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3 Ways to Become a Better Active Listener

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Being an active listener is important, whether it is in a meeting with the perfect client or in a negotiation with a raging lunatic. It encourages trust by showing that you care about what the other party is saying. Listening shows that you are not simply hearing what they are saying, but actually processing the information and taking it seriously. And it may preempt misunderstandings before they create problems. Here are 3 ways to become a better active listener.

  1. Put the technology away

It’s hard to disconnect, especially during work hours. But it is essential to minimize distractions during conversations to ensure that the people you are meeting with know that you value their time and opinions. By putting the technology away, you increase the likelihood of giving the other party 100% of your attention. Instead of using a computer or notebook to take notes, try using pen and paper to decrease distractions. If a computer is necessary, store necessary files on the desktop and turn the internet off to avoid the temptation of checking that new email or answering a lingering text.

  1. Repeat important statements in your own words

Repeating important concepts or statements in your own words serves multiple purposes. If the other party agrees with your reiteration, it shows that you are engaged in the conversation and received the message as intended. If the other party notes a discrepancy in what was said and what you said, it may help preempt miscommunications before they turn into problems by showing that something was lost in translation.

For example, if a client says “I would take $4 million for two,” you should repeat the statement as you understood it by saying, “So you would like $2 million for each.” If the intention was to get $4 million for each of the two, getting clarification could help avoid a huge misstep.

  1. Ask questions

Besides the obvious goal of getting answers, asking questions serves similar purposes as restating important messages. It shows that you are listening to the speaker and want to make sure you understood what they said. And it gives you the opportunity to clear up any discrepancies before they become full-blown misunderstandings. When an answer is given, it may help to repeat it in your own words to make sure that it cleared up any lingering questions.

Similar to the previous example, if a client says, “I would take $4 million for two,” you could ask, “Is that $4 million for each or $2 million for each equaling $4 million?” Again, this will clarify the client’s goal and avoid a mistake moving forward.

 

For more on how to become an active listener, check out The Power of Nice, which discusses how to participate, engage, and personalize to become a better negotiator, faster.

Should you listen to a Devil’s Advocate?

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Why would we encourage someone to tell us we are wrong and that our ideas aren’t clear? Sometimes it could be the push we need to be better, to do more, or to make more. John Adams, the second President of the United States, relied on his wife Abigail for advice and critiques to lead our country. With that said, taking the extra hour to script your pitch for a meeting or to hand off your proposal to a co-worker might not only be the remedy to miscommunication, but the key to success. So, do you have a devil’s advocate, someone you can turn to for guidance? Who is your Abigail Adams?

If you’re the drafter…

The tried and true process of putting pen to paper allows us to work through our thoughts and uncover our real goals. We have drafted our proposals and scripted our speeches And, now that you know what you want to say, and think you have said it clearly, hand it to the one person you know won’t be biased or go easy on you. When he or she brings you back your draft with red marks and arrows, go and redraft the script. Do it again and again until your devil’s advocate has run out of recommendations. In this case, third time may not be the charm. It may be the fourth or fifth or tenth. But when all is said and done, you will have a script that is clear and concise.

If you’re the devil’s advocate….

Maybe you are sitting at your desk when a co-worker hands you their latest proposal. They ask you to read it over, make suggestions, and be brutally honest. How can you be a good devil’s advocate? Here are a few key things to consider.

Is the intended demand or request clear? What can you change to make it more apparent?

Are the facts there, or does the proposal sound too personal?

Is the proposal concise and specific? What type of language do they use?

Take-aways: Take your time with a proposal. Get your ideas down on paper and don’t be afraid to redraft until it is right.  Be someone’s Abigail Adams and let someone be yours. You will be more successful in the long run if you’re not afraid to ask for advice.

The Importance of Personal Relationships in Negotiations

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Experienced negotiators know the importance of building a personal relationship before going into business negotiations. A negotiation involves two parties trying to come to a deal when both sides may want different things. An overly heated atmosphere and anger can unravel the most carefully planned deal. You can avoid many problems when you establish a personal relationship with the people who will be on the other side of the negotiating table. 

You Are Working Together

A personal relationship with the person or people against whom you will be negotiating prevents an adversarial relationship from souring the deal before it starts. If negotiators see themselves as adversaries in a confrontation, both sides tend to become defensive and reactive with each other. In this situation, asking for even a small concession is seen as an encroachment or an attempt to take advantage of the other party. However, if the parties share a personal relationship, it is easier to put these give-and-take dealings in the context of building consensus. If your opponent believes that you are genuinely looking for a mutually beneficial deal, he or she is far more likely to make a concession. 

