Monthly Archives: March 2016

Your Customers Will Thank You for Listening!

man listening to his customers to make sales

Improve your listening skills – your customers will thank you for it! Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici on freedigitalphotos.net

One of the best team-mates I ever had was a Level 1 listener. His ability was amazing. It was as though each word was being documented and analyzed as they came out of his customer’s mouth. The magic transferred into an uncanny knack of knowing what the customer was trying to say – sometimes even before she had finished explaining.

There are three levels of listening:

•    Level 1. You give the customer (or the person you’re in conversation with) your full attention.
•    Level 2. Your attention ranges from partial to full, and you pick up on the major themes of the conversation.
•    Level 3. Your attention is elsewhere. We’ve all been here — like the time you asked someone how they’re doing, they start to answer and you immediately start to think about your to-do list.

Listening at Level 1 means not allowing distractions to interfere with your efforts to hear and understand what the customer is telling you.

But is Level 1 listening enough? Not quite, but it’s a good start. If the goal is to understand the customer’s need, two more skills are needed to uncover hidden gems of information that will help you assist them.

Ask open and closed questions

Getting a complete picture of the customer’s needs requires you to ask a strategic mix of open and closed questions:

•    Open questions invite extended answers.
•    Closed questions invite a word or short phrase.

This is important because open questions allow you to get the big picture of the customer’s needs, while closed questions allows you to zero in on the details. This way, you have a much deeper understanding of the customer’s issues and can use your expertise to help solve them.

Confirm your understanding

To show the customer that you both share a common understanding, you confirm your understanding of customer needs with a three-step process:

1.  Repeat key words and phrases the customer has used.
2.  Summarize the customer’s situation in your own words.
3.  Check for customer agreement.

It’s these additional two skills that allow you to expand your information gathering (don’t forget to keep listening!) and then repeat it back to the person in a meaningful way.

By using these three skills in a customer service interaction, your customers will not only feel more connected to your employees, but the potential rewards are much greater: increased customer loyalty and new business through positive word-of-mouth recommendations.

To learn more about how you can develop a more loyal customer base, contact us today.

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Maximizing Your Sales Talent

A small portion of your workforce will stand out as top performers

A small portion of your workforce will stand out as top performers. Image courtesy of lekkyjustdoit on freedigitalphotos.net

Is there such a thing as talent? Looking at innate talent, the obvious answer is yes! Let’s have a closer look at talent quoting from Webster’s Dictionary, which defines talent as, “the intellectual ability, natural or acquired; mental endowment or capacity; skill in accomplishing; a special gift, particularly in business, art, or the like.”

Talent and the 10,000-Hours Rule

Quoting from Malcolm Gladwell’s book ‘Outliers’ [1] he writes that the closer psychologists look at the careers of the gifted, the smaller the role innate talent seems to play and the bigger the role preparation seems to play. The psychologist K. Anders Ericsson and his colleagues could not find any ‘naturals,’ musicians who floated effortlessly to the top while practicing a fraction of the time their peer did. Their research suggests that once a musician has enough ability to get into a top music school, the thing that distinguishes one performer from another is how hard he or she works. Very top performers work much harder than anyone else. And mastery kicks in with the rule of 10,000-hours practice. Malcolm Gladwell shares multiple examples for the rule of 10,000-hours ranging from Mozart, The Beatles to Bill Gates.

 

Sales Talent

Research conducted in 2011 and 2012 by Ernest O’Boyle Jr. and Herman Aguinis found that performance in 94 percent of their study fall into what is called a ‘Power Law’ distribution or ‘Long Tail’. It essentially indicates that there is a very wide variation, starting from a small number of people who are ‘very top performers,’ quickly dropping off to a broad range of ‘good performers’ and a very smaller number of ‘low performers.’ Let’s agree that we find this large variation, like in any group of people, in sales professionals. The distribution reflects the idea that we want everyone to become better performers if they can find the right role, and that we don’t limit people at the top of the curve – we try to build more of them and here the rule of 10,000-hour practice comes to play.

Considering all sales training and development efforts with direct customer interaction, as defined by World Class Sales Organizations, adding up to a very high 4-hours per work day, we achieve real mastery in about 11-years. And yet, somehow, we expect our sales reps to perform instantly like superstars. If sales reps are in essence practicing first-time new skills or value messaging or new offerings in front of live customers and prospects, we are doing everyone involved a disservice. If reps aren’t yet comfortable enough addressing individual’s concepts, they will stumble…and they know it.  This leads to call reluctance at best, terrible and counter-productive prospect calls at worse. Companies that understand this model focus very heavily on collaboration, professional development and coaching, encouraging and empowering people to continuous learning.

 

Talent Development

A talent development strategy takes a conscious approach to managing, developing and retaining your crucial sales asset. World Class Sales Organizations distinguish themselves by their ability to hire the right talent, thereby reducing first year hiring fails. This is documented by 77 percent of World Class Sales Organizations who agree that ‘Before making a final hiring decision in our sales organization, we assess all candidates using a standardized assessment tool’ with only 33 percent of average performing companies doing the same [2].

Once onboard, these organizations bring their new sales talent up to speed faster by investing in sales training to develop skills, provide a methodology and continuously enhance knowledge, and thereby reduce new hire time to productivity. Then, they keep them continuously trained through a multitude of offerings, e.g. focused e-learning modules, regular team workshops, knowledge sharing database, and dedicated front-line sales manager coaching through direct customer interactions. Again, 87 percent of World Class Sales Organizations agree with ‘Our organization requires the sales force to regularly participate in professional development programs’ compared to again only 33 percent of all other companies [2].

In summary, leadership and talent management capabilities have a surprisingly strong correlation with financial performance. ‘Talent magnets’—those companies that rated themselves strongest on 20 leadership and talent management capabilities—increased their revenues 2.2 times faster and their profits 1.5 times faster than ‘talent laggards’ or those companies that rated themselves the weakest. [3].

[1] Outliers: The Story of Success – Malcom Gladwell

[2] CSO Insights: Miller Heiman Group: Talent Management: Making Good Better – Volume 1, Edition 8 – Joe Galvin

[3] Boston Consulting Group:  The Global Leadership and Talent Index; The Smart Way to Improve Capabilities and Create Value

Be Ready to Demand Attention

character uses megaphone to demand attention and surprise his colleague

Demand what you need to develop! Image courtesy of Stuart Miles on freedigitalphotos.net

You’re on a journey to constantly refine your skills, make yourself better, and reach new goals. Why? Because it will help you sell more. And when you sell more, you make more.

Steady feedback is one of the best learning opportunities. Constant feedback on your performance helps you determine what’s working, what can be fine-tuned and what needs to be overhauled or re-worked.

Demand that your manager gives you this feedback. Act on it. And then make sure your manager constantly reinforces the key lessons that were learned, especially those that impact the business.

Ask for cheat sheets on how to handle certain customer objections, updates on how overall solutions and products relate to the overall value proposition of the business, and methods for understanding how others have sold successfully—you don’t have to use these verbatim, but have an understanding helps paint the picture correctly, and convincingly, when talking to customers and prospects.

Congruently, give yourself the attention you need for reinforcing development and training opportunities. Set goals for yourself to implement periodic refreshers on your training. It’s human nature to forget certain things, but refreshing yourself and brining repetition to your efforts can fill this gap. After all, if you’re demanding attention for coaching from your manager, you want to ensure you’re also demanding it from yourself, right?