9 Critical Factors that Increase Effectiveness in the Sales Conversation

The Gist

  • Improving variables within the sales conversation can increase your effectiveness throughout the sales process.
  • Your sales conversation is affected by your confidence about and competence in your knowledge, relevance, language, questions, clarity, conviction, rapport, trust, and value.
  • Improving each factor ensures greater value in the sales conversation. The more valuable you are, the greater your chances of winning and creating deals.

When you boil sales down to its essence, you realize that it is a series of conversations, decisions, and commitments. Despite fictional models like the sales process or the buyer’s journey, in the end you have a series of conversations with a person or group of people—your clients—who make certain decisions and commit to additional conversations and actions.

Most sales organizations look to technology to improve their results, even though most technologies are unfit for that job. Instead, role-playing and rehearsing the sales conversation always improve a salesperson’s ability to create value in the conversation, while also increasing their confidence and competence. To add to those practices, here’s a list of variables that influence to your effectiveness in the sales conversation. Improving in each of these areas will improve your conversational effectiveness.

Puzzle sliding into knowledge metaphor

Your Knowledge

In the past decade, we have sliced sales into thin, specialized roles, with each specialist being responsible for one part of the transaction. But the sales conversation shouldn’t like your burrito bowl at Chipotle, where you tell three different people what you want as you shuffle past their stations.

One of the unfortunate outcomes of this approach is that many specialists lack the knowledge they need to serve their prospective clients. Their organizations often withhold subject-matter experts until they deem them necessary, making it more difficult for their prospective clients and the salespeople working to win the prospect’s business.

Every person speaking to a decision-maker needs to have the knowledge necessary to serve that client, whether that means helping them understand how to make the right decision or compelling them to change. Because the contact is an active participant in the conversation, you need the expertise to provide your client with what they need to move forward.

Your Relevance

After your knowledge, the relevance of your conversation is the next key variable in your sales conversation effectiveness. Your relevance is your ability to help your prospective client achieve the outcomes they are pursuing. A dozen or more entries on this site chronicle all the ways we engage in conversations that are not relevant to the client’s desired outcome, including the ever-popular (yet still ineffective) proof-providing procedure. Unless your goal is to make your client pass out from boredom before Slide 2, skip that one.

Your client may be trying to understand why they struggle to produce some important result, how things have changed in their industry and what new choices might be available to them, or why different companies in your space give them different answers to their questions. You need to think like a client, making certain your conversation meets their needs, not just yours.

Your Language

Good language is better than bad language. Some language choices are more helpful and more powerful in serving your client and the conversation. Other language choices can negatively impact the conversation, reducing your effectiveness. Here are two examples of poor language choices:

“Thank you for agreeing to meet with us. Would you mind telling us what your company does?” That conversation didn’t last more than a few minutes.

“How does your company produce better results than your competition? “Dude, we’re just better!” As happy is it would make me to tell you that this salesperson won the deal on the sheer strength of his comedic timing, he went down in a blaze of ignominy.

See this post on sales scripts for more examples of effective and ineffective language.

Question block within a maze

Your Questions

Great questions are many times more valuable than great statements. A quiver full of powerful questions, the kind that elicit an immediate “that’s a great question,” will ensure your conversation is valuable to your client. Ideally, your questions should provide your client with a “lightbulb” moment by helping them learn something about themselves.

Including a few of these illuminating questions in your conversation shows that you are not only creating value for your contacts, but also that you are differentiating yourself and tipping the scales in your direction, creating a preference to buy from you. What Rackham termed “situational questions” create too little value, as do “problem questions,” even though some are necessary.

If you have no questions that turn on the lights for your clients, you risk losing deals to competitors with greater insights and a better sales approach.

Clarity

It’s important that your client understands you. You have to be clear about what you are saying and ensure that your contacts know what your questions, answers, and statements mean. Their confusion will work against you, creating concerns instead of confidence.

Recently, I spoke to a salesperson who was unclear about their pricing. After asking twice and getting two different answers with two different ranges, I lost confidence in the salesperson and their company. One of the benefits of rehearsing and role-playing is that it prepares you for your performance. Instead, most salespeople treat their performance like practice, as if there were no negative consequences for a bad performance.

You are a sense-maker. You have to provide your clients with clarity, starting with the clarity you bring to the conversation.

Conviction

No one will believe you if you don’t believe yourself. You have to be convicted about what you say and how you say it. One of the factors that makes one a trusted advisor and a consultative salesperson is their ability to provide advice on what their clients need to do to improve their results.

Being uncertain and wishy-washy makes for a poor sales conversation. You also make it impossible for the decision-makers and decision-shapers to take your advice seriously. When a person is looking for certainty, a lack of conviction makes them unsure.

Rapport

We both overestimate and underestimate rapport. We overestimate rapport when we believe that it is enough to create and win an opportunity because we have occasionally enjoyed a strong connection with a contact. We underestimate it when we believe that selling is not about relationships, especially if the deal means working together for years or decades.

Napoleon Hill wrote about having a “pleasing personality,” something different than being “conflict-averse” or a “people pleaser.” Strong rapport makes even the most difficult conversations easier. Diplomacy also improves your ability to share harsh truths without reducing any preference to work with you.

The reason this is not first on the list is that if you spend too much time trying to develop rapport early, it often gives your contacts the idea that you are wasting their time.

Trust

Being a trusted advisor requires exactly two things: trust and advice. Those two words sum up the whole of the sales conversation. No one is going to buy from someone they don’t trust, nor will they take advice from a “know-nothing.” Charlie Green will tell you that you need to be credible, reliable, and intimate (a large part of rapport).

Your sales conversation should engender trust. Whatever subtracts from trust reduces your chances of winning a deal. Much of what makes up this list will help you be credible, but you also have to be reliable—doing what you say, keeping your commitments, and following through.

Value

All of the above helps make certain that your sales conversation is valuable for your contacts. The more valuable your conversation, the greater your chances of creating and winning a new deal.

Do Good Work

  • Write down all nine factors, then decide which ones are lacking within your sales conversations.
  • Target these factors within your role-playing and rehearsals, especially so you can improve your knowledge, relevance, and language.
  • What value do you already provide to your clients? How can you create more value to create and win more deals?

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