At the SalesGym, we talk a lot about “verbal sales fluency.” In fact, we obsess over it. Simply put, it’s the ability to effectively verbalize sales communication (questions, answers, or persuasive information) so that it has a positive impact on the buying decisions of a prospect or customer. It seems simple, but developing this ability in salespeople is not at all simple.
The founders of the SalesGym started their training and consulting careers in the late 1980s. After countless training sessions with salespeople, we made a disconcerting discovery. After the intense training sessions, we’d go back a week or two later and test (or practice coach) with the attendees, and ask them simple questions related to the value proposition, such as:
- What do you do and how do you do it?
- What makes your company, products and services unique?
- Why should I buy from you and not your competitor?
They’d have trouble verbalizing a concise and persuasive answer. We also found this to be true with many sales managers and executives. Interestingly, though, when we’d just sit down casually and talk about it, we found they knew much more than they were able to verbalize in a concise, well-packaged way.
Several years ago, a former colleague of mine got a big promotion to take over new accounts for a large bank in California. He brought over 60 lending officers into a meeting and asked them all to communicate the bank’s value proposition aimed at SMB prospects. He was very disappointed in what he heard, so he researched how much sales training they’d had. Alarmingly, over the previous 5 years, they’d spent over $14,000 per lending officer, including travel to and from training events, or $840,000 total. So, he asked me to design a training program that guaranteed when they left the program that they could effectively answer 5 basic questions about the bank’s value proposition.
We took 10 of those lending officers and worked with them for an entire week, simply working on how to verbalize key elements of their value proposition. Every one of these people had at least 5 years experience and knew the bank well. What we found was it took between 23 and 40 rounds of practice before each of them could verbalize answers to any of those 5 questions, under pressure, in a consistent and persuasive way. Clearly, it’s much easier to get people to understand what they’re supposed to say than to enable them to verbalize under pressure.
We designed the training around what we learned. It took 5 full days of military-style drilling and repetition to get all 6 participants up to a high level of verbal fluency. We didn’t work much on sales process or questions or any of the traditional topics of sales training. Just verbal fluency on the value proposition and differentiating factors. And the results were stunning.
The confidence levels of these experienced sales professionals went through the roof. Their ability to interact on sales calls improved dramatically, because they knew exactly how to tap into what made their bank unique and special. They didn’t ramble and improvise anymore, because they had verbal sales fluency. They got better at prospecting for new appointments and responding to questions in the first few moments of a sales interaction. Their results improved quickly.
Certainly, there are many factors that impact selling results like:
- Knowing the sales process inside and out,and what step to use at the right time
- How to blend consultative and challenger sales approaches
- How to ask good, natural questions that stimulate an effective and relevant interaction
- How to use summaries and why they’re essential
- The best way to recommend next steps and initiate the closing process
- Identifying obstacles and buying objections and what to do about them
- Understanding the sales cycle and buying influencers
- Team selling and how to coordinate it
- Group presentations when there are multiple decision makers in the room
More often than not, the best place to start, when you want to impact sales performance, is to work on verbal sales fluency first. After that, all other sales skills become much easier to acquire.
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