This is the season to be thankful. As a salesman, I appreciate all the resources I have that help me polish my professional communication skills. Here are my top four:
Without good communication skills, I’d be washed up as a salesman. Fortunately, through the years, I’ve discovered lots of great resources to improve these. It was hard to narrow these down to just four, but here are the ones I’ve been able to use multiple times throughout any given day.
1. Recommended Reading
Yes, I know. There are thousands of books on communication. But my absolute favorite is Crucial Conversations, by Kerry Patterson, Joseph Grenny, Ron McMillan, and Al Switzler. Very few conversations with suspects, prospects, clients or partners aren’t crucial. For that reason this book is a great starting point for anyone that will be in a client facing position. Here are a few of my takeaways:
- Everyone must add to the pool of shared meaning. We collectively bring our feelings, opinions and experiences to the conversation and we must all feel safe enough to add to this pool of shared meaning.
- Always watch for signs of when people don’t feel safe. Step out of the context of the conversation, rebuild safety, and then re-enter the context.
- Control your emotions or they will control you. (Breathing helps.)
- Be aware of the stories you tell yourself.
- Most importantly, you must enter a crucial conversation with positive intent.
The book is about more than just sales-related conversations, of course. But since a genuine sales call is always about connecting, engaging, and being real, a great book on genuine conversation is a godsend to salespeople.
2. Recommended Exercise
Understanding your own personality—its strong points, weak points, drivers and detractors— is foundational to good communication. The well-known Myers-Briggs Test is a foundational resource for this. Once you’ve taken the free test, you may better understand how to use your personality strengths to effectively communicate with others. For example, recently I was in a conversation with a prospect and allowed my enthusiasm get the best of me. The conversation got off track because the prospect and I were not on the same page. I learned from this experience, and likely will not repeat it again, because I recognized how my greatest strength became my greatest weakness.
3. Peers and Friends
Intuitively, we all know how valuable our peers and friends are in building up our communication skills. In fact, there’s a lot of informed discussion and even scientific research to back that up. There are few better environments for getting the best possible feedback in a comfortable setting than in a gathering of friends. In the past, I’ve asked friends in unrelated industries to listen to my pitch or a new spin on a voice mail message. The feedback was great, because I didn’t have to do my first practice on a live prospect or client and deal with those consequences. When I do this with other members of my sales team, I get to refine my approach—either before a big pitch or afterwards.
This may sound easy. It’s not. We’re usually too busy or separated by distance to do this very often. Fortunately, for me, I can supplement live peer interaction with the virtual kind—using recorded video practice sessions and interaction in the Viddler platform.
4. My Phone and Email
Like most salespeople, I spend most of my time on the phone or using email. Sure, there are arguments against over-reliance on the phone, but at the end of the day, good sales relationships are all about the conversation that can only happen in a person-to-person world.
My resource for improving this professional communication skill is, well, doing it. After all the learning, reading, understanding, practicing and refining, we must put our skills into practice—by constantly improving our verbal and written techniques. By engaging prospects and clients, I’m able to put into motion what I’ve learned and further refine my craft.
As the famous Carnegie Hall joke informs us, the way to get better at professional communication is to practice, practice, practice.
Whether it’s by re-reading my old emails, or listening to my call recordings (made with permission, of course), I need to sharpen my skills and learn from my mistakes. It is only through these activities (and their results) that I’m able to identify what I’ve learned—and where I need to improve.