Let’s start by setting aside the fallacy about how all sellers are gregarious, think-on-their-feet types who have a snappy comeback and a witty repartee for every social situation. It’s simply not true. And it’s not fair to make these generalizations because they lead to unrealistic expectations.
Like any assumption or generalization, this one can be damaging. Because “all” sellers are (or are supposed to be) endowed with the gift of gab, sales organizations seldom provide training or tips related to building presentation skills and handling awkward interactions. If you are a seller who doesn’t fit the gregarious stereotype, you may not seek out your own resources for fear of exposure.
This fallacy is so prevalent that it affects how companies select sales team members. The emphasis on personality and what comes across in the interview is significantly greater than what you see in selection for other types of jobs. Since personality alone isn’t what gets the sales job done, this is unfortunate. I’ve seen many introverted sellers who are superstar performers get passed over in favor of mediocre sellers who are more extroverted.
Now that we’ve lamented about and set aside this fallacy, let’s take another big step and acknowledge that even the most outgoing, smooth talking, sociable sellers sometimes get tongue-tied. We all do. For some, the underlying cause might be nerves. For others, it’s being caught by surprise and asked to talk about something you’re not really prepared to discuss yet. At times, we get tongue-tied because we’re out of our element or trying too hard to impress or having an off day. It happens.
The good news about getting tongue-tied is that it’s seldom fatal. On the contrary, your moment of vulnerability makes you seem more like a regular person and less like a slick seller. If you are resilient and good-humored about little blips in your conversations with buyers, they will see you as more than a living brochure for your product. This is a good thing!
In addition to humanizing you, getting tongue-tied can help you develop and demonstrate humility. The know-it-all, has-an-answer-for-everything sellers don’t appear to be open or flexible enough to take in new ideas. That’s off-putting to buyers. Being tongue-tied forces us to listen and to admit we don’t know or aren’t prepared to discuss something. In this moment, we can give our buyers space so they can be heard and understood. This is a doubly good thing!
Armed with all this good news, the next time you get tongue-tied, try these techniques for a quick recovery.
- First, remember that this isn’t fatal and doesn’t have to be painful. Turn your oopsie into an opportunity to connect person-to-person.
- No matter what you can’t say, there are some things you can say even when flustered. Give yourself permission to say “I don’t know, but I will find out for you.” Get comfortable with “I need a moment to think this through” and with the silence that follows your request.
- Breathe through the adrenaline rush. When we feel blindsided by a question or ambushed by a buyer’s objection or emotion, we have a physiological response. It’s not all in your imagination. Physically, there is adrenaline coursing through your veins. It’s the “fight or flight” response, and you don’t want to let that overtake you. Relax, let it pass and then respond when you’ve taken a few deep breaths and feel your brain re-engaging.
- Refocus your energy and attention. If you dwell on the mini-meltdown you had, you’ll make it much more noticeable than it otherwise would be. Instead, focus on jotting down a note about whatever has consumed you. The deliberate redirection will help you move on.
- Ask a question for clarification. Use the time you bought to understand more and to calm yourself down. Don’t use the time to mentally prepare your defense or to get yourself even more worked up emotionally. Listen and you’ll probably find it’s not as bad as you think.
Even the most professional and seasoned sellers slip sometimes. It’s okay, especially when you know how to rebound.
About the Author: Deb Calvert has worked as a Corporate Director in a Fortune 500 company and as a consultant, coach and trainer to nearly 400 businesses of all sizes. She helps leaders, managers and sellers become more effective in their roles. Deb is a certified executive coach, and one of 2015's Top 50 Sales Influencers. Her bestselling book, DISCOVER Questions Get You Connected®, is based on field research with buyers and what they want from sales professionals.