When I started my sales career, I was a rabid amoeba; trying to absorb as much sales knowledge as I could. Early on, I educated myself with some excellent sales “classics” such as The Sales Development Playbook by Trish Bertuzzi and Smart Calling by Art Sobczak before moving on to some pieces that were not as traditional. I have found these less mainstream sales books give helpful insights not often discovered in their more straightforward counterparts. Those books certainly have a critical place in your sales education journey, but if you’re ready to step outside the flooded world of traditional sales literature, the books below offer just the edge someone who conducts outbound sales prospecting needs to outpace the competition.
Never Split the Difference by Chris Voss
The premise of this book is that author Chris Voss was once a lead negotiator for the FBI. In this role, Voss dealt directly with a variety of hostage and kidnapping situations across the globe. If you think negotiating is tough in sales, wait until you try it with lives hanging in the balance. Voss takes particular aim at the common tactic of “splitting the difference” in a negotiation, as someone negotiating with four hostages at risk can’t just say “let’s meet in the middle and just give two back.” This book is a great read for anyone interested in upping their negotiation game, but for my purposes here, I’ve cherry-picked a couple of Voss’ ideas that would be most helpful on a cold call or introductory meeting.
The Word “No”
We encounter “no” on a daily basis, especially when calling sales prospects. As salespeople, we make a living off guiding prospects to a “yes” – so naturally, “no” seems like our enemy. But instead of viewing this word as a steadfast roadblock, Voss shows that we should actually think of it as an opportunity.
“Saying ‘No’ often spurs people to action because they feel they’ve protected themselves and now see an opportunity slipping away.”
This opportunity can be challenging to capitalize on when we think of “no” at face value. Many sales reps (including my peers here at memoryBlue) frequently start prospecting conversations off with “Did I catch you at a bad time?” The answer we’re looking for here is, “No, what’s up?” after which we launch into our opening value statement. Why is it, then, that when we hear “no” further in the conversation we suddenly clam up? Voss is adamant that “no” is not a show of power, an act of rejection, or proof that our partner in conversation is stubborn beyond reason.
Instead, we should simply view this small barrier as:
- I’m not ready to agree.
- I don’t understand your product/service.
- I don’t think I’d ever be able to afford what you’re offering.
- I need more information before committing to what you’re asking.
If we can change our thinking around “No” and make it less intimidating, perhaps we will have the courage to press forward on a call that could easily still have a positive outcome.
The 7-38-55 Rule
Another area Voss emphasizes is listening-related – namely, paying close attention to the entire message the prospect is conveying. UCLA professor Albert Mehrabian shed light on this topic with his “7-38-55” rule, where he notes that in any conversation, 7 percent of a message is based on words, 38 percent is from the tone of voice, and 55 percent is from the speaker’s body language. In a face to face meeting, this makes a prospect’s vocal tone five times more important than the words they’re using, and their body language nearly eight times as important.
Visually, this breakdown becomes even more striking:
But what about those of us who work behind the cover of a phone line? If you subtract the effects of body language from Mehrabian’s analysis, the importance of the content of the message increases to 16 percent, and the importance of vocal tone becomes 84 percent. This means that if one were to completely ignore the actual words being spoken to them on the phone and only focus on the vocal tone, 84 percent of the speaker’s message would still come through.
On sales calls, it is absolutely imperative to listen intently for any sign that the prospect’s tone indicates dissonance. If their words don’t match their tone, call them on it and get to the bottom of their message. Voss gives such an example:
You: “I heard you say, ‘Yes,’ but it seemed like there was hesitation in your voice.”
Prospect: “Oh, it’s nothing really.”
You: “No, this is important, let’s make sure we get this right.”
In conclusion, these two sales-related nuggets (among many others) stood out in Voss’ riveting book:
- Don’t be afraid of a “no” at the end of your conversation – instead, use it as an opportunity to continue the conversation.
- Vocal tone is much more important than the actual words being spoken – dig deeper with the prospect if their intonation doesn’t match their words.
