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By Chris Farmer, leadership and management training expert and founder of Corporate Coach Group, outlines the key changes salespeople must make in order to ensure they can continue to secure deals during the coronavirus crisis. 

When times are hard, people become more careful with their money. They are not so quick to buy “on a whim”. As a result, salespeople must become more skilful and give sufficient reasons to believe and reasons to buy. Sales is a specialised form of face to face communication which uses four main channels: body language, voice tones, words and behaviour.

For decades before the COVID pandemic, all salespeople were taught Mehrabian’s Rule of 7-38-55 which means that body language and voice tone were more important than words. According to the theory, only 7 per cent of sales effectiveness was attributable to what salespeople say, and a staggering 93 per cent was based upon the effective use of body language and voice tones.

Sales trainers used to say:

  • “People don’t buy logically, they buy emotionally”

  • “People buy the salesperson first”

  • “People only buy from people they like”

Consequently, for decades sales people were taught the most important factors for sales success were:

  1. Body language: How salespeople look. Smile. Handshake. Dress code. Charisma.

  2. Voice tones: The way they talk. Friendly. Warm. Attractive.

  3. Words: What sales people actually said was supposed to be only 7 per cent of the job. So salespeople developed their pre-canned sales pitch. They read their scripts off the computer screen.

The 7-38-55 per cent sales rule may have been true in the past. But it is clear that Covid-19 and social distancing has enormously changed the relative importance of these sales factors. Style, charisma, handshakes, smiles, and voice tones are no longer the major issues they used to be. Now the most important factors in sales success is attributable to the proper use of language, and excellent customer service.

Let us look at both in turn.

The proper use of language 

It is by the mastery of words, that our sales efforts will either stand or fall. No longer can salespeople rely on their personal charisma, charm or likeability to ‘win people over’.

Nowadays people do not “buy salespeople”. Instead they buy only if there are good logical reasons to buy. Therefore, the salesperson must be able to provide a logical case; a series of good reasons why a ‘yes decision’ on the part of the buyer, is the right thing to do. In order to do that, the salesperson breaks the sales process into six major subset skills.

These are the six major sales skills for the next generation of salespeople:

  1. A complete, careful and logical analysis of the customer’s needs

  2. A product-solution that is targeted, tailored and perfectly suited to match the customer’s needs

  3. A full, clear, rational, convincing and persuasive description and full explanation of exactly how the product or service will meet the customer’s needs

  4. The mastery of language sufficient to allow the salesperson to answer any and all misunderstandings or questions that occur to the buyer as they hear or read the salespersons description

  5. The ability to gain a commitment from the buyer to buy

  6. The ability to quickly and smoothly explain and help navigate the payment details relating to the sale

All of this is based upon the accurate use of language. The next generation of salespeople, post covid, should think of themselves not as “charismatic performers”, but more like sales scientists or sales detectives. This change in sales emphasis requires a change in training. Salespeople need to become more investigative, more logical, rational and systematic in their approach.

  1. They need to ask sufficient probing questions to gain a full understanding, identification, and definition of the customers personal “wants, needs and don’t-wants”.

  2. Salespeople need to explain the logic of the sale. They need to provide a list of reasons why the proposed service is right for the customer.

  3. Salespeople must eliminate any misunderstandings or confusions in the mind of the buyer, because they know that uncertainty kills sales. (In the new world of COVID people won’t buy unless they are certain it makes sense).

  4. Salespeople must explain the pricing and logistics of the transaction.

  5. Salespeople must help the customer to navigate the purchasing procedures and make it easy for the customer to pay.

For many years, salespeople were able to use their force of character and personal charisma to aid them in making sales. Now social distancing has dissipated that power and we are left with good words and good service. Good customer service means: Speed. Quality. Accuracy.

Speed – We live in a society where most people want things now. We want instant noodles and five-minute abs. So, we need to be fast. Those organisations who respond fastest to the changing environment and to their customers changing desires will have the most sales success. That means, whenever we get a sales enquiry, we jump on it. We don’t wait. We act fast.

Quality – In the past people accepted that a cheaper price meant they must sacrifice some quality. Now, most people want both. They want it cheaper and better. We must find ways to increase our efficiencies so that we can provide goods of the highest quality at reasonable prices.

Accuracy – Accuracy comes from fully understanding the customers’ needs. To understand people’s needs we must focus intently on the words they use. So, we return again to the importance of words. Salesmen have often been accused of selling what they want to sell, as opposed to selling what the prospect wants to buy. The successful organisations of the future will take the words used by their customers as the target to be hit. The next generation of salespeople must become interested in extracting the exact meaning of their customers’ words, so that there is no possibility of misunderstanding, confusion or error.

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