It’s easy to see communication skills as a gift — either you’ve got them or you don’t.
But communication skills can make or break your success.
If you’re a skilled communicator, you’re more likely to be perceived as an expert. If you speak eloquently at a job interview, you’re more likely to get the job. In fact, according to a recent survey of approximately 1,000 employers, effective oral communication is the most desired skill in job candidates.
Now, I know that as a sales professional, you likely have the gift of gab. Great! Don’t let that stop you from reading.
All of us can improve our communication skills. Even a speaker or writer or top one-percenter.
So, with that in mind, let’s look at six critical communication skills you need to succeed in sales, and how you can improve them.
- Verbal communication
- Nonverbal communication
- Ability to present to a group
- Ability to choose the right medium
- How to improve your communication skills
1. Verbal Communication
Verbal communication is exactly what it sounds like. It’s the use of words and sounds to express yourself. It’s the ability to communicate your thoughts and feelings with a prospect verbally. Speaking is one of the most effective ways to communicate and express yourself.
As a sales professional, most verbal communication will fall into one of 3 categories:
Interpersonal communication: This is a one-on-one conversation between you and another individual, such as a client or prospect.
Small group communication: This occurs when there are more than two people involved, such as when pitching your services to a small team.
Public communication: This is when you use verbal communication to address a large group of individuals. Common examples include presentations and speeches.
Well-polished verbal communication skills are essential to sales success. There’s always room for improvement, so don’t stop learning and tweaking your approach.
2. Nonverbal Communication
Get this. Some studies show that communication is more than 90 percent nonverbal. And for that reason, it’s a skill you should work hard to develop.
Nonverbal communication includes everything you do to communicate with others outside of using your words. Some common examples include:
- Hand gestures
- Facial expressions
- Eye contact
- Tone of voice
- The way you stand (arms crossed, arms at your side, legs relaxed, etc.)
Even if you have top-notch verbal communication skills, you’ll struggle to connect with your audience if you fall short with your non-verbal communication.
Take, for example, a situation in which you’re meeting face-to-face with a prospect you’re dying to close.
You know exactly what you want to say, but as you begin the conversation, your eyes wander to the floor. This shows you lack confidence, and it also gives the other individual the impression that you’re not fully engaged.
There have been many studies on the effect non-verbal communication has on business relationships. This one notes that maintaining good eye contact helps people remember what you said long after you’re done talking. And that’s exactly what you want as a sales professional.
Many salespeople love to talk, talk, talk, but when it comes to listening, they’re far less interested.
You don’t want to be known as someone who’s comfortable talking but immediately loses attention when it’s time to listen.
There’s no denying it. Good listeners are the best communicators.
Learning to listen will change your life as a salesperson.
People respond better to good listeners. It shows the other person that you genuinely care about what they’re saying and helps you formulate your thoughts for when it’s time to speak again.
People who listen also typically have more confidence when conversing with others.
It’s also easier to recall information from the conversation, which allows you to leverage that information to push your prospect towards a decision.
Data provided by the University of Missouri shows that most people are ineffective listeners:
Studies have shown that immediately after listening to a 10-minute oral presentation, the average listener has heard, understood, and retained 50 percent of what was said. Within 48 hours, that drops off another 50 percent to a final level of 25 percent efficiency.
So, if you can learn to become a more active listener, you’re likely to gain an advantage over the majority of your competitors.
In every profession, not just sales, confidence is the name of the game. The way you carry yourself plays a big part in how much success you achieve.
When you’re confident in your interactions, it gives others peace of mind knowing that you’ll take care of business.
There are many ways to exude confidence, such as:
- Maintaining eye contact
- Speaking in a firm and conversational tone
- Knowing the difference between confidence and arrogance
- Listening intently
Remember this — confidence matters just as much as ability.
If you think you can do it, you can. But if you doubt yourself, it’s another challenge you’ll have to overcome.
When you’re confident as a sales professional, you believe you’ll close every deal. You believe you can lead your team to success. You believe you can get every prospect to fall in love with your products and/or services.
And guess what? If you believe it, you’re more likely to do it.
In the sales game, self-confidence isn’t optional. It’s required to reach peak performance.
5. Ability to Present to a Group of People
Some people excel in a one-on-one setting but struggle to communicate when presenting to a group of people. This is common, especially among those used to selling in a smaller setting.
However, most salespeople eventually learn they must be able to present effectively in front of a large audience. This can be the difference between mediocrity and reaching the top one percent of your field.
Here are some questions to answer before your presentation.
- How many people are you presenting to?
- What is the background and/or job title of the people in your audience?
- What is the purpose of the presentation?
- What is the best way to convey the information (slideshow, handout, etc.)?
- Are you presenting alone or with another person?
- What’s your plan for keeping your audience engaged (70 percent of marketers say interactive content is critical to engaging your audience)?
Addressing these questions upfront will give you the confidence you need to knock your presentation out of the park.
Most people who don’t have experience presenting to large groups face a steep learning curve. Fortunately, preparing in advance and knowing what needs to be done puts you in a better position to succeed.
6. Ability to Choose the Right Medium
There is more than one way to communicate with your audience. Knowing which medium is best is essential to good communication.
Before you choose a medium, consider the person you’re speaking with, the purpose of the conversation, and the person’s schedule.
For example, if you’re communicating with a busy CEO, you have a better chance of connecting via email or a brief phone call, as opposed to a face-to-face meeting.
However, if you’re in the final stages of closing a prospect, meeting in-person may be just what you need to get their signature.
This may not be a communication skill, per se, but it’ll have a great impact on your ability to connect with prospects, engage them, and make more sales.
7. How to Improve Your Communication Skills
Even the most successful sales professionals can improve their communication skills. How you do it depends primarily on where you think you fall short, your preferred method of learning, and the opportunities that are available to you.
However, regardless of what you need to improve, and how you’re approaching it, there are three things you should keep in mind.
Focus on one skill at a time: For example, if you’ve struggled to listen in the past, focus solely on this for the next month. Every time you meet with a prospect, consciously take steps to improve how you listen.
Ask for help: Maybe you struggle with non-verbal communication but someone on your team excels at it. Explain your concerns to them, ask for tips, and maybe even ask if they’ll go through some mock conversations with you.
No matter what communication skill you’re struggling to master, there’s probably someone in your company who can help.
Request feedback: Constructive criticism is one of the best ways to improve your communication skills. The easiest way to do this is with your internal team.
For instance, if you just delivered a presentation to a large group of co-workers, send out a brief survey asking about what they liked, disliked, and how you performed. This feedback is invaluable to your development.
You’ve heard it before, and you’ll hear it again: Practice makes perfect. If you want to improve your communication skills, make good use of every opportunity available to you.
Effective communication skills aren’t something you either have or don’t have. Even if you’re lagging behind your co-workers and competitors, you can always improve.
“Communication is a skill that you can learn. It’s like riding a bicycle or typing. If you’re willing to work at it, you can rapidly improve the quality of every part of your life.” – Brian Tracy
Start by improving in the six areas we covered above, and you’ll soon have the communication skills you need to succeed in sales.
As a bonus, you’ll find it has a positive effect on every aspect of your personal and professional life.