communication, his ability to originate (initiate, start, create) new ideas will begin to diminish. In this case, you will never find out what is really troubling the prospect.

Effective, purposeful communication, used with skill and finesse, it can create sublime magical experiences, but abuse it, and tragic results are guaranteed.

Now, A Look Behind The Scenes:

The Inside Scoop.
First, you must realize that you’re not in the sales business – you’re in the people business.

This one small change in your focus while selling can create enormous changes in your success.

You’re not in the business of selling to people or even talking to people, you’re in the business of communicating with people; and that means you’re connecting with them.

How?

By establishing that you have something in common with them. That is all you’re ever doing. It’s as simple as it is powerful.

It is a well-established fact in all selling that the primary source of communication failures comes from false assumptions. There are countless examples of this idea, but here are just a couple:

When you assume someone understands what you’re saying, you’re making a big leap of faith, which is very often unfounded.

Assuming that you know what someone wants, and then begin talking about that subject, you can be way off the mark and not even know it.

If you assume that you know what they need and start selling that idea, don’t be surprised when they stop listening.

Communication is the stock in trade of any salesperson and it’s vital that you understand all you can about this subject.

Technically, the word communication is defined as: the act of transmitting or exchanging information, making something known, or to connect one with another.

In layman’s terms, it just means trying to get your ideas across to someone else by finding what you have in common.

In either case, the concept has to do with establishing a connection to facilitate an interchange. Note: connection and interchange are the operative words.

Whatever else occurs, if a connection and interchange of ideas didn’t take place, you can rule out any communication – or a sale – taking place. But if you can establish a connection and create a smooth interchange, then a communication has occurred. This opens the door to the possibility of making a sale.

Often, it seems that communication is interpreted commonly to mean just talking. But if your communication is never received by anyone or if you never connect with anyone else by any means of exchange, it becomes a solitary exercise. Now, there might be some therapeutic value in this much like punching a heavy bag for thirty or forty minutes, but for our purposes it is useless.

Without getting philosophical about it, there simply has to be someone putting something out there and connecting with someone else, leading to a willing interchange of ideas.

Operating Definition. Minimally then, as an operating definition, we can say that communication is composed of at least the following two factors:

A. The exchange of the ideas we deliver, (the sales presentation and other information), and the ideas the prospect delivers, (regarding their concerns and requests).

B. The connection, which strengthens the agreement and mutual interest of both parties. If it doesn’t make sense to them, they don’t understand it or if it’s not helpful or useful to them, then it’s just raw, unevaluated data; no real connection is established and the communication does not have any value.

Communication of data alone may be rejected as suspect or unimportant when one person alone says it. This old proverb says it best: When you say it, it’s doubtful; when they say it, it’s true!

As you get them more and more involved, the purposes of both the salesman and the prospect become aligned and you can almost feel it sizzle. It becomes laser-like in its focus, will cut through anything in its way, and is almost impossible to stop.

This is where the communication skills of the salesman can make or break the day. When the prospect feels he understands the benefits and begins to assume ownership of the product or service, the salesman must recognize the possibility for a close, is possible, and skillfully bring it to a happy conclusion.

The longer you screw around after the point when the customer has seen a true benefit for themselves, the more likely it is that something else will come up to be handled. So, just wrap it up as smoothly as possible and put their attention down the road on the next step in the overall process.

Since you’re always selling to people, as covered above, here are a few important points to keep in mind.

Mutual Interest. Establishing commonality will serve the interests of all concerned by getting everyone on the same page at the same time, gaining agreement, and creating “co-motion.”

Interestingly, besides finding things you have in common, the most effective way to get someone interested in you is to be interested in them. This is counter-intuitive, but remarkably effective.

Interest is curiosity.

When you are interested in anything, it tends to create a mental or physical reach or desire in the direction of whatever has attracted your attention. If you doubt the effectiveness of this principle, use it for a few days and see what happens. You’ve got nothing to lose.

I believe you’ll discover this: if you find something interesting about people, they will find you more interesting!

A time-honored, natural law applies here: attention follows attention.

Why?

Because, if your attention is on them, their attention will commonly be on you.

It naturally follows that if you approach the prospect with your attention completely on finding a way you can help them, their attention will usually follow suit.

Conversely, if your attention is only on the commission you will earn from the sale, their attention will go onto money as well. They will almost unconsciously bring up money as an issue and often thwart the sale.

Their interest and attention is on themselves, and their business. That’s where your interest and attention should be as well.

When is communication, not communication?

This happens when the primary enemy of this idyllic state of communication, rears its ugly head.

What is it? It’s the overly talkative salesman.

This is the salesman who only sees himself as the primary point of interest as he is only really interested in himself.

He thinks that because he is talking, he must be communicating; this is a false assumption.

Often, this salesperson dominates the conversation to such a degree that no space whatsoever is left for the prospect to express what they may have to say.

In point of fact, this salesperson is the reason that communication can sometimes be tragic instead of magic.

Why?

Because this is not communication.

When there is no interchange, no reach and withdraw, no co-motion, it is, by definition, “no communication.”

No communication” is antipathetic to any sales activities, and to any activity in life and may well be the source of any difficulties you may be having in these areas.

Instead, to approach any degree of success in sales, it is necessary to foster actively a fertile relationship of two-way communication with the prospect.

It is in this environment that most successful sales are conceived, nurtured, grown, and finally delivered.

