The best of the best in any field don’t leave their success to chance, hoping they’ll be ‘lucky’ or ‘in the zone’ on any given day. They do what it takes to hone their skills so that being in that peak state is the norm!
But when it comes to sales conversations, how the heck do you practice without risking a potential deal? After all, you need to be in a conversation in order to practice one, right?
Yes and no. First, it’s important to get a sense of where your stumbling blocks are. Take a week and ‘helicopter over yourself’ as you take sales calls and meetings. Block an additional 10 minutes into your schedule to take some notes immediately following the exchange. You’ll start to notice patterns.
Make notes on these questions.
What parts of the sales conversation feel good and flow easily? What parts don’t? Do people like you but hardly ever sign? Do you have a hard time transitioning from rapport into a meaningful financial conversation? Are you able to generate excitement and motivation in your prospect? How well do you manage their emotions when they have an objection? Do you drop the ball at the very end?
Sales conversations can be broken down into many small, predictable parts and there are skills you can practice and master associated with each part.
Instead of the frustrated growl you may feel inside: “Aarrgghhh, I need to get better at this!”, break it down! Observe when during the conversation things stall, get muddy or fall off the rails.
Here are several strategies you can use to get better at the most important parts of any sales conversation.
For your entire career as a financial advisor - or in any profession, really – you will be answering the question ‘So, what do you do?’. Recognize this moment for what it is: highly valuable real estate in the sales conversation. To capture attention instead generating boredom, your intro should identify your ideal audience and
specific benefits they get from working with you. Practice your intro out loud several times a day. ‘Market test’ a few versions at networking events until you find one that feels authentic to you and gets the reaction you want.
It’s impossible to overstate the importance of mastering this skill and the impact it can have on your sales! An Advisor who can consistently ask the right questions at the right time is quite literally in the driver’s seat of the conversation.
First, get the structure of your questions right. Most Advisors fall into the trap of asking closed questions such as ‘Are you happy with your current advisor?’ or ‘Are you sure you have enough set aside for retirement?’. Notice these questions both start with ‘Are you’, and force your prospect into a yes/no answer.
Question stems that set up a closed question are: ‘Do you’, ‘Are you’, ‘Does the’ or ‘Is there’. Think of them as a spice to use sparingly. The occasional well-placed closed question can shake your prospect out of complacency, but without first establishing rapport and doing some discovery, your prospect will shut you down.
Open-ended questions are the gold standard for creating engagement.
Develop a list of questions that start with What, How, Why or ‘Tell me about’. Some useful go-to’s are: How much do you know about…? What are your thoughts on…? What’s your vision for…? These questions will generate real engagement!
Heads-up: Most advisors I work with think they are great at asking open questions, but during our role-play practice sessions, many are surprised to discover that they use mostly closed questions.
Practice Tip #1
Re-orient yourself to use more open questions by saying them out loud a number of times before picking up the phone or taking the meeting. Each time you physically practice you are building neural pathways. Repetition is key. Once you’ve developed some muscle memory of these questions, they will come out naturally when needed.
Practice Tip #2
Practice on your friends, colleagues, neighbours and local business owners! Ask closed and open questions and notice their response to each. Get really fluid at moving between the two types.
Practice Tip #3
Reverse-engineer your questions on the fly. Notice when you get a one-word answer. You’ve probably just asked a closed question. Quickly throw in a What, How, Why or Tell me about question and watch the conversation expand again.
Practice deep listening.
This is the other critical skill that high achievers take the time to master. There are several layers of communication happening in a conversation. As you hone your listening skills, you’ll discover whole worlds of opportunity in your conversations. There are clues in your Prospects’ word choices, vocal inflections, emotions, pace and pauses. You can pick up on unspoken concerns, deeply-held desires, potential referrals, additional sales opportunities, the right moment to ask for the business, and much, much more.
Practice Tip #1. Listen for accuracy.
Simply get good at being really present to hear the actual words your prospect is saying. (Great to try on spouses, too!). Paraphrase their words back to them. You’ll notice even at this level of listening, that your prospect feels heard and understood.
Practice Tip #2. Listen for emotion.
Your prospects will sometimes use emotion words such as frustrated, excited, worried, etc… but more often, it’s their tone of voice that will communicate these things. When you pick up on and reflect back the emotions you hear, you can make a deeper connection. Try phrases like: ‘I understand why you might feel… or it sounds like you have thought about this…what are your concerns?’
These high-level communication skills will help you step out of a ‘salesperson-prospect’ relationship and into making a genuine connection with people.
Take the time to practice even one of these skills long enough to master it and you’ll get to enjoy a lift in your sales, referrals and client loyalty. Master all of them and you’ll be in rarified air. You’ll be building relationships and making sales like the high-achievers do!
Kira Callahan is an expert sales conversation coach for the financial industry. Her private clients typically experience 30% – 100% increase in appointments and business. Click here to find out more about Kira.