When I founded Richardson, I identified six skills and used them as the dialogue thread that ran through and connected all of our programs. In many ways the training was based on them. For a number of years this model worked very well without major revisions. But the rise of the internet and subsequent explosion of social media prompted some revisions over time. Today the speed of information is unprecedented. Additionally, many of your clients face near crippling disruption in their space, for example the hospitality industry with Airb&b and brick and mortar retail with the internet and big box stores. And as essential as mastery of the skills has always been the level of mastery needed to win today is far greater – and hence more powerful!
These six skills may sound old but they are not the same old same old. They are the heart of your conversations. Let’s look at the change:
Questioning – As vital as questioning has always been that pales to what is needed today. The past decade has drilled the importance of probing into the heads of salespeople. Most salespeople are asking question at a reasonable level but what I see again and again is the lack of connecting questioning with listening.
Good questions combine education with probing and reflect a real understanding of the client’s world. But most importantly to really leverage your questions listen with intense focus and scan for what you need to probe. A good formula to help build this bridge between questioning and listening is to question, listen, and then probe something in the client’s response whether a vague term or an emotional tone to learn more and demonstrate your interest. It is by going deeper into what your clients tell you that the gems are found. It is almost magical in helping you make headway to understand the outcomes your clients seek. It also helps you connect beyond the business level to a personal level.
Listening – Listening has always been a challenge. It is unfortunate that most of us have never been schooled in listening. Listening is not just hearing. Listening is using what you hear. How often in your responses do you incorporate a word or concept your client has used? How often do you ask a question that probes deeper into your customer’s the line of thought rather than move on to your next idea or question? Personal connections are made much more when you are listening than when you are talking. And today with solid technical skills you can listen to your clients when they are not even there by tuning into their on-line profile and text messages etc. and reading between the lines.
Positioning – Positioning is framing your solution from the customer’s perspective. Today that still applies, but the frame itself – your input as a salesperson – must add value. Your clients are seeking ideas, insights, market knowledge, and opinions. And especially in situations in which your recommendations are contrary to the direction the client is leaning your ability to position to the outcome your client wants and not the means to get there will make your clients receptive to your ideas because you are more persuasive. Clearly this is tied tightly to your strength in questioning and listening.
Checking – The skill of checking is asking for feedback on what you have said to gauge how your customer(s) is responding. Today it is even more difficult to get client time so in the time you do earn you must get up to the minute knowledge of how the client is reacting. This is not one big question; that scan be deadly if pushed toward the end of the cycle. It is a series of questions, one each time you share an ideas, information, or recommendation with all decision makers and influencers and across all platforms. The personal connections you create will give you more access to your clients to get this essential feedback and guide you in what to do next and how to move forward.
Presence – Presence is a way to engender confidence in buyers through how you carry yourself in all venues. Today executive presence is demanded because clients are looking for much more than product expertise. Clients need to have confidence in you as the person they will work with. You are an essential element of every sale. How you present yourself whether sitting face to face or in video conference will either build or break customer confidence. Even dressing is more complex without the once standard “ business uniform”. Your presence is one way to show you understand and fit into your client’s culture. Additionally, your on-line presence with value add content can draw clients to you.
Relating – It has always been necessary to connect with decision makers and influencers and across channels. The rise of electronic connections has created new channels for relating but at the risk of the human element. Research and experience show that it is the personal element that is a differentiator. Your ability to show empathy and understanding is the game changer. It is easy to brush this off but in my work, whether with pros or students at the highest rated business schools, empathy, while it may be felt in their hearts, for most is absent in their conversations. Expertise is still the foundation. But it is empathy and understanding that engages clients.
On the surface these six skills seem simple enough but in execution in critical moments in a sales opportunity, a negotiation, or a coaching situation it is clear that these skills while appearing simple are far from easy. Your goal is to drive sales, to be successful, and to add value. Your skills are a key force to get you there. Work on them.