Written by: Petra Gale
Engaging in great conversation is a fundamental consultative selling skill.
If we’re going to become expert conversationalists, we need a starting point from which to measure where our skill level currently sits, and to establish the journey towards peak performance. Whether working with tele-sales or face to face sales consultants, we look for the turning point in the sales cycle, where process and structure appears to give way to free flowing conversation on an adult to adult basis. It can be argued that once we achieve this level of communication, the likelihood of closing the deal increases exponentially.
A really useful model exists to help us to highlight five levels of communication on which people can relate to / communicate with / engage with one another. It is also a model which shows at which point rapport building and empathy can occur – two more crucial elements to success in sales. Perhaps it will help our understanding of these levels to visualize a person locked inside a prison. It is the human being, urged by an inner insistency to go out to engage with others and yet afraid to do so. The five labels of communication represent five degrees of willingness to go outside of you, to communicate to others.
The man in the prison has been there for years, although ironically the iron doors are not locked. He can go out of his prison, but in his long detention he has learned to fear the possible dangers that he may encounter. He has come to feel some sort of safety and protection behind the walls of his prison, where he is a voluntary captive. The darkness of his own prison even shields him from a clear view of himself, and he is not sure what he would look like in broad daylight. Above all, he is not sure how the world, which he sees from behind bars, and the people whom he sees moving about in that world, would receive him. He is fragmented by an almost desperate fear of the risks of rejection he would be taking if he ended his isolation.
This prisoner is reminiscent of what Viktor Frankl writes in his book, ‘Mans Search for Meaning’, about his fellow prisoners in the Nazi concentration camp at Dachau. Some of these prisoners, who yearned so desperately for their freedom, had been held captive so long that, when they were eventually released, they walked out into the sunlight, blinked nervously and then silently walked back into the familiar darkness of the prisons, to which they had been accustomed to for such a long time.
This is the dilemma that all of us experience at some time in our lives and in the process of becoming persons. Most of us only make a weak response to the invitation of encounter with others and our world because we feel uncomfortable in exposing our nakedness as persons. Some of us are willing only to pretend this exodus, while others somehow find the courage to go all the way out to freedom. There are various stages in-between. These stages are described below, under the headings of the five levels of communication. The fifth level, to be considered first, represents the least willingness to communicate ourselves to others. The successive ascending levels indicate greater and greater success in the adventure.
- Level Five – Cliche’ conversation
- Level Four – Reporting information and fact about other people and things
- Level Three – Delivering personally held ideas and judgements
- Level Two – Sharing personal feelings and emotions
- Level One – Peak level, full harmony, no constraints, openness, honesty
In relating these levels (all of which deserve exploration, example and understanding) to sales, it makes sense that we’re not going to sell to people of we engage at level five. No engagement exists at this level and based on the “people buy from people” adage, we’re not going to achieve anything at this level. Level four is reserved for “brochure dump” sales people and level three provides a home for those in sales who prefer to ‘tell’ rather than ‘ask’. It’s only once we get to level two, the concept of ‘sharing’ comes in to play, and surely sharing has to be the key to making great sales. Peak level occurs once we’ve built rapport, learned how to stay ‘in rapport’ and successfully established areas of empathy with our prospect. At peak level, the prospect is able to tick the emotional box which says “I can work with this person”.
Being great at conversation is not easy. It’s a skill which demands focus, guidance and practice. Engaging in conversation with a journey is even more difficult to do well, but again, with skilled guidance and opportunities to practice in a safe environment, it will deliver quality sales and long lasting relationships.
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