One of the most unfortunate stereotypes about sellers is that we are self-centered. Buyers wrongly assume that all sellers are only after their money and only care about themselves. That’s why buyers are guarded. To dispel this unfair notion, you have to work harder and prove that you are interested in your buyers’ needs. You have to demonstrate an orientation to others to prove you’re not selfish and concerned only about yourself.
Soft skills will help you do this in ways like these:
- Demonstrate interest by asking questions about things that matter to the buyer. Follow up to get context and detail about their interests and aims.
- Notice changes in mood, tone and inflection. Read between the lines and probe the hesitations, frustrations, and emotions buyers express in subtle ways.
- Take notes about what your buyer is saying. Even if you have a reliable memory, writing down what they tell signals that you consider their words to be very important.
- Position buyer logos more prominently that your company’s in presentations and proposals.
- Recap buyer needs before talking about solutions and products.
- Quote buyers and repeat specific information they shared with you. Do this before shifting to information about your own products or services.
- Follow up with useful, relevant information that isn’t related to your products and services. “Saw this and thought of you” emails make a positive impression on buyers.
- Honor your commitments. Follow through. Be on time and considerate of your buyer’s time.
- Listen closely and patiently. Don’t rush to a solution. Let your buyer feel heard and understood.
- Be real. Your authentic self is always going to be better than some seller persona you adopt. Let the buyer get to know you.
These small and simple tactics make a difference in relationships. When you engage with buyers, don’t let the buyer/seller dynamic change how you normally interact with others. Show dignity and respect for your buyers by putting their needs ahead of your own.
How Good Are You at Reading People?
People who are other-oriented can quickly pick up on social cues. When sellers are other-oriented, they tune in fully and quickly notice others’ discomfort or shifts in the direction of the conversation. They seldom miss the moment when a buyer decides whether or not to proceed with the purchase or next steps. They can tell what matters most to a buyers and which features are low value. They seem to know exactly what the buyer wants to hear.
Many sellers are unable to do this. They might be able to read people in other settings but, when it comes to reading buyers, they feel less confident and seem to lose this ability.
The reason this happens is that they’re not fully focused on the buyer. They aren’t relaxed and natural in their conversations with buyers. They’re distracted by the fact that this is a sales call and that they have a quota. They get hung up on the self-serving purpose of the sales call and forget that the best way to make sales is to first understand buyers and their needs.
It’s much easier to read people’s moods, motivations, and priorities when you aren’t trying to control them. Sellers too often get this backwards. Instead of meeting buyers where they are and being responsive to them, many sellers try instead of push buyers into the mood, motivation or priority the seller would like them to have.
If you’re good at reading people, you will be really good at selling. Think of your buyers as books. They have a story to tell. The story isn’t going to change just because you want it to. But you can read it, as is, and seek to understand it. Once the story is fully told and understood, you can help the buyer write the next chapter. You earn that right by being other-oriented first.
Using Mirroring to Connect with Others
Try this. Observe natural conversations between two people in a variety of settings. You can do this from a distance, no need to eavesdrop! Watch the body language, facial expressions, and mannerisms displayed by both people. You’ll notice that they tend to emulate each other in subtle ways. If one crosses his arms, the other does, too. If one tilts her head, the other soon does the same. When one sits back and stretches out, the other follows. Smiles, frowns, laughter, posture…. People mirror each other without even thinking about it.
You can mirror people on purpose, too. It’s a subtle way to break the ice and accelerate others’ comfort with you. This can’t, of course, be over-the-top and obvious. It’s best to choose a few subtle expressions when you’re doing this intentionally.
Research on mirroring behaviors tells us that people feel more understood by others who mirror them, even when they aren’t aware that they’re being mirrored. When we mirror people, even intentionally, we do seem to understand them better. We listen more closely, understand emotions behind what’s been said better, and are quicker to pick up on changes in mood or sentiment.
It may seem like a cheap trick to mirror others on purpose. But it’s really no different than reminding yourself to smile when you first meet someone. Behaviors that are positive, affirming, and helpful to communication should be displayed as often as possible. What’s more, soon after you start mirroring someone on purpose, you’ll relax with them and begin it do it more naturally without even thinking about it.
Watching to see if your buyer mirrors you is also helpful. If they like you, agree with you, want to make you feel comfortable, and understand what you’re saying, they’ll be more likely to mirror your expressions and body language. When you observe that a buyer is not mirroring you, it can be an early indicator that something isn’t quite right. There’s an unspoken objection, a resistance to sellers, or something else that’s interfering with the human-to-human connection you need to establish with this buyer.
The soft skills of selling ultimately have one sole purpose: to bring you and the buyer closer so you can establish rapport and trust. Buyers who are comfortable with you and more likely to get comfortable with what you’re selling. Mirroring is a simple and effective way to help you buyer connect with you.
Advanced Tips for Mastering the Soft Side of Sales
Self-awareness is the place to start if you want to master the soft side of sales. You need to understand how others perceive you and how your behaviors impact them. You have to accept your strengths and utilize them to overcome your weaknesses. Acknowledging your weaknesses and mistakes is an important part of developing self-awareness. Denying or distancing yourself from your faults won’t make the go away. It will only make you seem immature and unwilling to improve yourself or take responsibility.
Once you have a good grasp on self-awareness, you will be better equipped to objectively read others. You won’t judge their behaviors as harshly or assume that it’s about you. You’ll be more accepting, and you’ll give others grace for their flaws. Having acknowledged that you’re not perfect makes your expectations of others more reasonable, too.
Now you can empathize and understand what’s going on with your buyers. You will see more clearly how they’re affected by the problems they’re facing. You’ll be more effective in connecting with them in an authentic way.
When your relationship isn’t getting off the ground as quickly as you’d like, your self-awareness will also help you diagnose the barriers more objectively. You won’t be defensive or quick to blame the buyer. You’ll consider how they might be responding to something you said or did that potentially breached their trust. You’ll feel more confidently asking them to tell you what’s not working and what they would like to see you doing differently. With improved self-awareness, you’ll also become more observant. You’ll notice what others do that makes them effective in connecting with people. It will become more clear to you what you’re doing that draws people in and what you’re doing that seems to push people away (even a little bit). As you make these discoveries, you’ll be able to fine tune your interactions and continually build soft skills that buyers respond to favorably.
Ironically, your self-awareness is the key to your other-orientation. When people aren’t self-aware but attempt to be other-oriented, it often backfires. They are accommodating but feel taken advantage of. They may prefer to serve others but they don’t get their own needs met. Other-orientation isn’t about self-sacrifice. It’s about making sure all parties (including you) get their needs met. For you, that means making a sale. For buyers, it means partnering with someone who cares and provides a good solution.