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Effective Sales Communication 5 Stages and 7 Traps



Can you answer these three questions?

  • What is the difference between communication in general and communication between salesperson and Customer?
  • How can you gently make the Customer ‘play his role’ properly, in sales communication?
  • Is ‘Active Listening’ more a question of practice or a question of conscious competence?

Can you solve the following three problems?

  • Peter was with a Client’s Vice President to make a presentation, on Zoom. The Client had given all the inputs in his earlier meetings for Peter’s company to propose a solution. The presentation was off to a lively start and the VP was smiling, listening carefully to Peter. Five minutes into the presentation, however, Peter could sense that the VP’s attention had wandered. His camera was switched-off, and his audio was muted. A chat window message said "Carry on, Peter. We are two people listening".  When the VP unmuted after 5 minutes, Peter heard many more voices in the room. Peter was puzzled. Was the VP no longer interested? Or was something wrong with his presentation? If indeed, there was something amiss, how could he find out?

    If you were in Peter’s shoes what would you do?
  • A heated debate is on between Salespeople at a month end virtual meeting following.  A sales veteran has taken a position that to ‘really’ communicate with a Customer, a face to face meeting is a must. To him, the recent shift to selling on phone is not as effective, as it amounts to a short cut, or at best a stop gap until things look up again. The view is contested by the younger salespeople. They contend that in today’s  virus conscious, time starved world, even Customers prefer to do business over phone and digital channels. Sales should therefore accept and leverage this new reality. Other veterans in the party don’t agree. They maintain that selling through virtual media cannot be as effective as selling face to face in person.  Opinions are polarized on both sides. Which side are you on and why?
  • David is a senior sales engineer with a hi-tech engineering firm. Chan has joined the company as trainee and has been assigned to work with David to pick up the basics. They have been working on an enquiry of a high-profile Customer. Their first client virtual meeting has been scheduled where they would make a presentation to the senior management of the company. David briefed Chan on the presentation outline and asked him to come up with the slides.

    When Chan returned with the slides, David was impressed. Complimenting Chan on his good work, David said he just had one concern – excessive jargon in the slides. Chan believed the use of jargon would impress the Customer. “It will let the Customer know that we speak his language and understand his business. Surely, that should get us the business” said Chan. Do you agree with Chan?

What makes Sales communication crucial

In day to day communication, one can be spontaneous and casual. In contrast, Sales communication is crucial. There are larger implications for the people involved, for they speak not for themselves as individuals. They speak for their respective businesses, and are responsible to demonstrate creation of mutual value.

Every profession has a set of definitive skills. One of the core skills for Sales is proficiency in Sales communication. Getting Customers to open up so as to understand their needs, asking questions and practicing active listening to gain the Customers attention, building rapport and trust - are central to good sales communication. These seemingly easy and simple skills are actually rare to find, for they call for painstaking deliberate practice. The huge disparity between the fortunes of ‘winning’ sales people and their ‘also ran’ peers is testimony to the impact these skills can create. The good news is, they are learnable.

Traditionally, Sales Communication has meant face-to-face, written and telephone communication. The advent of technology brought in ‘presentations’. Today’s digital world includes new formats like email, texting, chat and web meetings. The recent pandemic has shifted the entire sales communication to virtual platforms. Adoption of these multiple formats is varied across Customer groups. While the millennials are very adept with the latest formats, their seniors have taken to technology selectively, with a mix of resistance, helplessness, and excitement. By virtue of having to interact with them all, a salesperson has no choice other than being adept at all formats. Here in lies the catch. Proficiency across communication formats is not proficiency in sales communication!

As Customers and Salespeople increasingly adopt the latest in media, Sales Communication becomes real time, making it imperative to do it right the first time, all the time!

Understanding Sales Communication

Sales communication is defined by Mercuri as the passing of meaningful messages between Customer and Salesperson. Thus, both Salespersons and Customers send messages and receive messages, when they interact, whether face to face or on various media. ‘Meaningfulness’ implies that an action or a reaction is expected from the other side – ‘other side’ could be Customer or could be Salesperson. If the Customer says “I have not understood what you said” that too is perfectly fine; since it is a reaction in the quest to understand the message and not dismiss the salesperson!

Irrespective of the media used in this process of Sales Communication, the messages are ‘passed’ to and fro with a lot of potential for making mistakes by both the sales person and the Customer. Here lies the opportunity for a Salesperson. If one can minimize these mistakes compared with one’s competition, one could win over a Customer.

What are these common mistakes? When do they happen? How can one avoid or overcome them?

Five Stages of Sales Communication

Notice that the five stages are generic to ‘communication’ in general. We project these through a Sales lens, because we want to get better at Sales Communication, in both personal and digital media.

Traps

Look at the above five stages and reflect on them. Each of these stages has several potential traps for something to go wrong. A normal tendency when communication goes wrong is to blame the other person. A Salesperson needs to ask oneself “What is it that I can do to minimize such traps”.

It is not difficult. Simply being conscious of these traps means winning half the battle. Rest is a matter of doing the right thing whenever such a trap presents itself. And, these traps can surface with minor variations across face to face, written and digital modes of communication.

There are 7 commonly experienced traps that account for 90% of the problems. These traps have been described below, from salesperson’s point of view.

Traps 1 & 2 :  During stage 1 (Forming the message)

Traps 3, 4, 5 & 6:  During stage 2 (Sending the message)


Notice that in Point 5 above, a distracted Salesperson can be noticed readily in virtual media. With a close up view on the camera, eye movements are very visible to all participants. If you are looking away from the screen, it may be seen as lack of interest.  So, if you must take notes, or send a message, please excuse yourself when you do. 

Trap 7:  Obstacles to Active Listening - During Stages 3, 4 & 5 ( Receiving, Interpreting & Storing):  

This is a very hard-to-overcome trap. However, let us remember that the most likely duration of one sales talk during a typical sales process could be 30 minutes. Thus it is only for 15 to 20 minutes that you have to do your best to avoid the obstacles to active listening. Seen below are some of the most commonly experienced obstacles to active listening.


All of us may experience one or more of these obstacles within our own personality that hinder active listening. Be conscious of what applies to you in general and which obstacle is troubling you at this time when you are with the Customer; and try your best to overcome it. For, active listening demands your ‘presence’. It does not matter if the present moment is about being face to face with a Customer, or talking with a Customer on the phone or a web meeting, or writing to, reading and responding to an email from the Customer. Active listening is of essence in any mode of Sales Communication.

Avoiding these seven traps in the five stages of Sales Communication, enhances your sales effectiveness in whichever medium your Customer chooses to interact with you. Such proficiency empowers you to rise above the debate seen in Case 2 in the beginning of this document. And that could add to your competitive advantage!

While these skills may seem easy, they call for painstaking deliberate practice. Mastering them is a continuous journey for ‘winning’ sales people. You can !!

-End of Document-

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