Happily, you now have the information you need to create that environment.

The secret is revealed. The first thing to do, in any normal sales procedure, is to introduce yourself and your product or service in quick, broad strokes, then ask a question; ask about something you are sincerely interested in knowing; something you’re really curious about.

Do thisusing your five best selling friends: why, how, when, who, and where. Almost any variety of questions will work – if you just use them.

Three important things happen when you do this.

1. You withdraw slightly; thus creating some space that will allow him to reach toward you and contribute something of his own.

2. You find out more about him through his answers.

3. You remain in the drivers’ seat.

For clarification: Communication is reciprocal process of reaching and withdrawing.

When you ask a question you are reaching, while shutting up for a second or two or asking a question is a form of withdrawing – inviting something from the other person allowing the them to contribute if he wishes. As a salesrep, you have to let the prospect in on the process. Let them add something; let them ask a question if they want; let them fill up the space verbally or mentally. Thus, the chain of events would be to reach toward the prospect with a question, then withdraw and listen to what they say in response and respond accordingly.

If you relax and give them a chance, they will often not only tell you what they want, but also the also the exact way to solve their problem. Which is precisely what you want to know, right?

One successful salesman I know uses this concept to good advantage when handling a tense situation simply by saying, “Now, help me out here – – “ and then asking the prospect a question designed to get them talking to help clarify any objections. Then, listening actively to the responses to these questions to ferret out the real objection and respond as necessary.

Let the client contribute, then solicit their help in handling any difficulties discovered. Sometimes you can work wonders by just asking honestly, “What would you like me to do about that?” It’s the easiest and most effective way to get everyone headed in the right direction.

Next, in Part 5, is the step that deserves the most attention, but often ends up with the least.

­­Listen. This quote by Dean Rusk, Secretary of State under presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson summarizes this vital concept perfectly:

One of the best ways to persuade others, is with your ears.”

Communications skills have two main components: speaking and listening.

Skillfully expressing yourself gets you only half-way home. The other half is where top producers shine: listening. An adaptation of an old sales adage is revealing: It’s not what you say, it’s how well you hear what the other person is saying that’s important.

Listening is the most obvious and neglected tool in any selling activity: your ears are your best selling tools. It’s a tool that will never steer you wrong, and interested listening will dig you out of more sticky situations than you can imagine.

It shouldn’t need to be said that once you’ve come this far but if you’re doing all the talking, you will only discover what you already know -you’ll never discover any of the difficulties, problems, concerns, objections etc., of the prospect if they are not given a chance to talk.

So, when you ask that question, sit back, inhale nice and slow and really actively listen to what your prospect is telling you. Then, when it’s your turn to talk again, address what the prospect has told you as completely as necessary. Note: this step can be overdone; if they only want to know what time it is, don’t explain how to build a watch. Give them what they need, not more, not less. Align your answer to what information he or she needs to feel comfortable, not to how much you may know about the subject.

As an additional note, listening should not be confined only to the times when the prospect is talking. You should also be listening while you are speaking. The prospect communicates volumes through their body language, facial expression, eye contact or lack thereof, and many other subtle ways. They are trying to tell you something, and unless you are listening with your ears, eyes – and other sense perceptions – you will miss some vital information.

The punch line. The big punch line here is that the whole enterprise becomes easy if you simply break it down to its basic concepts.

You establish active, live communication by whatever effective means at your disposal; always based on the fundamental principle of being genuinely interested in the prospect, remaining curious about their goals and purposes, and determining how you can help them.

You impart live information, (not just data), that they can understand and use by any communication channel available, and orient your product or service to their needs and wants.

Now communicate further, simultaneously listening to their opinions and ideas, while building agreement, confidence and trust based on mutual interest and understanding.

You demonstrate how their interests will be served by utilizing your services and how that will benefit them directly until the light bulb of understanding goes on and they see why it is to their advantage to do business with you.

Keep it simple. Always strive to simplify. Insecurity creates complexity. And complexity creates insecurity. Direct, open communication is best. Precise, clear communication comes from confidence in your product and service, and certainty that you can deliver what you promise. Keep it clear, direct, simple, and human; you’ll both win.

Jack Welch, Chairman of General Electric, said it this way:

You can’t believe how hard it is for peopleto be simple, how much they fear being simple. They worry that if they’re simple, people will think they’re simple-minded. In reality, of course, it’s just the reverse. Clear, tough-minded people are the most simple.”

There is nothing to fear from being direct and uncomplicated in your communication. By doing so, you will have eliminated a common reasons for failure. The prospect is probably telling you over and over in subtle ways exactly what they want from you and your company. Show them how they can what they want – they’ll help you close the deal.

Think about that for a second, customers are telling you how they can be sold, but you’ll never unless you’re really listening to what they’re saying.

Do the usual. When you violate the natural laws of communication as given above, you have to invent unusual solutions or untried methods to get them to do business with you. This adds complexity to the process and moves you farther away from a simple A to B approach.

It is the wise man that can reduce the activity to the fundamental principles and find workable methods; then apply both of them consistently and flawlessly. Of course, that is all we expect of you as a professional in sales!

Align your methods to basic principles; practice methods that align with the basics so you can handle the person in front of you perfectly, and get used to seeing magical results as the norm.

daniel w. jacobs
(c) 1999-2030, all rights reserved

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