In business, we always hear about how important it is to listen to the customer. That point is made over and over again by sales book authors, sales bloggers, and sales trainers. It’s a hard lesson to learn, but we get it. From what I hear, the real problem comes when it’s our turn to talk. Salespeople tend to come to business encounters armed with elevator pitches, value propositions, key points, objection scripts, and closing approaches. Few come prepared to converse.
I’m pretty sure that conversation was invented before selling: “Geez this cave is cold! Show me how you did that fire thing with the sticks.” Great civilizations have honored those who could conduct great conversations, such as Plato, Denis Diderot, Samuel Johnson, and Jon Stewart. In demonstrating that there truly is nothing new under the sun (Ecclesiastes), let’s take a look at five principles of great conversations in Cicero’s 44 B.C. essay “On Duties” and apply them to today’s sales conversations:
1. Speak clearly and easily
Even though there’s a lot you want to say, don’t rush things. Slow it down and let your thoughts flow naturally. Let the other person have a chance to speak. They might tell you something you want to know.
2. Be civil and courteous
Civility in conversation is in short supply these days. Differentiate yourself by being pleasant. You’ll be like an oasis to a thirsty traveler. Customers will enjoy being with you and talking with you.
3. Match the tone of the subject
If you’ve come to help a customer remove the pain of a problem, be sure to smoothly shift from the pleasant tone for opening small talk to a concerned tone for an important conversation exploring details and potential solutions.
4. Spend less time talking about yourself
Many salespeople talk a lot about their own experiences. Great salespeople talk a lot about the customer’s experiences.
5. Don’t lose your temper
There’s a lot of pressure on salespeople. You have to hit your numbers. And here you are at the end of the month talking with a difficult customer who’s reluctant to say yes. Do your best and if it doesn’t close, don’t burn that bridge. You may need to cross that river again.
The next time you’re in a sales conversation, put on a virtual toga and channel Cicero. It’ll be classic.