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01 Nov 2018

Effective Communication

Effective Communication

AEO Sales Webinar Series

Article 1 – Effective communication.

What makes for good communication in a sales call may not be what most sales people understand to be good communication.  When people talk about communication they often confuse this with having good presentation skills or being a great story teller.  There is a place for all these skills but there’s more to communication to this.

Building a sustainable relationship with prospects and clients is a function of one’s ability to connect on relevant matters, communicate clearly and interact in a mutually agreed-to manner.  Bonding and rapport are based on mutual liking, trust, and a sense that each party understands and shares the other’s concerns.

Developing rapport with a prospect is an integral part of the selling process. It is the salesperson’s responsibility to create a comfortable environment that will facilitate communication and help build mutual trust and respect.

If the prospect trusts and respects the salesperson, there will be a deeper exploration of the current challenges and opportunities and a greater willingness to explore the salespersons capability and how this might help.  Even more importantly, the prospect is much more likely to share the personal impact of the current and future state being explored – resulting in an emotional connection to both the salesperson and his/her company.

Building and Maintaining the Relationship

The bonding and rapport process starts the moment you say “Hello” to a new prospect and continues throughout the relationship.

It is also your responsibility to comfortably engage prospects in meaningful conversations that connect with topics that are relevant to their businesses, industries and markets. To do so, you should have prepared questions to ask and a framework from which to ask them. And, you must conscientiously listen to your prospects to make sure you understand what they are saying.

You must also do this in a manner that is nurturing the business relationship. You should pay close attention to your prospects’ body language, tone and words to detect any signs of discomfort and, if detected, act appropriately to help them regain their comfort.

To effectively connect, build and maintain the relationship, you will need to become a master in the dynamics of communication and psychological interaction.

Build Rapport through Connect Questions

Investing time to learn about your prospect before pitching your product helps build rapport and trust. When prospects have a sense of your sincere interest in their results, then they can become more comfortable with you and seek your advice.

To engage your prospect in a meaningful conversation and facilitate the process of developing rapport, you should have prepared connect questions to ask. These questions will prevent the conversation from wandering off topic and provide a framework for an interesting conversation for you and your prospect.

With relevant and meaningful questions, you not only show interest and build rapport, but you also build credibility. If you do your homework before calling on your prospects, you will know something about them, their companies, their markets and their industry, and you can use that knowledge to frame your questions.

For example:

I understand that when you took over the division, your first initiative was to do X, how quickly were you able to accomplish that?How has the acquisition of X company changed the way you do business?

What impact, if any, has social media had on your business?

Instead of starting a sales conversation with your favourite features and benefits, start with engaging connect questions to build rapport.

Nurture your Prospect.  Avoid critical and judgmental Messages

Messages that communicate judgment or bias (see the list on the left below), such as what is right or wrong, good or bad and what one should or shouldn’t do, are likely to trigger unhelpful emotional responses from the prospect. Those responses can range from resentment to rebellion, none of which are desirable or conducive to the rapport and trust you are working to establish.

Rather than tell someone what to do or how to act, you can frame the message around a helpful suggestion or a point for consideration from in a nurturing tone.  Prospects respond much more favourably to nurturing questions and messages.  Take a look at the list below and ask yourself whether you’re always as nurturing as you could be:

  • “You should…”
  • “You should have…”
  • “You shouldn’t…”
  • “Don’t do…”
  • “You’re wrong about…”
  • “You missed the point.”
  • “You just don’t get it.”
  • “Listen to me.”
  • “You may find more value in…”
  • “Had you considered…?”
  • “It might not help to…”
  • “You may want to consider…”
  • “Your perspective might change if…”
  • “Have you considered…?”
  • “Perhaps you should think about…”
  • “May I suggest…?”
Suppress Your Emotional Reactions

While it’s important to avoid triggering unhelpful emotional responses from your prospects, it’s equally important to suppress your emotional reactions to things your prospects say or do.

If, for example, a prospect doesn’t agree with your description of a situation, telling him that he is wrong or has not have been listening very carefully won’t help your cause; it will hurt it.

Instead of reacting from an emotional state, comment or ask questions from your intellectual or adult state, using an information-seeking perspective to explore the motivations for the prospect’s actions.

Instead of getting upset when a prospect doesn’t understand you or is acting unreasonably, try something like:

Tom, I can appreciate that you’re not in total agreement with my assessment of the situation. Perhaps you can share with me why.

Mary, what is it, specifically, about the presentation that made you uncomfortable?

You can also direct a prospect’s or customer’s actions by framing the message around a third-party story.

Some of my clients found that it is often better to ____. How do you suppose that would work here?

Others have been successful by _____. Should we give that a try?

If you can cite specific clients without breaking any confidentiality or trust agreements, formal or otherwise, do so. Providing such “social proof” carries a fair amount of influence. The third-party story also redirects the conflict from the prospect to the neutral third-party.

Dynamics of Communication

For communication to take place, there must be both a sender and a receiver. The sender encodes the message and transmits it. The receiver decodes the transmission to extract the message. For accurate communication to take place, the decoded message must accurately reflect the message sent. But that doesn’t always happen. We must examine the elements of communication to understand why.

The Elements of Communication

When you communicate via the written word, like in a text message, email or note, 100 percent of your message is derived from the words you choose.

When you speak your message, like in a phone conversation or voicemail, your tone of voice adds another dimension to the meaning of the words. You have probably heard the old saying, “It’s not what you say; it’s how you say it that matters.”

