Vivek asks, “What is an underrated skill that salespeople could develop to give them an edge over the competition?”
The number one differentiator, the one that will build trust quickly, the one that will set you apart from other sellers in a very positive way, the one that will bring your buyer into the conversation and create value for them, create an experience for them that’s memorable, gives you the tools to facilitate the sale and to expedite the sales process, all of that is accomplished by asking really good questions. Not throwaway questions, not fishing expedition, where I’m asking 20 questions. It’s not about quantity, it’s about really good, purposeful questions that make people think and that draw something out of them, promote some self-discovery that really engages them. That’s differentiating, and it’s fun for both the buyer and the seller.
I don’t know if this is underrated or not, but in my mind, it should be top of the list. It’s funny how it may seem pretty basic, pretty foundational, but again, what we observe is, it’s often not done very well. In my mind, that is just active listening. As a salesperson, oftentimes we need to, and maybe just remind ourselves … We should just shut up and let the customer talk, because they will tell us how to sell to them, and they’ll tell us the answer if we give them an opportunity.
I think we need, in general, to be better at asking questions and then stopping and letting the customer process, think about the response, and actually tell us what they’re thinking as opposed to, oftentimes, and maybe because salespeople may tend to be a little bit more outgoing, maybe a little bit more aggressive, they want to fill up that silence. They want to jump in and it drives me crazy a lot of times. I hear, “We’ll ask a really great question, and then before the customer can answer, we ask a second question, and then we ask a question on top of that.” And the customer’s thinking, “I don’t even know what I’m trying to answer here.” So I think sometimes we need to slow that down and we need to be more thoughtful about what we’re really trying to learn.
And then it’s the old 80/20 … Instead of us doing 80% of the talking, I think we should be doing 80% of the listening, and let the customer do 80% of the talking. I think that’s a skill that you can practise and improve. It’s one that we cover oftentimes in our workshops, or all the time in our workshops, which is, let’s spend some time just thinking about the mindset around that. Let’s practise those active listening skills where we really are leaning in, we really are asking clarifying questions, we’re trying to understand the content and the intent behind the message. I think it’ll make us better salespeople, and we’ll actually learn more, and that’ll differentiate us.
I’ll just cover one quick story on that. It was actually the largest deal that we won last year, sales training, outsourcing, customised licence for our curriculum. At the end of the day, the customer said, “You know, you guys just did a better job understanding what we were getting at, and you actually listened better than any of the other vendors we were talking to because we had unique needs and you met them.” Actually, active listening is one of our core values, and it thrilled me to hear that direct feedback. That was an example where it actually had a direct business impact of being able to demonstrate that skill and the customer valued it.
The most important skill is active listening. I think that salespeople feel like they already know what their customer’s going to tell them. They have many customers with similar needs. And here’s the problem. Well, even if they’re right, they still have to actively listen, because if you’re not actively listening … So let’s say I can predict the next questions you’re going to ask me. If I don’t listen, I’m still not showing a proper level of communication and respect with you. So we want to adopt active listening skills and really give the customer the opportunity to articulate. It goes a long way to relationship building. It also allows us to really go beyond the presenting problem and start asking deeper questions. It allows us to really understand what the customer wants to achieve, and it’s going to develop in a much better relationship.
I think, particularly in the world of demos, we are so eager to demo, that we forget that the demo isn’t the beginning of that sales call. We want to start by introducing ourselves, asking some questions, really understanding who the person is we’re talking to and what their goal is, who else is involved. And the demo is just a presentation piece and if we want that presentation piece to be relevant, we want to make sure we’re listening to what the real business needs are. And the priorities.
The ability to communicate is the most underrated skill in sales right now. This may change in the future. I’m hopefully pushing change forward with the podcast, these questions, the sales school, the total content in the sales school on this. I’m stumbling my words as I say it, which is ironic, but communication is just so important.
You need to learn the skills of charisma. Vocal tonality and going up and down and keeping your voice interesting. Just even having good eye contact, smiling slightly, and having good posture. Things like this make a huge difference, especially in person-to-person and meetings, but it does affect phone calls. It can even affect … If we talk about communication in the written word, if we learn to copy write, we can do emails which are way more effective than if we just spam or if we write how we speak. That is not an effective way to write an email.
These little things are what make you want to spend time with an individual. Or what make, importantly, a customer want to spend time with you over the seven boring bastards that are trying to sell the same product. If you’re in a commoditized market, this is perfect. If you are literally a sales legend, you come into the room, the room lights up, everybody’s like, “Wow, it’s Will. We’re excited for him to be here.” Then that is the competitive advantage right there.
So you need to learn how to be more charismatic. You need to learn, potentially, things like NLP, Neuro-Linguistic Programming. You need to learn how to suss out when someone wants to speak, when they want you to stop speaking, so you can engage back and forth with them on that front. You need to learn how to use pauses. It’s all these little subtle changes that you can make to the way that you communicate that allows you to be super effective and, both consciously and subconsciously, differentiate yourself away from the competition.
One skill that most salespeople could develop is giving back to the marketplace, giving back to the sales community. As we go through our professional lives, honing our skills in sales, and learning more and more about our customers, and more and more about our marketplace, give back to those who are coming up from the rear, trying to learn what we already know. The more value we add to our own marketplace and our own community, the more valuable we become to the businesses we work for, to the businesses we run, and to the customers that we serve. So by all means, close the loop and give back to those that are in our community and in our profession. Help others master the craft of sales.