How to Recognize and Master the Sales Conversation

The Gist:

  • It takes time and continuous effort to obtain mastery.
  • Experience allows you to recognize patterns and understand how to produce certain results by making distinctions.
  • Mastering the sales conversation means knowing where you are and how to move forward.

This post will be unusual, but I hope you know that I would not send you anything that wasn’t worth your time and effort. To derive the massive lesson here, you are going to have to watch this video first. It’s from a drummer named Larnell Lewis, and his YouTube videos show him listening to a song once and playing it perfectly. In the video, the song he plays is from a genre that is unusual for him, making it a bit more difficult. The song is “Enter Sandman” by Metallica, a relatively difficult—and technical—song to play on the drums.

Let’s walk through the video. The note at the beginning says that “Larnell is practicing his active listening.” While that is true, it doesn’t fully explain how he can play the song perfectly on the first try.

First, he discerns the measures in each section, providing him with a good idea of what the song’s structure might be. His experience as a drummer allows him to recognize enough to make some assumptions about what comes next. Next, he recognizes an aggressive beat coming and hits the toms, and there’s an upbeat followed by two shots and then a snare. Third, he recognizes a build, and then he says “push,” which I take to mean pushing the beat.

He notices the high-hat cymbals are left open to allow them to continue to ring. Then, the beat shifts to half-time, something he doesn’t expect. He says, “Half-time vibe. Wow!” He mistakenly thinks the chorus is a pre-chorus. Then, he notices it’s a shorter chorus. Finally, he starts to move his hands, rehearsing the beat. He knows that there will be a stop on a cymbal crash. There is a big shot a minute later, and he says, “I’m going to miss that,” a little touch that happens only once. Naturally, he misses it.

A salesperson sitting at the desk learning about the sales conversation

What You Can Learn

If there’s one thing that will actually get me to spend time on YouTube, it is watching someone demonstrate a high level of mastery at their craft while showing how to develop that level of skill. Larnell is an amazing drummer. There is no way he could play “Enter Sandman” after hearing it only once if he didn’t already have the competency to play all the parts, including the double bass parts for which Lars Ulrich, Metallica’s drummer, is known.

The reason he doesn’t struggle too much to learn the song is that he has so thoroughly ingrained a great number of frameworks that he has a way to categorize what he is hearing, classifying it. One way to think of this process is that Larnell is hanging these parts on a series of hooks, sequencing them in the order in which he will have to play them. He is constructing the drum parts by recognizing what is being played and in what order.

He doesn’t have to know how many times something repeats because the pattern is common enough that he only needs to recognize the surprises and where they occur. Because he plays jazz, where a riff might go ten times instead of four, this pattern is simple in comparison. As he rehearses in his head, he says something about there being high hats initially, and he assumes that it does that twice. He decides that the song is probably “even all around,” making it “something conformable to listen to.” His ability to recognize the pattern provides him with what he needs to know what to expect next.

A sales leader has developed mastery of the sales conversation

How You Develop Your Mastery of the Sales Conversation

In the last few months, I have written two posts on the tremendous value of scripts, which I prefer to describe as planned dialogue. The sales conversation, even though it can be surprisingly nonlinear, is very much like a song. The conversations tend to follow a pattern that is easy to discern, which allows you, like Larnell, to recognize when something is out of sequence or surprising, provided you are operating from a reliable general map (another topic about which I have recently published).

The challenges your clients have tend to be similar enough that you can make an educated guess at what they might be; the same goes for the questions your clients ask. There is never a reason not to know what to expect when something happens over and over. As you master that pattern, you learn your client’s part as well as your own. While you will experience surprises that will make you think on your feet, the more clearly you recognize how the song generally goes, the easier it is for you to progress in the conversation.

You can think of the sales conversation very much like a series of hooks on which you can hang certain conversations. Given a relatively accurate map of the terrain, something out of order can surprise you without causing you to lose your way. When you are not where you believe you need to be, you can take care of the client’s needs and work your way back over the ground you missed. You can think of objections in the same way, guessing what kind of concerns might cause a contact to reject a commitment you ask them to make.

Many people want sales to be a science but it is much closer to being a craft, something akin to art or performance. There are principles and some structure, with a flexibility that allows for improvisation and the ability to create something new or put a new spin on something well-established. Take you cue from Larnell: learn to recognize the patterns around you, so you can improve your understanding of the complex communication that is the sales conversation.

Do Good Work:

  • Which conversations cause you problems in the sales conversation? What do you notice about them?
  • What conversations do you have over and over that you might improve by recognizing the pattern, creating a strategy, and developing more effective language?
  • What would you have to change in your approach if you were seeking mastery?

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