And, when your message is delivered face-to-face, in a meeting, presentation or networking event, your body language—facial expressions, posture, hand gestures, etc.—adds a third dimension to your message.

While any one of the three elements can convey the complete meaning of your message, it is usually a combination of the components that portray your intended meaning. Your tone of voice, for instance, can impart enthusiasm or sarcasm that can’t be determined in an email. Similarly, your facial expressions can indicate approval or disapproval as you deliver the message.

Avoid Sending Mixed Messages

It’s important that the total message—words, tone and body language—are congruent. If they are not, you are sending a mixed message which can make the listener unsure of your real message. Saying “yes,” for instance, in a positive tone of voice sends a congruent message. However, saying “yes” in a negative or reluctant tone of voice, or with a scowl on your face, will leave the listener wondering about your commitment.

Even during phone conversations where the listener can’t see your facial expressions, those expressions will influence your tone of voice and the message.

When speaking to others, to which of the three components of communication do you consciously pay the most attention? Is it your words, your tonality or your body language? What about when you are doing your pre-call preparation?

When listening to others, to which of the three components do you consciously pay the most attention? Is your attention riveted to the speaker’s every word? Or, are you more acutely aware of the tonality or body language?

When you speak to prospects and clients, pay close attention to your tone of voice and your body language; make sure they are consistent with the words you speak. If they are not, your listener will feel uncomfortable. Often, that discomfort takes place at a subconscious level. That means the listener feels uncomfortable but doesn’t know why. And, when that happens, rapport and trust are jeopardised.

Replay in your mind the last few face-to-face conversations you’ve had with prospects or clients.

Were you fidgeting in your chair when they were speaking? What message do you suppose that sent?

Did you maintain good eye contact with them, or did your eyes tend to wander around the room, or perhaps “stare into space”? What messages are sent by those actions?

If you took notes during the conversations, was your head down with your eyes focused on your notepad, or did you look up frequently to re-establish eye contact?

The DISC Behavioural Model

Another communication theory that can help you understand your prospects is the DISC behavioural model. DISC is a concept that defines four sets of behavioural characteristics that are used to describe how people process information and emotion and prefer to interact with others.

DISC is an acronym which stands for Dominant, Influencer, Steady Relator and Compliant. Each collection of characteristics is referred to as a behavioural style. 

No one is exclusively one of the four DISC styles. Most people have a dominant or preferred main style, plus one or two supporting styles depending on the person and the situation. No style is better than another. There is no “good,” “bad,” “right” or “wrong” style.

When you become familiar with these styles, you will begin to see others differently and appreciate those differences. DISC can help you understand how your prospects like to communicate, buy and make decisions, and how you can build a presentation which matches your prospects’ preferred style.

Additionally, when you can adapt your behaviour to each of the styles, you will increase the effectiveness of communication.

Dominant: Dominants are extroverted, often opinionated people who need to take action. They like to be in charge of situations. When they aren’t in control, they are uncomfortable. They are bored if they aren’t challenged. Dominants do not like small talk. They like to win and get ahead. They are not natural team players, but they are organised, direct and to the point.

Influencer: Influencers are personable and trusting. They like to talk, interact and leave the action to others. Since they want to be liked, they are eager team players. Influencers are creative and humorous, but also disorganised. They can be impulsive and intuitive, relying on feelings, but they are not logical decision makers.

Steady Relators: Steady Relators are amiable, patient people who know how to keep the peace and avoid conflict. Since they practice and prefer constancy and consistency, they don’t like changes or surprises. They are deliberate and can appear slow to make decisions. High S styles are loyal, with long-term commitments. They don’t often reveal their true feelings.

Compliant: Complaints are cautious thinkers. Detail-oriented perfectionists, their high standards follow the book. Since they are busy getting one more fact in search of the perfect answer, they may be slow, or even unwilling, to commit to a course of action. Complaints are analytical and orderly in their thinking and acting, relying totally on facts and figures.

Revisit Webinar 1 to be reminded of how to adjust your own communication style when engaging with each of these DISC styles.

Active Listening

When we communicate, we have an innate need to be acknowledged and understood. When you are engaged in a conversation, how do you let the other party know that you are not only listening but that you understand what he is saying?

You can acknowledge the person speaking and signify your understanding by simply nodding your head or saying something like, “I see,” “OK” or “That makes sense” each time he makes a point.

A further step you can take to make sure that you fully understand what the speaker is saying (and to let him know that you understand) is to listen “actively.” Active listening is the process of reflecting back to the speaker the message you heard to confirm or correct your understanding. It can be accomplished by summarising the speaker’s message (known as paraphrasing) and asking for confirmation or clarification as needed. Active listening not only facilitates effective communication, but it also enhances rapport.


Your objective is to create an environment where your prospect or customer feels comfortable in your presence, feels listened to, and has a strong sense that you are genuinely interested in him and his business.  The dynamics of communication are sophisticated but must be mastered if you are to find sustained success in sales.

Try to become conscious of the factors discussed in this article each time you prepare for a call and question how effective you’ve been when you finish a call or meeting.  Challenge yourself to become more effective by reflecting on what went well and what could have been improved.

Good Luck and don’t forget to use your free access to your Sandler On Line Sell account to get access to a range of free content on this and a variety of sales related topics. Type or use this link to set up your free account:

Chris Ginnelly

Managing Director

Sandler Training

T: 0207 1172856