Communication in a Sales Scenario

Many books have been written on communication.

Why? Because good communication is essential, yet so many people fail at it. Many problems in life are due to someone not hearing what other the person is saying, and then responding inappropriately.

My previous post, ‘How to Listen‘ is the first step in good communication.  Mostly it is ‘listen‘.

Communication is the combination of good listening skills combined with the ability to explain, in a way the other person can comprehend, concepts and ideas.

The emphasis needs to be on ‘in a way the other person can comprehend’, because we all have different communication styles.

Have you ever asked a question, and got a response that wasn’t related to the question at all?  Frustrating, isn’t it?  Have you ever thought maybe it was because you asked the wrong question?  So, even if your question is ignored, listen to the answer, because you will gather information about your customer’s needs and wants from that response.  Maybe the answer is right but the question was wrong.

The essence of good sales technique is to know which questions to ask.  Despite all the sales courses out there that will teach you various sales techniques, there are no ‘perfect’ questions to ask at the beginning of a sales relationship.  The beginning of a sales relationship (whether it is going to last 5 minutes, or 5 years) is fraught with opportunities for miscommunication.

Business communication is a lot easier than personal communication, because generally if a customer reaches out to you, by responding to advertising, or phoning, or emailing, it means that they want something from you, or at the very least have a need they are trying to fill.

(In personal communication, if someone is talking to you, many times they don’t want something from you, except for you to listen.  It took me a long time to learn when to just listen and not to try to fix the problem.  Sales is much easier.)

In my work, selling water & wastewater treatment equipment, a difficult part of communication was starting the communication process:  making sure my potential clients knew that my company, and the products I sold, existed.

Trade shows, advertising in trade magazines, doing calls on consulting engineers, and driving up to the doors of water and wastewater treatment plants:   I used all the traditional methods to introduce myself to my potential clients.

But once they know you exist, and want something from you, there are still plenty of opportunities to lose the sale.

Customers want to be heard.  So here are three simple ways to better hear your customer:

  1. Have a human answer the phone.  Seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it?  You’ve spent all this time advertising and promoting your product, and then a prospective customer calls, only to run into a wall of “Please enter the extension of the person you wish to talk to,” or “Press # to enter our employee directory.”  If your company is big enough to have an employee directory, your company is big enough to have someone to answer the phone.
  2. Have a phone number on your website people can call if they want to (and then have them speak to a human).  Yes, web contact forms are helpful, and some people will use them.  But some people will just want to ask a question and will want to talk to a real human.  They need to know they are heard.
  3. Don’t substitute “filling in a form” for listening.  Sure, it’s simpler if you just put a form on your website, and make the customer do all the work filling it out.  But again, customers need to be heard, and may not have the knowledge to fill out the form properly.  They’ll go to another vendor who is willing to listen and do the work.

Once your (potential) customer has contacted you, it is up to you to communicate with them in a manner which suits them best.  Not the way that suits you best.  The whole idea behind sales is to ‘make it easy for the customer to give you their money’.    What is easy for a sales person may not be the best way to win a customer.

Being flexible in your communication style is important.  Speak the language your customer speaks.  Be mindful of techno-garble.  If you have a PhD in a particular discipline, realize that your language and vernacular may need adjusting for a different, non-academic, audience.

One of the best ways to know that you are communicating effectively is by the type of questions your customer is asking, and the feedback you are getting from the conversation.  The best communication happens when both parties are active participants.

There are no stupid questions.  If your customer asks a basic question, be willing to start at the beginning and explain again, using metaphors and examples that they can relate to.

Sales start with communication, and communication starts with listening.  At the end of any form of communication in a sales scenario, both parties should leave the conversation knowing more about each other – the customer should know what you are selling, and you should know if what you’re selling is suitable to their needs.


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