Focus on Business

Remember that business is business. If both parties didn’t have divergent needs, there would be no need for negotiations. Both parties will be asking the other to give up something. This can create a difficult atmosphere if you’re not careful. Never make personal attacks or attribute any combative exchange to malice on the part of your opponent. When things are getting tense, suggest a break. Taking some time away from the negotiating table can help you steer the conversation back to your personal relationship. Remember to not take things personally. 

Know Your Opponent

A good negotiator will build a personal relationship with the person against whom they will be negotiating before they even get to the table. This means making those important social calls to your opponent. The key is to frame yourself as a friend first and a negotiator second, which transforms your relationship from competitors to cooperators. This can provide a positive perspective on the person with whom you will be negotiating. Understanding what they want, can also help you get what you want.

Building personal relationships between negotiators is an essential part of reaching a deal. Remember to not only get to know the positions from the other side, but the people with whom you are negotiating as well. Focusing on your cooperation can be the element that closes the deal.

Lessons From the Avengers: How to Assemble a Super-Powered Sales Team

Cameron Johnson

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If we’ve learned anything from the rampant success the Avengers movies continue to see, it’s that if you pull together the right group of individuals, anything is possible. But it’s not just a matter of putting a bunch of talented people into the same room and telling them to do something amazing. It requires the right people with the right abilities and the right training, plus a dash of that secret sauce that turns a group of strangers into a team.

As you learn how to build a sales team, you’ll face some of the same challenges. Sure, you’re not trying to stop an alien force from destroying New York or fighting a megalomaniac robot with the charisma of David Spader, but you still want a group of people who know how to work together and produce results. You’ll need to assemble team members who have the right mix of influence training and natural-born talent to convince customers that they’re making the right decision when they choose to do business with your company. So let’s take a page out of Nick Fury’s handbook and have a look at some of the lessons the Avengers can teach about putting a team together.

Spoilers from the movies may follow.

Lay out and prioritize your requirements

Before you even start recruiting, you need to determine what exactly your sales team is missing and how you can fill those gaps. In order to find the right people to fill out your team, you have to know just what you’re looking for, whether that’s someone who can quickly understand customers and make a connection, someone who knows the product backwards and forwards and can recite intricate specs from memory, or a viking god with a billowing cape and the power to control lightning.

Personality

You want your team to be able to work well in a wide variety of circumstances. If one team member is trying to hog the spotlight and take sales away from another, it leads to bad blood. A team needs to be able to function as a team, and they need to be willing to place the team’s goals first.

At the same time, not just any temperament is cut out for sales. You need teammates who are willing to put themselves out there and chase down leads. They have to want to go out there and actively sell your product. You can usually determine whether an interviewee has the right personality when you meet them, but a DISC profile assessment can also be a helpful tool as you choose members for your team.

Experience

Experience is one of the most effective teachers you can find, but it’s not always the first requirement in sales. In fact, it’s generally a good idea to have a wide range of experience on your team. Team members who have been working in the field a long time have often learned which techniques tend to work and which don’t. Meanwhile, team members who lack experience also haven’t had time to develop any bad habits and can bring fresh new perspectives with them.

Skills

Different workers have different skill sets, whether inborn or trained, and you want to fill out your team with a variety so your workers can handle different situations. Recognize which skills are just a part of who a person is and which can be taught. Sales and influence training can boost an employee’s effectiveness more than you might assume, but the person has to be willing to learn.

Build an effective hiring process

Once you’ve figured out the type of people you need to fill out your team, you need to lay out a plan for how to attract and recruit those people. In the case of Mr. Stark and Captain Rogers, SHIELD sent in a grizzled veteran with an eye patch and a wicked scar to talk to them about the “Avengers Initiative.” Meanwhile, Dr. Banner’s rage issues required a lighter touch in the form of a visit from a femme fatale who could manipulate even the most hardened criminals—and could handle herself in a tight spot, if necessary.

Fortunately, the team you’re putting together probably doesn’t include an enormous, green rage monster, but you still need a plan of attack that will bring in the right people.

Searching for candidates

Without a vast network of satellites orbiting the earth, you’ll need to resort to more mundane search tactics. There are several different ways to go about your hunt for new sales candidates.

Putting out ads and posting on job search sites provide a quick way to circulate the word that you are looking to hire, and it reaches a wide range, while referrals and recruiting events can help to bring in specialized applicants who will actively get things done.

Advertising

Placing ads in newspapers and on job boards is one of the fastest ways to reach a broad audience, but it also contains the least amount of pre-screening. If you have the time and resources to invest in weeding out the less-qualified candidates, though, chances are you’ll have a wide variety of options to choose from in order to best suit your team. Posting on LinkedIn has the added benefit of looking through a candidate’s online profile for qualifications that may get missed in the basic application.

