So if you need a sure-fire way to become better at selling, it’s very clear that you must start by improving your communication. So, to help you get started, here are my top 7 communication skills that you need to focus on to ensure sales success.
1) Master your body languageWhen you think about communication, you probably think about the words you say first. But there’s another major element of communication, which might not be on your radar at all – body language.
Research shows that more than half of all communication is non-verbal. And when you think about it, it makes perfect sense. Every hand gesture, every furrowed brow, every smile, and every change of vocal intonation sends a signal to the person you’re speaking to. It’s all communication.
And body language is sent and received all the time. Even when nobody is speaking. It’s in your stance, the way you position your hands, and even your breathing!
But does it affect your sales success? Of course. Imagine two salespeople giving the same pitch. One smiles, uses engaging hand gestures, and stands with an open stance. The other stands hunched, frowning, with a monotonous tone.
It’s obvious who’ll sell the most!
It’s an extreme example – our hunched misery-guts clearly isn’t even trying. But body language can trip up any salesperson… if you aren’t aware of it. Sending even subtle negative signals through body language can make you come across as dishonest.
Make sure you aren’t oblivious to your own body language flaws. Assess your body language, either standing in front of a mirror or asking a friend to help you.
Then work on your stance, hand gestures, and other areas that need improvement. Over time, you’ll take control of your body language and build better customer relationships.
2) Learn to empathise with customersEmpathy has been something of a buzzword when it comes to sales skills. It means showing you understand your customer’s problem, and that you care about helping them solve it.
Inexperienced salespeople often try to empathise by simply agreeing with the customer. A seller might listen to their problem, say something like “I know what you mean”, and then present their product as the best solution.
There are a few problems with this approach. Firstly, customers aren’t stupid. They know their business well, and they can tell when someone else really understands it.
Second, this approach will often lead a salesperson to pitch the wrong product for the customer’s needs. It’s obvious why – if you can’t understand and empathise with a problem, how can you solve it?
A better approach is to stop pretending, and start empathising for real. Don’t just parrot the same lines to every customer. Hear their problem, think about which product is the best match, and present the selling points that are most relevant.
With practice, your sales pitches will become more dynamic and more successful.
3) Never stop improving your knowledgeOf course, you can’t be a successful empathiser unless you have the knowledge to understand your customers’ needs and match them with the best products. This takes real expertise in your product line and the wider marketplace.
The same can be said for any sales pitch you make. You must know your products inside out – not only what they do, but how they benefit customers as well.
When you know your products well, you can:
- Answer any customer question with confidence. This increases trust and the chance of a sale.
- Pick the most persuasive selling points for each customer on the fly, based on what they tell you about their needs.
- Impress the customer with your overall expertise, again increasing trust.
And when you don’t know your products? All you can really do is waffle, wing it, or lie. And those communication skills aren’t so dependable!
4) Get down to specificsKnowing your products and your field is great, but it’s only part of the equation. You have to communicate your knowledge effectively, too. And that means being specific about what you can offer.
It’s no good making generalisations. “The PX1000 can lower your costs and increase your productivity” is an OK B2B headline. But if you want your customer to spend money with you, cold hard facts about what they’ll get for their money are the order of the day.
The best salespeople know this. They learn through experience which specific features and benefits appeal most to customers, and they’re always ready to talk about them in detail.
Good sales people also know the power of specific numbers and statistics. A proven statistic is much more compelling to customers than something that might well be the salesperson’s own opinion.
The most compelling specifics often relate to cost savings, convenience, and return on investment. Communicate specific benefits in these areas, and you’re off to a great start!
5) Be honest about what you don’t knowIt’s great to be a subject-matter expert, but you can’t know everything – and your customers know this. They don’t mind if you occasionally say “I’m sorry but I don’t have that information, let me find out for you”.
On the other hand, customers can usually tell when you’re trying to cover up a lack of knowledge with waffle. So why bother? Make openness and honesty a key part of your approach, and you’ll sell much more successfully.
6) Be inquisitiveThere’s a mindset that downtrodden and lazy salespeople get into. It’s robotic and monotonous. They start to see customers as numbers, or items to check off a list. They repeat the same spiel in every pitch. In other words, they stop engaging with their customers – either because they’ve become bored, or hopeless.
How do you think that plays out? Well for one, the customer probably doesn't feel much empathy. But perhaps even more damaging is that the salesperson isn’t asking the customer any questions.
When you ask questions, you learn more about a new customer’s needs. But that’s just the start! By continuing to ask questions, you also learn about…
- how customers’ needs change over time
- how the way customers use your products changes over time
- how the marketplace is changing
All this inquisitiveness helps you sell more effectively. And as an added plus-point, customers love the genuine interest you take in their business.
7) Be preparedWhat does it take to put all of the above communication skills together in one great sales pitch? Preparation.
History’s greatest communicators, from Pericles of Ancient Greece to Winston Churchill, all spent time practicing and perfecting their skills. If preparation was good enough for the great orators, it’s good enough for you.
Being prepared means knowing your products, knowing as much about your customer or audience as possible, and knowing your script if you’re using one. Being prepared also means you don’t have to worry about how your pitch will go – because you’ve practiced in advance.
Listening is as important as talkingThere’s one last communication skill that can help you become a more successful salesperson, and using it takes almost no action from you. It’s perhaps the most important communication skill of all: listening.
As you might have noticed as you were reading, roughly half of the advice in this article is actually about listening. You can’t empathise with a customer without hearing their needs. You can’t increase your knowledge without listening. You can't adapt your pitch for specific customers without listening. And it’s not worth asking questions if you don’t listen to the answers!
Why is half of the advice about listening? Because communication is a two-way street.
When you’re selling, customers want to know you’re taking a genuine interest in helping them. They want a conversation, not a speech.
The answer is to be a great listener. And when you pair it with all the other communication skills you’ve learned in this article, you’ll be well on your way to becoming a more successful salesperson.