In last week’s CONNECT2Sell blog post, we got an overview of why communication skills are so crucial to sales success. In fact, out of all the soft skills required for selling, communication skills may be the most important of all. The surprising takeaway is that there are a minimum of 20 specific skills under that broad umbrella of communication.
In this post, we’ll examine one of those 20 types of communication skills: verbal communication, mainly in the context of sales presentations and interactions. Improving your verbal communication could include working on your:
- Word choice
- Clarity of message
- Body language
- Facial expressions
- Customizing of the message to the audience
- Perception management
That’s a lot to cover, so we’ll also be diving deeper into these 20 aspects of verbal communication in a video series that will launch later this year. Go ahead and subscribe now to our YouTube Channel so you’ll get notified when those videos are ready for you!
What You Say and How You Say It Make a Difference
Research with buyers reveals why they choose certain sellers. Buyers respond to sellers they trust, like, and feel connected to. Earning a buyer’s trust and esteem starts with clear and compelling communication. Establishing rapport and a bond with buyers also requires effective communication. Consider these examples, observed as I coached sellers in field, about what happens when communication isn’t fully mastered and skillfully executed.
Martin is a brilliant engineer and technical expert. He knows everything about his product and how it can improve cybersecurity for mid-size companies in his industry. When Martin presents, he gets a little carried away and doesn’t notice when buyers’ eyes glaze over or when they’re unable to keep up with his technical jargon and features-laden demo. Oftentimes, his buyers’ decision team isn’t the technical team alone. Even when he knows this, Martin talks exclusively to the people who have backgrounds similar to his own.
Izzy is one of the warmest, nicest people you’ll ever meet. Her mega-watt smile is dazzling, and her ability to empathize with others is unrivaled. Izzy is 28 years old, and she believes older buyers don’t take her seriously. It might be due to her use of casual language and “vocal fry.” Although research is inconclusive, some studies report that vocal fry “is not perceived as authoritative or serious, but rather as immature and uneducated.” Izzy is working to modify her voice quality and vocal cord vibrations to see if it makes a difference. So far, the habit of this affectation has been difficult for her to break.
Charlie has been in sales for 41 years, and he’s earned every distinction and award possible. He’s proud of the lifestyle he’s made for his family despite “barely making it through high school.” Charlie is larger than life, with a booming voice and auctioneer-paced presentations. He tells certain stories and repeats corny jokes with every buyer he meets. He clicks quickly and solidly with some buyers. But others find his “schtick” to be off-putting. They view Charlie as an entertainer more than as a trusted partner.
Ashley prides herself on her professionalism. She works in an industry where the “boy’s club” is acknowledged and omnipresent. She feels she has to “prove herself every single day because women aren’t taken seriously in selling, especially in this business.” She’s also had to overcome unwelcome advances, especially at conferences and at networking events. As a result, Ashley is constantly on guard. She doesn’t make much eye contact, doesn’t extend her hand for handshakes, and doesn’t engage in small talk or friendly banter. She maintains a distance, and she is seen as aloof and disinterested.
Amanda is energetic, quick, and direct. She likes to be efficient, and she can pack a lot into her work days. She anticipates what people are going to say, and she often “fills in the blanks” and finishes other people’s sentences for them. She rapidly nods when she understands where the conversation is going, and she interjects with “yep, yep, yep” to speed things along. Without realizing it, Amanda sometimes seems impatient. One buyer described her as condescending, something Amanda never intended to be.
Nick considers himself to be a consultant, not a seller. He solves problems for his clients. He avoids, at all costs, any behaviors that he associates with selling. Because he doesn’t want to seem pushy or boisterous (the way he thinks other sellers are), Nick speaks softly and maintains a neutral tone. He patiently waits for buyers to call him back, and he ends sales presentations with an invitation to do so (vs. closing which, to him, seems pushy). Buyers have interpreted this differently that Nick intends, saying he lacks urgency and doesn’t seem very motivated.
Shianne is earnest, hard-working, dedicated, and self-motivated. She tries hard, and she genuinely wants to excel. She’s found that email and written communications are more effective for her. She gets easily flustered when buyers ask her questions, or when she doesn’t quite know what to say in order to advance the sale. The more nervous she gets, the more strained her voice sounds. She sometimes umms and ahhhs and clears her throat excessively when struggling to string her thoughts together. Although she’s confident in her product, buyers are reluctant to proceed when these nervous behaviors emerge.
What these seven sellers have in common is that one aspect of their verbal communication is interfering with their overall effectiveness. All seven are competent, high-integrity, customer-focused sellers. They bring a wealth of knowledge and good intentions to the table. Buyers’ misperceptions about them are based on these sellers’ choices (mostly sub-conscious) related to their verbal communication.
What you say, along with how you say it, matters.
Buyers won’t give you this feedback. They won’t take time to decipher what it is about you and your communication that’s preventing them from moving forward with you. Even when I interview buyers about their decisions, it takes some thought before they can identify what troubled them.