Referrals

These referrals can come from current employees, people with whom you do business, family members, or friends. As long as the recommendation comes from someone whose opinions you trust, referrals are basically a way to have your candidates pre-screened to some degree before you even interview them.

If you want to encourage your current workforce to submit referrals, be sure to create some incentives so they’ll be more likely to do so.

Recruiting events

Job fairs and other recruiting events provide a lot of candidates for a relatively low investment. People who attend recruiting events are typically hungry for work, but other companies seeking to build their own sales teams will be actively competing for the same candidates. Show what sets your company apart from others and why the best candidates would want to join your team.

The interview

Just about anyone who has searched for a job before can tell you that it’s the employee’s first chance to make a good impression, but don’t forget that the same goes for you. If you want the best people to work for you, then show them why they want to work for you. Try to predict the types of questions they will ask beforehand and have answers prepared.

Remember that job applicants are basically trying to sell you something during their interview—themselves. Keep an eye out for just how they do that and take note of things like the way they present themselves, their body language, their grooming, and just how comfortable they seem to be with you. If they seem overly aggressive and pushy with you during the interview, they likely will be the same with your customers. If they feel more natural and genuine in their interest, they will likely be better equipped to put customers at ease.

Continue to hone your team, even after you hire

Sometimes, even after going through the process of searching for and hiring a candidate, you may realize that someone is just not the right fit for your team culturally. If you notice that a team member is having trouble working with your other team members, you may need to step in and make some changes. Extra training might be in order. If things don’t improve, you may need to let a team member go and replace them.

Emphasize ongoing training

While a state-of-the-art training facility in upstate New York—fully equipped with the best tech money can buy—may not be in your budget, you still need to make sure that your team members have their instincts honed and are ready to take on any situation. By regularly putting your team through sales and negotiation training, they can learn and refine the skills they need when they talk to customers and pull in that hard sale.

Proper sales training isn’t just a “do it once and then you’re good” sort of thing, and it’s definitely not just something you do when you need to fix a problem. Proper negotiation is a process rather than an event, and negotiation training is no different. Once you spot a problem, the time for training has probably already passed! Training is an opportunity for your team members to develop new skills and sharpen the ones they already have. After you have a big professional sales training event, continue to hold regular, smaller trainings among your team to keep the things your team has learned fresh in their minds. Encourage your team to teach and learn from each other, and as your team grows and evolves, hold additional formal training events, like those Shapiro Negotiations offers, to build your team’s skill base and fortify other skills they’ve learned.

Don’t skimp on the manager

For the most part, Nick Fury wasn’t on the front lines, but that doesn’t mean he didn’t know how to handle himself in an explosives-riddled car chase against a dozen heavily-armed HYDRA agents. Your team’s manager should be familiar with each of his team member’s capabilities and know in which situations to deploy each. The manager needs to understand the job better than anyone, and be able to get involved as needed.

Even when they’ve got a team of incredible salespeople, a mediocre sales manager will eventually lead to a mediocre team. A good manager knows just when to step in and encourage, where to coach salespeople and teach them new skills, and when the time is right to come back from presumed death and give an inspiring speech before the team leaves their safehouse and fights an army of killer robots on a flying island.

Encourage cooperation

Team members need to be able to work together. Some sales managers operate their teams under the facade that having their salespeople constantly competing hones their “killer instinct,” but that wastes a lot of potential and can eventually lead the team to implode. Some healthy competition is fine in sales, but team members should still put the group’s needs ahead of their individual wants. Otherwise,  it starts with a disagreement over a sale, and eventually, your two best team members are leading opposing factions, throwing explosive trucks at each other while the new guy grows to the size of a small office building and tears the wings off an airplane.

… Well.

Okay, so it probably won’t reach that point, but pitting your team members against each other all the time can still lead to bad feelings and worse results. Emphasize the fact that your sales team is just that—a team. Customers can tell when there are bad feelings between workers, as well, and it gives off an unpleasant feeling when teammates are trying to undermine each other. They’re all on the same side, and by working together, your team can achieve some pretty incredible results.

Once you learn how to build a sales team and then pull together the right group of people, anything is possible. Whether you’re trying to save the world or save your business, you want the best team you can put together fighting by your side. So bring in the right people. Give them strong leadership to point them in the right direction. Make sure they’re equipped with the best resources and the best training you can give them. Keep them focused and working together on the same goals.

Then maybe, after a hard, successful day in the trenches together, go out and grab some shawarma as a team.