Your success in sales requires you to engage with all types of people. Selling happens in conversations about change. Creating new opportunities for your prospective clients and helping them take advantage of those opportunities requires excellent interpersonal skills. These are the soft skills you need to succeed in sales and improve your sales performance.
Improving your interpersonal skills in sales will require you to master 10 competencies. Because you work in sales, it is likely you have a high skill level when it comes to some of them. Allow your self-awareness to guide you to the interpersonal skills that will most improve your sales results and allow you to better serve your clients and prospective clients. These skills are important and need to be included in your sales technique.
- Active listening
- Emotional intelligence
The first of our 10 interpersonal skills is communication. Everything we do in sales is some form of communication. From the first call to a prospective client to the quarterly business review after you win a new client, everything is a conversation. Your verbal and nonverbal communication (i.e., body language) determine how effective your conversations will be. The best way to improve your communication skills is to work on understanding and being understood.
Active listening will help you improve communication, and it takes time and practice.. To strengthen your active listening skill, practice listening to understand instead of to reply. I have personal experience here. After recognizing that many people interrupt each other, I committed to pause for eight seconds after they stopped speaking. Much of the time, the person sitting across from you is quiet because they are pausing to search for words. They often say something more important after that pause.
Because you engage with a lot of types of people, you need to recognize them as individuals. This may be the ultimate people skill. A large amount of conflict in human relations stems from one person feeling disrespected. Occasionally, you'll have disagreements. The best way to improve respect as a skill is to be kind and polite and affirming.
Recently, I interviewed Tom Peters. He mentioned that everything he teaches leaders should be known by the end of third grade.
Emotional intelligence begins with managing your own emotions. When you master that skill, you can recognize and—sometimes—help others with their emotional states. To improve your emotional intelligence, start by noticing your own emotional states. If you want to gain control of your emotions, keep a journal. Putting your emotions on paper gives you distance and perspective, which helps you gain objectivity.
Empathy is a buzzword. It means sensitivity and awareness of another person’s feelings. It's important, but for my money, empathy isn't enough. Empathy is walking a mile in the other person's shoes, but compassion is recognizing that their shoes don't fit them and helping them get a pair that is more comfortable. Sales provides you the ability to help your clients with new shoes. This will change how you interact with people.
In sales, you can improve your interpersonal skills by improving your confidence. When you are confident, you transfer your certainty to your contacts. When you lack confidence, you create uncertainty. To improve your confidence, the best method is to become an expert and authority in your industry. The second way is to keep a list of the clients you helped and the results you provided them. This can serve as a reminder of what you can accomplish, and that translates to confidence.
In business and in life, you will always experience change. Agility is being able to adapt to that change quickly and effectively. Even though you are used to doing something one way, there will come a time when you need to unlearn what you know and learn something new. The best way to become more agile is to turn an undesirable change into an opportunity to grow. As you practice agility, you will find it helpful to have choices. The more agile you are, the better your interpersonal skills.
In business, there is some amount of conflict. The conflict could be over a deal or failing a client (or the client failing you). In these cases, you need good interpersonal skills. Diplomacy is addressing conflict by working together to find a way forward. This skill can help you with all human relationships and, like most competencies, the only way to improve this skill is through practice. You can become more diplomatic by working through conflict. The way forward is collaboration.
The word negotiation may make you think about your contract and your client's request for some concession. Negotiation is that and more. You are always negotiating with your contacts. For example, you may need them to bring an executive to your meeting or ask your contact for their data so you can assess their results. The best way to improve this skill is to practice it by explaining how what you ask for benefits the person across from you.
I have lost clients because I told the truth. Some wanted me to lie. Some didn't like the truth of their situation. Even though I was only the messenger, I have scars from being shot. Even so, it is better to tell the truth, even if it costs you a deal. A career in sales depends on your reputation. To be a trusted advisor, you need to be honest and forthcoming with your clients.
How to Get Started
- Learn to identify and respond to social cues. Reading body language and other clues will help you understand the feelings of the person you are communicating with. This will enable you to better tailor your message to the person and their needs.
- Practice active listening. Involve the person you are communicating with by asking questions and listening to the answers. This will help you to gain the trust of the person and build a stronger relationship.
- Use empathy. Show the person you are communicating with that you understand their viewpoint and will listen. This will help to build trust and open dialogue.
- Speak concisely. Make sure that you are concise in your communications. This will ensure that the person understands what you are saying and will help to avoid any misunderstandings.
- Be honest. Honesty is key for building trust and relationships. Always be truthful in your communications, even if your audience may not like the message.
- Be prepared. Do your research and be prepared for questions or objections that the person may have. Your candid and knowledgeable answers will help you to be more persuasive and build trust.