That means it’s up to you (and, perhaps, an observant coach) to figure out what verbal communication improvements can be made.
Professional sellership includes perception management. Do you know how you’re perceived by others? Do you take close inventory and invite feedback about how your mannerisms, voice, and verbal presentations are received? If you’re like most sellers, you probably have some “blind spots” about your verbal communication and how it impacts others’ perceptions about you.
If “perception management” strikes you as something inauthentic or manipulative, hold on. We all do this. If you’re not thinking about your personal brand and proactively making choices that accurately project who you are and what you stand for, you’re still putting something out there that others use to assess you. This only becomes inauthentic and manipulative if you’re attempting to shape others’ perceptions by falsely portraying yourself.
How to Master Sales Communication for Selling by Phone
Some of the verbal communication techniques listed above are only useful in person. Some are more important when they have to stand alone. For example, if you sell by phone or frequently communicate by phone, you have to use your voice effectively as a substitute for eye contact, gestures, body language, and facial expressions.
Your voice can convey emotion if you skillfully modulate your tone, volume, pace, inflections, rhythm, and pitch. Your voice can mirror your buyers’ voice in the same ways that your body language can. Your voice – when used in its full range – can soothe, excite, inspire confidence, convey urgency, and create connections with buyers.
Buyers make snap judgments about you based on your voice. They instantly decide whether or not you are confident, competent, trustworthy, and worth spending time with.
Vocal coaches (for speaking, not singing) teach the techniques for speaking from your diaphragm to command attention and sound strong. Most people speak, instead, through their chest (sounding breathy), mouth (sounding shallow or strained) or nose (sounding high-pitched or whiny).
Toastmasters International is a great resource for working on your voice quality. It’s not just for people who make on-stage presentations. It’s for anyone who wants to speak more effectively, in person or by phone… professionally or personally… in sales or in any situation.
With deliberate attention, anyone can make changes in their voice. Check out this video of Margaret Thatcher. It shows her vocal presence before and after she received vocal coaching to come across as more assertive and trustworthy.
There are vocal exercises you can do before you start your day. Professional announcers and actors use exercises like this one to tune up their voices, improve their articulation and diction, and work on speaking clearly and confidently. Singers and speakers use warm ups like this one to improve their enunciation and to vary their pitch and tone.
To become more effective when communicating over the phone, one of the easiest things to work on is your pace. Sellers tend to speak rapidly in an effort to cram in as much as possible before the buyer can get a word in edgewise. Adrenaline-fueled sellers naturally speak fast even without that pressure. If you want to differentiate yourself and avoid sounding like a stereotypical smile-and-dial sales pitch, just talk slower. Try it!
Another easy tip is to remind yourself that there’s a person on the other end of the phone. Talk with the person, not from a script. Don’t let yourself become robotic or sales-y sounding because you’re reading or reciting something generic.
The phone doesn’t have to be a barrier to making strong connections with buyers. Look for ways your voice can represent who you are and how you want to be perceived. Then take steps to work on mastering your voice so it will be a stronger tool for you.
More Pitfalls that Interfere with Effective Verbal Communication
There are two more pitfalls to consider when it comes to verbal communication.
The first is talking too much.
Effective sellers know when to stop talking.
They know that yielding the floor and letting buyers do more of the talking will advance sales faster and more frequently to a close. They ask quality questions to engage buyers and learn about them.
When asked how they felt about sellers who asked good questions, buyers most frequently used the words in this word cloud. Buyers did not use these same words when describing time with sellers who asked few questions or poor-quality questions.
That’s because quality questions stimulate thought, create value, and enable buyers to participate in the conversation. They build buy in and commitment long before it’s time to complete the sales process.
Effective sellers also learn to get comfortable with silence. When they ask a question, they don’t immediately re-ask it or follow up with additional questions. They certainly don’t start answering it on their own. Instead, they patiently wait, allowing buyers to collect their thoughts and formulate their responses, making a true dialogue and exchange.
Effective sellers also embrace silence when negotiating or closing. They know buyers are more likely to agree when they’ve had a chance to evaluate what’s been said and internally commit before being asked to hurriedly commit outwardly.
The last consideration we’ll explore in today’s post about verbal communication is in choosing what to say. In sales, this often comes down to good critical thinking.
You can derail a sale by saying the wrong thing at the wrong time. Critical thinking and judgment helps sellers read the situation, consider the implications of what they say, and position their statements appropriately for the buyer.
Good critical thinking also helps sellers know how to respond to objections and when to ask for the close. Choosing the right words isn’t about having some secret phrase. It’s about understanding the individual buyer(s) and where they are in their buying process. Verbal communication that dignifies the buyer will always be more effective than scripted comebacks or canned closes.
Want to learn more about your communication and how it can help you become more effective in selling? Bookmark this blog and come back weekly for practical, tactical ways you can build your sellership.