The Charisma Myth: How Anyone Can Master the Art and Science of Personal Magnetism by Olivia Fox Cabane
This fascinating read systematically dismantles the idea that charisma is innate and difficult to obtain. The book is broken up into three main sections: removing charisma blockers, developing charismatic traits, and learning when to employ these skills. Author Olivia Fox Cabane is a frequent keynote speaker and leadership coach for Fortune 500 companies.
One aspect Cabane covers is how to speak and listen with charisma. For anyone (like me) who spends a good part of the day on the phone, this section held some stunning applications to everyday work. Here are two applied lessons I gleaned around being more charismatic on a sales call:
Listen with Charisma
To improve your listening skills, Cabane suggests starting with the right mindset. Don’t think of your conversation partner as just another prospect — instead, treat them as the most interesting person in the world. Consider how you would react if you were speaking with a world leader, movie star, or one of your personal idols. With this mindset, you will be more likely to absorb what is being said, and you’ll dig deeper by asking more meaningful questions.
Once you’re in the right mindset to appreciate what is being delivered, be sure to never interrupt your conversation partner. Good listeners will never take over a conversation, even if they get excited about what they hear and are dying to add value. On that same note, great conversationalists welcome interruptions from the other side. While we know this isn’t good practice, if you’re speaking with someone who likes to get an extra word in or hear themselves speak, let them!
In Cabane’s words, “If you notice the other person repeatedly agitating to speak, keep your sentences short and leave frequent pauses for them to jump in.”
In fact, Cabane says pausing frequently with every prospect is just good practice. Deliberate pauses are an extraordinarily effective way to show that you are truly listening and understand what the other person is saying. Many negotiators, including Chris Voss, reference silence as an incredibly effective negotiation tool. It also plays an important role in making people feel like their contribution to the dialogue has been intelligent, engaging, and impressive.
“If you notice the other person repeatedly agitating to speak, keep your sentences short and leave frequent pauses for them to jump in.”
Metaphors are a great conversation tool. Charismatic speakers often use double the metaphors when compared to speakers who are perceived as non-engaging. Cabane gives a great example:
“If you were told the number of deaths caused by smoking every year, would you remember that exact figure three months from now? But what if you were told that this figure was equal to three fully-loaded 747’s crashing into the earth every day for a year, with no survivors?”
This same logic can be applied to sales calls. For instance, when comparing a product or service to that of a competitor, it is more memorable to use a metaphor, rather than just go down a list of pros and cons. I personally use this tactic for one of my clients who offer a high-end webcasting service. In this space, I will constantly run into prospects who use a service that appears to have many similar features, but costs one-half to one-third what our solution costs. Instead of trying to communicate the specific features that differentiate the platforms, I’ll instead say something like:
“Hey [Prospect], I totally understand that your service currently has some of our features. And to be honest, on paper we may not be all that different, but let me explain this as if you were car shopping: The service you’re currently using gets the basic job done, and is akin to an economy car. Our service is more like a luxury car experience. While economy cars have engines, doors, windows, and get you from point A to point B, the luxury experience ensures it’s done in high-end style and comfort.”
While there’s no guarantee this will snag you a meeting, colorful metaphors will definitely make your description stand out. After the call, what’s more likely to stick in your prospect’s mind: that your product has X, Y, and Z features or a metaphor that tells them you’re the “Mercedes-Benz” of your industry?
Aside from a number of other terrific pieces of information, these insights from Cabane stuck out as especially useful for sales professionals:
1. Listen with charisma.
- Think of the prospect as a celebrity or otherwise interesting person.
- Never interrupt someone, but welcome their interruptions.
- Pause after they’ve finished speaking to show you’re absorbing their words.
2. Get graphic on your calls.
- Employ metaphors to describe your service or product.
Step Outside the Lines
I hope you’ve learned something from my experiences above that you can add to your already established sales toolbox. Maybe you’ve even decided to read The Charisma Myth and Never Split the Difference in full – something I would strongly recommend. Don’t be afraid to step outside the usual suspects when it comes to finding books that can increase your sales acumen. But most of all, whatever books may be in your future, make sure you’re always reading, always learning, and always dialing.