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When you get down to it, sales is all about persuasion.
How can I convince the decision maker to act on the offer I’m presenting?
And like it or not, a big part of being persuasive is crafting the correct image.
In the context of a salesperson, this means dressing, acting, and most importantly, sounding the part.
No matter how popular indirect, text-based communication becomes, voice conversations — and therefore the telephone — are still absolutely essential to the modern sales agent’s tool kit.
The most persuasive and successful sales reps have to balance an air of expertise, likability, and authority. To achieve this, agents must find the right balance and tone, sometimes making in-the-moment value judgments.
Finding this sweet spot takes practice, but it’s helpful to look at other professions and scenarios where vocal control and presentation count extra, including:
Good First Impressions
Each category has something valuable to teach about how vocal presentation affects sales persuasion.
Sound Likable and Building Conversational Momentum
No matter what type of conversation you’re having, a few tips and tricks hold true for all of them.
Say their name
Historic sales influencer, Dale Carnegie has said: “a person’s name is, to that person, the sweetest and most important sound in any language.” It turns out, this observation may be more than just anecdotal.
For one, remembering someone’s name builds trust, familiarity, and comfort in conversation. Referencing your listener by name will create a sense of understanding and respect. This holds true for a few reasons.
People do like hearing their own names. Studies have shown that hearing one’s name creates greater brain activity than other vocalizations. Referencing your prospect by name can act as a way to refocus their attention on the conversation.
It also shows a higher level of commitment on your end. By showing your prospect that you’ve made the effort to learn and internalize his or her name, you’ll come across as professional, detail-oriented, and, above all else, appreciative of their time, particularly if you’re cold calling.
However, there is such thing as using the prospect’s name too often. If it’s overdone, you risk coming across as insincere or manipulative. This is, of course, not the desired outcome.
Engage in active listening
Every productive conversation involves interest and understanding on both sides, but just because you’re paying attention doesn’t mean your audience knows you are. People like to know they’re being heard.
In small groups and especially professional phone conversations, active listening is required to let your audience know you follow what they’re saying. It’s also a vital tactic in eliciting true sentiments during your prospect research.
Active listeners will periodically repeat information they’ve just heard in a paraphrased form. They will insert short verbal affirmations, such as “I see,” “go on,” and “I understand” during natural pauses in the speaker’s sentences.
Ask sharper questions
Furthermore, active listening can only be effectively used when the listener knows how to keep the conversation going in a productive — and natural — direction.
That is to say, good listeners also know how to ask open-ended questions that let the speaker speak. These are multi-layered questions that avoid one-word answers. “How,” and “what” questions promote explanation and deeper understanding.
Ex. “How do you foresee achieving those goals?” and “What will you do as a result?”
Beware of inserting too many “why” based questions, however, as these can come across as interrogating.
Learning About Sales Persuasion From Public Speaking
Public speaking and sales calls have a lot more in common than you’d think. They’re both considered high-pressure situations, and extra emphasis is put on how you sound to your audience.
Slowing down and embracing silence
A common trap that many public speakers and sales reps fall into is filling natural pauses and moments of silence with unnecessary noise. Speaking to a live audience, as well as on the phone to strangers, creates what speech coaches call a “performance zone.”
There’s something about the isolated sound of one’s voice that makes us talk more than normal. To compensate, we’re likely to use filler noises (like the dreaded “umm”), repeat sentences unjustly, or even use random works that would make little sense if transcribed.
While everyone falls victim to this habit from time-to-time, it comes across as uncertain, unknowledgeable, and, at worst, disingenuous.
The trick is to slow down. Even if it sounds unnatural at first, it’s unlikely your potential customer will think anything of it. Plus, slow speech sounds more authentic when injected with personality and expression. Slowing down will help you form relevant thoughts in the moment, balance your tone, and in the end, present a complete and meaningful message.
And although it will sound strange at first, filling thoughtful moments or natural pauses in conversation with silence is far preferable to an unplanned ramble.
Treating a Phone Call Like a Speech
By the time a sales representative is ready to get on the phone, they should be extremely prepared. They should already know what the prospect’s use case entails, but also a substantial amount about the individual to whom they’ll be speaking.
They should be absolute product experts. This means not only knowing how the product or service works at a granular level but also anticipating potential objections.
Prepared sales reps have plausible workarounds ready, just in case a prospect sees, what they consider to be, a shortcoming.
