Recently, we had an opportunity to interview Cindy Ames, Corporate Director of Sales & Marketing with Senior Lifestyle and she shared some timeless ideas on how we learn, the best ways for salespeople to practice to improve, and how influence really works.
- The Fine Art of Influence
- Cindy’s Thoughts on Practice
- Pictures, Visuals and How We Learn and Influence
- A Final Thought on Being Coachable
Early in the interview, Cindy said something that really framed the rest of our conversation,
“Top performers know how to ask questions and they take the time to listen, they’re not afraid of going deeper in their discovery. In our American culture, we often rush to fill any silence, but customers need the pause because they need to have that time to process what’s being said, check in with how they feel about it, think about it and to be able to formulate an answer or reply back to the individual.”
Asking good questions is just one part of the discovery process, as is listening and being confident enough to pause and let the decision maker think and respond. We’ve met and interviewed thousands of top performers and, for the most part, they’re better at connecting and making their customers feel comfortable about being honest. It’s impossible to create that kind of connection if we can’t relax and listen to allow that natural resistance to lower.
The Fine Art of Influence
There’s an old saying about how people are more likely to support ideas that they played a part in creating and this is truly one of the secrets of top performing salespeople, as Cindy explains,
“In learning and development, we learn about neuroscience and how it impacts how we learn. When an individual creates their own solution, they’re more apt to agree with it, more apt to take their own advice. In sales, it’s like getting the customer to come around on their own instead of the salesperson forcing that information down their throat.”
Another key to influence is to focus on what matters most to the decision makers and influencers we’re talking to. This is true even in the first few moments of a meeting when preliminary pleasantries occur. Find our what interests the people you’re talking to and focus on that, instead of what interests you. In a world with countless distractions, it’s remarkably refreshing to speak with someone that’s genuinely curious about what we have to say and this feeling of being listened to is another way top performers lower resistance and increase receptivity.
Cindy explains the importance of focusing on what’s important to the buyer,
“When we talk with people, we need to talk about what’s important to them. Don’t make it generic. Don’t just amenity dump. They don’t care about things that aren’t important to them… the bald man doesn’t care about your beauty shop, so don’t talk about your beauty shop unless he happens to bring up that he likes getting manis and pedis and you have that service.”
Cindy’s Thoughts on Practice
There’s certainly a strategic element to selling in terms of managing time, priorities and getting things done that enable us to keep our commitments to prospects and customers. There’s the strategy involved in developing a territory and exploiting all the wonders of CRM technology. Most of that strategy, at least for sellers that actually meet with or talk with customers and prospects over the phone, is geared toward creating sales interactions and conversations where sales can be made, and we need to be skillful and effective in those moments to generate top performer results. That means we need those core selling skills that take time, practice and repetition to develop. Cindy explains:
“Without practice, you’re not going to get good at anything that requires real skill. I think when you can practice outside of a live selling situation, meaning practicing with a peer or a training practice partner, then you can really work on that skill set, as opposed to practicing with customers and learning the hard way through trial and error.”
All to often, sales teams don’t get the opportunity to practice enough and think of practice and training around special conferences or events where lots of new information and training is crammed into a day or two. But that’s not where learning takes place, as Cindy explains,
“The ability to go back to the material and practice is important because learning doesn’t take place in the moment. Learning takes place when behavior is changed and behavior changes later after the learning event occurs and after someone has had a chance to implement and practice it. Once your behavior changes, then learning has occurred.”
Cindy has noticed that the way we position practice can have an impact on how sales team members perceive it,
“I call role-plays ‘practice’ because people freak when you say role-play. To create a culture of practice, it’s about setting an expectation that practice is an expected thing, that it’s safe to practice and that practice is valued. This means management needs to demonstrate, talk about it, and let their people know that they believe in practice and the value of practice. The most impactful thing you can do is practice and then execute on helpful feedback received from that practice.”
Pictures, Visuals and How We Learn and Influence
Something we’ve noticed about top performing salespeople and good communicators in general, is they tend to be more sensory focused in the way they communicate. They describe what they see, hear and feel in ways that capture the attention of others. This is part of the magic of good storytelling. Cindy shared an insight about the human brain and how it remembers,
“What’s really interesting about the brain, is the brain doesn’t remember slides with statistics, the brain remembers pictures. Therefore, if you’re trying to communicate something, you want to put up a picture.”
We can use this knowledge to run better sales meetings and conduct more effective training sessions, as Cindy explains,
“Most of us grow up going through the school system, going to college, and instruction is done by one person standing at the front lecturing to the group. So we go out in the world and we think, ‘Oh. That’s how we communicate. That’s how we teach,’ even though that’s probably one of the worst ways to actually teach. Really, it’s a lack of knowledge to instruct differently that translates into boring sales meetings where people get up to the front of the room and droll on. The brain loves novelty, so when you have a block of time and you have four different topics you want to cover then present each topic with four different learning modalities.”
We’ve found, when we coach sales teams at the SalesGym, that most sellers need practice at telling interesting and engaging stories in a concise way that connect to their value proposition and differentiating factors. Effective, short stories are an excellent way to position challenger level insights and the kind of questions that really open up the conversation. Visual and sensory-oriented communication is yet another way to lower resistance and increase receptivity.
A Final Thought on Being Coachable …
Great information, ideas, training, and practice will only go so far if the salesperson being coached is resistant to change and is stubborn about stepping out of his/her comfort zone to grow. Great seeds will not grow if the conditions are not right and receptivity to coaching and feedback is a big part of the equation, as Cindy noted at the end of our interview:
“If you are a salesperson and you’re open and self-aware enough, then you will be able to take and Implement feedback to get to the next level.”
SalesGym is a research, consulting, and training company that works with and learns from sales teams all over the world and has refined a coaching and training process that trains sales teams the way elite athletes are trained. More insights and articles from us can be found on our RESOURCES PAGE.
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