The best salespeople are excellent listeners. These people know how to ask smart questions and understand their customers' needs. Further, they uncover the needs that customers don't even know exist. Still, the reality is that everyone sells every day. It’s called influencing others.
Unbeknownst to you, you've been in sales since an early age. And as a professional, no matter your profession or job title, if you want to influence others, then technically speaking, you're selling! But did you realize you probably learned these skills from your parents as a kid?
Problem: Leaders and teams don’t realize that everyone’s selling. Often, the ‘sellers’ get viewed as the 'sales team.' However, everyone in the company probably wants to influence someone.
Opportunity: Understanding that sales techniques are influence skills is vital for success. You can achieve bigger goals when you make the paradigm shift to this simple yet profound idea.
Resolution: So, let’s explore what your brilliant parents taught you. These influencing or sales skills are essential for professional sales, business, work, and life.
1. Before You Make a Pitch, Understand the Buyer's World
You’re not selling to the leads who would buy your product. In reality, you sell to people who may not be willing to buy your product—or idea. So, you want to convince those people that what you sell, yes, even an idea, is essential to them. Because of this, your first step into the buyer's world is to understand the people who buy your product.
Even if you're not in sales and want to influence the c-suite team, you have to understand their pain points. Therefore, it's essential to think of their world (e.g., needs, goals). What are they like? What do they do? Where do they want to go? If you're going to inspire your team, you need to know what motivates them (e.g., bonuses, flex-time, remote work flexibility).
2. Don't Be Afraid to Ask
Asking questions is the basis for uncovering needs. Your parents probably taught you that asking is a good thing. In fact, it's often the first step toward solving a problem or finding a need. There are different types of questions to ask, depending on the situation. The following are four types of questions to ask someone you want to influence:
- Need questions: These questions try to uncover the needs. For instance, why is this a priority now?
- Problems questions: These questions aim to learn about issues experienced by the other person. An example is: What keeps you up at night?
- Difference questions: With these questions, you aim to learn what sets your product or idea apart from someone else’s.
- Why questions: These are questions that seek to address why the person would buy your product or accept your solution as opposed to something else.
3. If You Want to Close the Deal, Help the Buyer Fix a Problem
This is the most challenging sale or influence step, but it's the most valuable. Helping another person solve a problem is the fastest way to convert someone into a fan. So, a person who feels heard is much more likely to become a loyal customer than someone who feels heard only once. Moreover, if you offer the right solution, you can close the sale or negotiation.
Therefore, when someone says they want your product, help them understand the problem solved. In doing so, they’re more likely to come to you again later. To help someone fix a problem, remember to work to understand their world. Also, work to ensure the person puts a name and a face to the problem.
4. The Best Sellers are Emotionally Intelligent
Emotional intelligence (EQ) is the ability to identify and manage your emotions and those of others. EQ is about reading people. The best influencers understand the needs of others, and they know how to meet those needs. EQ is also about putting yourself in other people’s shoes with empathy.
The best sellers can get in touch with their emotions and those of the people across the table. They can put themselves in their customers’ shoes. They help them understand their needs and how the product meets those needs. People with high EQ know how to identify emotions and know every emotion has a purpose. They also use language to identify those emotions and know the skill of controlling emotions.
5. Be Excellent at Listening
This is perhaps the most critical skill you can master regarding selling or influencing. Good listeners are excellent at two things. 1) They’re excellent at paying attention to the words that tell a story. 2) They understand what those words mean. In other words, they are attentive and active listeners. Also, to understand, they ask clarifying questions.
The reality is that you can't possibly influence others if you don't listen. And one of the chief skills of the best salespeople, influencers, and negotiators is their capacity to listen. So many people talk past people and even the closing of the sale. Therefore, one of the fundamental skills to learn is how to become an excellent listener.
6. Help People Feel Understood
In sales, people generally buy for human reasons (i.e., a need). In sales and influence, someone buys or gets influenced because of a desire or need. For instance, Apple became the company it did because of the cult of personality of Steve Jobs. In other words, people wanted to be part of the Apple story.
So, when you listen, don’t just focus on what the other person says. Pay attention to how the person says it. Are they speaking very fast? Do they hesitate between words? Are they repeating certain words? These are all clues to help you understand why the person you want to influence is saying what they’re saying. It’s up to you to help them meet those needs.
7. Make People Feel Valued
When someone buys from you, they’re not buying a product or idea. In short, they buy a relationship. And, yes, that includes team members and managers. So, you need to make sure you put the proper importance on their needs. Moreover, it’s not just meeting but exceeding expectations. You want to help people feel satisfied and happy with their purchase—whatever that means.
This is why it’s so important to ask questions at the onset of a relationship. You want to make sure you truly understand the other person’s needs and problems before trying to solve them. Throughout the relationship, it’s your job to help the customer, manager, or team achieve their goals. And in so doing, you also succeed. But it all starts with others first.
8. Be Good at Tactful Confrontation
We all hate confrontation. Still, it's an integral part of any sale or influence effort. Conflict happens when a salesperson asks a customer to change their behavior in the sales process. In other words, it's the moment that the customer has to choose something different to close the sale. That's a moment fraught with tension because people don't like to change.
Within teams, conflicts could occur due to different views on the course of action. So, a great way to confront someone is by asking needs questions. You ask someone to solve the problem and then apply the solution. During the confrontation, ask open-ended questions without a clear answer. Doing so allows the other person to work through the problem so they can see why your solution is better. The exercise brings clarity.
9. Encourage Others to Take Action
Finally, encourage others to take action. If you want them to come with you to the party, you have to go to the party yourself. So, if you want them to buy from you, you have to sell to them. The reality is that people in business development or sales couldn't make it happen if they didn't sell. And the same holds true for influencing others.
You need to sell even if you're not in sales but want to influence people. Therefore, it's essential to learn ways to influence people. For instance, you could read seven books everyone in sales should read. Alternatively, you could listen to podcasts or read books about influencing people.
Bonus: Lead with Questions and Listen with Empathy
No matter who you are and your role, there’s one constant. The best way to influence others is to ask questions and listen with empathy. Unfortunately, it poses a challenge for leaders and their teams. Listening and asking questions aren’t natural states for most of us. Also, the pressure to perform makes it even more difficult.
It can be hard to lead with questions, especially when you lack knowledge or want to meet a deadline. But the key is not to let the pressure to perform get to you. If you want to achieve greater success, asking insightful questions and actively listening will get you much further. And if you master those skills, you accomplished what you started to learn when you were young.
Ben Stroup is Chief Growth Architect and President at Velocity Strategy Solutions where he helps leaders design, develop, and deploy smarter business growth strategies. Ben is a futurist, disruptor, and data champion. He leads a team that takes a structured learning approach to business challenges, which allows them to assist leaders in bridging the gap between ideas, innovation, and revenue—taking ideas from mind to market.
Velocity Strategy Solutions is an on-demand, next-generation business strategy and management consulting firm which provides clients with a relentless focus on data, execution, and results that positively impact the bottom line. Velocity delivers integrated people and revenue strategies combined with a disciplined approach to growth architecture that elevates the capacity of leaders, teams, and organizations to succeed and win more.