Sales Mastery: 3 High-Leverage Skills for Sales Professionals and BDRs
Some skills are results magnifiers. They don’t just improve our performance. They radically change how we interact with customers and conduct business. Let’s look at 3 such skills and how we can apply them to our careers.
1. Making Friends At Will
One of the great influences in modern selling is Chris Voss, ex-FBI hostage negotiator turned corporate negotiation coach. At the heart of his approach is the principle that “A person is far more likely to buy from you if they like you.”
I’m reminded of how, as a young sales professional, I’d go to customer meetings with my manager. I was always impressed by the way he would literally turn strangers into friends in a matter of minutes. By the time we were in the boardroom, the two of them would be laughing, slapping each other on the back, and acting like they’d known each other for years.
Like many “naturals”, he didn’t know what made him so effective, but as a student of human nature, I decided to deconstruct his process – and in time, I uncovered his “secrets”.
He would start with some standard small talk question, like “How’s the traffic in this part of town?” and by listening carefully to the answers, he’d pick up on cues about the customer’s life. If the customer mentioned it took him an hour each way in traffic, he’d ask “So how do you pass the time?” If the customer said he listened to music, the next question would be “What sort of music do you like?” And from that point, it became a lively conversation about music, bands, concerts, etc. I realized that he wasn’t making small talk. He was making friends. Every single time. And he was devastatingly effective.
Transitioning from mundane small talk to meaningful “friend” talk is a learnable skill that can transform our sales careers by turning prospects into friends. And as Chris Voss says, this alone makes them far more likely to buy from you.
2. From a Sales Meeting to a Professional Consultation
By far the most common mistake I see salespeople make is transitioning too quickly to selling. They ask too few questions before launching into features and benefits. There are two problems with this. The customer can feel like they’re being sold to and hence become resistant, and we push forward without fully understanding their position, which is a clear road to “no thanks”.
A professional question-based dialog, on the other hand, feels like a consultation. It builds trust and can reveal needs, alternatives (i.e. competitors) and hidden objections. Here’s the secret: Instead of thinking about what you want to say, ask about what the customer has just said. Example: If they say they’re finding their current system difficult to use, many of us immediately start talking about our super friendly UX. Rather, take a moment to investigate. “Difficult to use? Really? In what way?” Listen, pick up the clues, go deeper.
The unrecognized secret of a good question-based dialog is that it not only improves our understanding, but it also builds trust. Prioritize solid questioning over pushing your product.
3. Managing the Power Dynamic for BDRs
One of the most challenging roles in the commercial landscape is arguably the Business Development Representative (BDR). Aside from the usual challenges of creating instant rapport, navigating pushback and handling rejection, BDRs face an additional challenge as they must establish the company’s relationship with high-ranking professionals, and as such, there is often a large power imbalance.
To successfully lead a sales conversation, one must create both trust and respect from the customer. BDR’s, I find, often sabotage that by being overly friendly, overly grateful and overly positive. For example, asking “How are you?” in a voice that is a little too friendly might sound fake and imply that we are “after” something. Or we might ask “Do you have a few moments to chat?” and if the prospect says “Yes”, we respond, “Fantastic!”, with just a bit too much joy and a hint of relief in our voice. We might end our conversation with “Thank you so much for your time. I really really appreciate it.” again with a tone that says “I don’t get many people agreeing to talk to me and I’m grateful to the good Lord for this glorious opportunity.”
Challenging as it is, striking a balance between friendliness and professionalism in our tone establishes credibility and places us in a position of authority in the relationship. This becomes essential when we have to move the prospect along to the next stage of the sales process.
Successful sales and BDR roles demand proficiency in various domains. We must be both product experts and people experts. Understanding these subtle high-leverage skills can transform our experience of the sales profession and position us at the very top of our fields, with the accompanying satisfaction and rewards.