In last week’s CONNECT2Sell blog post, we laid out the case for developing soft skills. We examined how soft skills, in balance with technical/functional hard skills for selling, will improve sales performance. Our high-level overview listed three broad categories of soft skills that sellers need to focus on: critical thinking, communication, and emotional intelligence. Because our previous series of blog posts and videos already delved into critical thinking, we’ll start with a deep dive into communication and come back in the future to explore emotional intelligence in selling.
Strong communication skills are absolutely essential for sales effectiveness. Unfortunately, there’s a misperception about this. The belief that sellers need only be good presenters or smooth talkers works against their sales effectiveness.
A complete list of communication skills also includes these 20 skills:
- Empathetic listening
- Modulating tone, volume, pitch and inflection
- Using body language and non-verbal cues
- Asking quality questions
- Writing clearly and concise
- Reading comprehension
- Formulating ideas and putting them into words that listeners understand and relate to
- Making accurate inferences
- Articulating your message in a compelling manner
- Recognizing when others are misinterpreting or not fully understanding
- Speaking candidly when needed
- Telling stories, using metaphors, painting word pictures to enhance understanding
- Reading “between the lines” to understand what hasn’t been said
- Note-taking to capture important information
- Assertively stating your position without minimizing others’ positions
- Identifying what type of information is most valued by listeners
- Modifying presentation style to meet audience needs
- Projecting confidence without seeming arrogant
- Using diagrams, illustrations, demos, and other tools to explain fully
- Editing what’s shared (written or verbal) so the main point is not diluted
Sales organizations tend to screen for and hire sellers who do a good job in the interview of coming across as personable and talkative. Those communication skills matter, too, but they’re not enough. In fact, without a balance of other skills, sellers who talk a lot and over-rely on their presentation skills are negatively viewed by buyers. Professional sellership involves much stronger and broader communication skills.
Why Communication Skills Matter More Now than Ever Before in Selling
Research with buyers leaves no room for doubt. Buyers want sellers to demonstrate behaviors that display strong communication skills more frequently.
In a panel study with 530 B2B buyers, this is the behavior buyers listed at the very top of desirable behaviors they’d like to see more often from sellers:
Buyers want sellers to more often engage in two-way dialogue. They also want sellers to answer the questions they ask in a timely manner. They want to be heard and understood. They don’t want what they say to be ignored when it’s inconvenient to the seller.
Buyers are looking for sellers to provide them with a relevant, meaningful experience. They’re willing to pay more for an experience that dignifies and involves them. This research and the actions sellers can take to make behavioral modifications are all explained further in the book Stop Selling & Start Leading.
Communication skills have become increasingly important in selling because buyers have options, are protective of their time, and no longer need sellers to merely present information that’s available elsewhere.
Sellers who see themselves as purveyors of information are missing out. There are two aspects to communication, and sellers need to proactively manage both.
Sellers who excel send strong messages that are easy to understand. They need to pay attention to how messages are decoded to buyers and whether messages are accurately received. Buyers can only respond to their own understanding of the message, not what the seller hoped would be interpreted.
Communication is also more important than ever because sellers are competing for buyers’ time. Breaking through all the other messages a buyer is exposed to in a single day requires superior communication. Becoming a memorable seller starts with making an impression and an impact, and two-way, connective communication is the best way to do that.
To compete and win in selling, communication skills are not optional. A broader mastery of more communication skills is a distinct advantage. Stick with this series to learn more about what you can do build your skills and translate them into stronger sales performance!
Can Superior Technical Knowledge Compensate for Inferior Communication Skills?
Sellers with engineering backgrounds, advanced degrees, technology products, and/or complex sales cycles, often believe that their technical expertise is an adequate substitute for communication skills.
Similarly, sellers who are more introverted tend to feel that communication skills are less important than process, thoughtfully written proposals, or product strengths.
And sellers with magnetic personalities and charm also deny the importance of some communication skills, thinking their affability alone will win sales.
All three groups are incorrect in their assumptions. Each group brings strengths that are important, and those strengths should be leveraged. But those strengths should not be justifications for ignoring the development of additional communication skills.
No matter what your personality style – analytical vs. relationship-focused, introvert vs. extrovert, outgoing vs. reserved – there are communication skills that will enhance your natural preferences and strengths to make you a more effective seller.
This is an important acknowledgement because neglecting the development of communication skills is a surefire way to lose sales. People with superior communication skills often win sales over people with superior technical expertise, lower prices, better products, and strong presentation skills. It may not be fair, but it’s a fact. You may think it’s foolhardy for buyers to make decisions based on the “wrong” criteria, but buyers are human. They make decisions based, in part, on emotions.
Communication creates bonds. It triggers emotional connections.
If any one skill supersedes the others it’s strong listening. Listening is known as a “compensator competency. “ That means others will overlook or forgive your lack of other skills so long as you are an excellent listener, at least in the short-term.
Listening well is the “master skill” of communication. It’s a topic we’ll cover extensively here in two weeks. In our research with buyers, behaviors related to listening consistently rose to the top. These behaviors are strongly preferred by buyers. Buyers said they meet more often with and buy more often from sellers who are excellent listeners.
No buyers in our research prioritized superior technical knowledge or other skills above strong communication-related behaviors.
Bonus: Advanced Communication Skills that Are Crucial to Sales Success
Take another look at the top of this post. The list of 20 communication skills may have surprised you.
Maybe you never really thought about how modulating your inflection or tone could improve sales. You might not even be sure what that means or how to go about doing it.
Or maybe you haven’t taken time yet to study the art of asking quality questions. You follow the script, ask the canned questions, and move quickly into presentation mode. You haven’t learned about the power questions have to build rapport and trust with buyers. You haven’t seen the research with buyers that demonstrates how questions are like magic in creating instant value and advancing sales.
Or maybe you’ve been so adrenaline-fueled in your sales approach that you haven’t taken time to “read between the lines” or tell stories to buyers or consider how modifying your presentation style to each buyer might make it easier for them to understand why they should buy from you.
Start with whichever items on the list are least familiar or most intimidating for you. These are all skills or habits that can be built by anyone who is mindful of them.
We will tackle most of these topics during this series, and we offer training and 1-to-1 coaching in all these skills. If you want to boost your sales performance in the coming year, invest the time in building a broad array of communication skills.
Want to improve your soft skills in selling? Check out our self-guided e-learning.