Effective communication skills are essential to successful business development. Yet they’re often under-emphasized and sometimes completely ignored. Why? Because we communicate so much and so often (approximately 20,000 words per day) we often take it for granted. But regardless of how good your product or service is and how much expertise you have in your area, it all goes to waste unless you can communicate it to others. When you actually get the chance to sit down with a potential client and discuss doing business together, don’t blow it by committing one of these big five business development blunders.
1. Talking about your product or service. Infodumping is simply telling someone all there is to know about what you’re selling. You probably cover how long you’ve been in business, who developed what, your philosophy of business, your market share and all the choices you have available. This approach is likely to leave the potential client in exactly the same place on the sales continuum as when you started. Your objective should be to get him to gravitate towards you. Go into your meeting with a strategic goal. What specifically do you want him to know, do or believe after meeting with you. Is it to place an order, sign up for a trial or believe you’re the only logical choice? Once you have a strategic goal, your destination is in sight and you can begin mapping a route to get there.
2. Not listening. No salesperson has ever listened herself out of a sale. Yet, when asked a simple question, many salespeople take it as a license to deliver a monologue. Here are three tips to practice better listening. First, use questions to discover what’s important. If the potential client says “tell me about yourself (or your product or service or company)”, respond with “what would you like to know” or “what aspect is most important to you in making a decision?” Second, never talk continuously for more than a couple of minutes without giving the other person an opportunity to speak. Third, don’t correct the other person unless it’s absolutely essential for the discussion to proceed–it rarely is and no one likes to be told he’s wrong.
3. Using sales clichés. People usually begin to lose interest the moment they feel they’re being sold. They usually begin feeling that way when they hear stock phrases such as “That’s a great question” or “What will it take to get your business today?” People need to feel like individuals, not like pieces in an assembly line. Sales clichés operate on a Pavlovian model–use a specific phrase and you’ll get the response you desire. It’s manipulative. Try shifting to a consultative approach where you’re seen as a advisor or problem-solver.
4. Failing to adapt to the situation. The problem with using a sales script is that it assumes too much. It assumes similar motivators, perspectives and situations in life. A financial planner I know has developed a very clever approach to meeting clients. He places bowls near the cash registers of higher-end restaurants in his territory. On each bowl, he places a small sign encouraging patrons to drop their business card in for a chance at a free meal at that restaurant. He goes through the cards periodically and invites someone to lunch with the understanding that he’d like a few minutes to talk about his services. When I met him for lunch, he presented his sales talk that assumed A. I had taken on a big mortgage to finance my house (I didn’t) B. I had to save for a child’s college fund (I don’t) and C. that my parents might someday need assisted living care (they’re both dead). Treat each meeting as unique and don’t assume too much.
5. Failing to distinguish features from benefits. Salespeople often focus on telling someone what a product or service is or does at the expense of what problem it solves or what pain it takes away. I once observed a commercial leasing agent show office space. As he met the clients in the building foyer, he commented on the large parking lot outside. That was a feature statement. A benefit statement would have focused on how clients would never have to search for parking or that people could always park close to the building in bad weather. Let’s say your product includes a video–that’s only a feature. The benefit is that someone can see exactly how to use your product. Apply this test to the statements you make–ask the “so what” question. If you can’t answer it, you’ve got a feature rather than a benefit.
Developing good communication skills is a result of thinking more strategically about how communication affects our interactions with others, then putting those strategies into play. When you avoid these top five blunders of business development, you’ll not only gain more business, you’ll lose less. Remember, if your idea is important, it deserves to get heard.