And so, preparation is obviously vital to sounding knowledgeable over the phone. But preparation can go a step too far. Any good sales professional should have a clear idea of what they should communicate, but memorization and a verbatim sales script need to be avoided.
After a fair amount of practice, experienced sales agents won’t need any sort of external documentation to make a concise, and engaging pitch. In the beginning, however, bullet point lists of talking points, possible objections, workarounds, and factual product information will help successful salespeople deliver an accurate and engaging message without sounding robotic and impersonal.
The relationship between body language and voice
Given the strictly auditory nature of phone sales, you don’t have to worry about slouching during a meeting. However, if your posture is poor, listeners might pick up on some of the unintended consequences.
Speech coaches agree, there’s a noticeable relationship between body language, energy, and vocal inflection. In most cases, the tone you want to project can be supplemented, or even artificially created, by putting yourself in the right physical situation.
If you want to appear upbeat and energetic, try literally putting “pep in your step” by walking around a quiet space and using physical gestures. To strike a more casual tone, smiling as you speak will create the right scene, emotionally.
As an additional sales technique, many sales coaches advise speaking to your prospect as if they’re a recognizable figure in your life. Parent, friend, and supervisor could have analogs as various levels of seniority in prospective customers.
Once you do your research and establish plausible buyer personas, these mental exercises will help you approach the conversation with the right attitude and deliver a persuasive message.
Treating a Sales Call Like a Job Interview
In one scenario, you’re trying to land a job, and in another, you’re trying to keep one…
Jokes aside, there are quite a few lessons that interview coaching can teach reps about selling.
Acknowledge your weaknesses
For one, sales reps should display confidence, but this should come as a result of their product knowledge and industry authority. Humility is, in most situations, a better response than combativeness.
Just as in a job interview, an honest acknowledgment of your product’s situational shortcomings will communicate vulnerability and openness. If you don’t, you risk sounding inauthentic and devaluing your product.
Objections can largely be predicted, but if you’re ever faced with one that’s too big for the moment, there’s no reason to panic.
Once again, humble realism beats a fast-talking wit. An honest attempt at creating a workaround is more professional than a quick deflection or unprepared answer. Furthermore, you can always say you’ll “follow up with an email.” This creates an ongoing dialogue and reinforces the idea that you are a trustworthy colleague rather than a questionable source.
Sell with stories, too
Good job candidates are capable of performing the tasks listed in the job description.
Great candidates, however, go above and beyond what the description requires. In the interview, they’re able to show how they will directly, and quickly, add value to the organization.
From a phone sales perspective, you’re trying to persuade your prospect, as succinctly and naturally as possible, how your product will meet — and exceed — their needs.
To succeed in this, many sales professionals use storytelling techniques to grab, retain, and sell their prospect. Creating a plotline encourages listeners to feel the benefits of a product, rather than just hearing them.
And a great sales story is like any other — that is to say, we can draw inspiration and recommendations from seasoned storytelling venues.
These four tips are especially applicable to sales representatives.
Set the stakes
If nothing is at stake, why is your more useful than another? Why is it useful at all? Maybe your product increases productivity — maybe it’s cheaper. Make it very clear what your prospect stands to lose by going with another option or doing nothing at all.
Keep it within the time limit
Going off point is a bad idea in any interaction, but especially when you’re cold calling. If your sales pitch is too long, or if you’re asking too many questions with nuanced and extended answers, you’ll lose your audience’s attention (and perhaps their respect too). Make your points impactful and succinct. Collect what you need to get to the next steps.
Avoid meandering endings
Your pitch should have a clear and impactful ending that shows how your product helped achieve the desired result. Everything builds to this point, and it should mark a turning point in the conversation — whether that be to a Q&A or you asking a series of discovery questions.
Don’t give a standup routine
Comedy is an art form that works best in designated venues. When the audience isn’t expecting a joke, it rarely goes over as intended. When on a product demo or cold calling, it definitely helps to be amicable (and even playful at times), but your newest material can wait for the comedy club. If it doesn’t land, you risk appearing unprofessional.
Putting it All Together
Sales persuasion is about making a personal connection with your prospect. It will mean finding a workable middle ground between professional and casual.
But as with any performance, job interview, or even a first date, the more experience you have, the easier it will become. Eventually, these tips and reminders will become second nature in your sales process, and when that happens, you’ll discover calling is easy, enjoyable, and effective.