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4 Tips for Answering Influence Skills Questions in Interviews

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We’ve all been on that interview where a prospective employer asks you to “Give me an example of a time when…” While building rapport is very important in the interview process, it often feels as though the interviewer is just reading off a list of prepared questions. Well, he or she most likely is.

But what does the prospective employer really want to know?

These questions, also known as competency-based or behavioral interview questions, are designed to discover how you may respond in real-world situations. They’re useful for helping hiring managers weed out applicants who look good on paper from the ones who understand how to influence others and deliver the results that they need.

In almost every field, from government to project management to customer service, these negotiation and influencing skills can have a strong impact on a worker’s success. Negotiation interview questions allow prospective employees to demonstrate where these negotiation and influencing skills have helped them in the past—situations that may not show up in the applicant’s cover letter or résumé.

Some examples of influence skills questions are:
  • Tell us about a major challenge you encountered in your current position. How did you adapt and overcome?
  • How do you handle projects that require a lot of initiative and team work?
  • What is your approach to dealing with an angry customer? Can you tell us about a specific time when you solved this type of situation?
  • How do you contribute to your organization’s long- and short-term goals?

Even though these types of negotiation interview questions style of interviewing have become increasingly popular, questions like these can still throw you for a loop. SNI offers a variety of courses to help develop the communication skills necessary to excel in situations like these, but we’ll start with the basics. Here are four tips for answering these influence skills questions that will help ensure you project competence and authority, highlighting your value from the moment you enter the room.

Reach for the STAR

The challenge with influence skills questions usually isn’t thinking of an example; it’s organizing your thoughts efficiently and communicating them powerfully. The STAR acronym outlines four steps to breaking down an influence skills question – no matter how complex it may seem. Keep this in mind when a hiring manager lobs one your way.

1. Situation. Describe the situation or context of the example. For instance, “We were far behind our projected sales goals and had lost two key members of our team.”

2. Task. What goal were you trying to meet? What obstacles were you trying to overcome? “We had three weeks to make up 50% of the difference.

3. Action you took. Take ownership and use “I” statements frequently. Remember, they are interviewing you – not your former coworkers. “I pulled some long hours running numbers and I discovered missed opportunities…” Also, specifics are crucial here. Try to use actual facts and figures instead of generalizations. “I analyzed three months of account revenue and found 30–40 instances of missed opportunities.”

4. Results. Again, using “I” statements and specific facts, sum it all up. Example: “I restructured the working hours of the staff to allow for more coverage during high-volume times, resulting in a 35% increase in our closing rate and an additional $500,000 in revenue. My department ended up exceeding our goal by $10,000–$15,000.”

Follow STAR and the other tips outlined above. The next time an interviewer tries to surprise you with an influence skills question, you’ll be more than prepared to demonstrate your strengths when it comes to getting results.

Dominate the Conversation in Your Industry

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ConverstaionAs a professional who has spent many years in your industry, you have the expertise to spot trends and potential problems. But how do you get your voice heard? By positioning yourself to sway the conversation in your industry, you can be a force of change and create credibility that increases sales as well. Follow the three steps below to become an influencer in your industry.

Focus on Your Niche

Unless you are Leonardo da Vinci, it is likely that your expertise is strongest in a particular niche. To be the authority on a subject, you need to devote your focus to one area that you are highly knowledgeable about. This means committing to staying current in your area of expertise as well as having the knowledge and foresight to analyze trends and anticipate where things are heading in the future. Broaden that niche too much, and you lose the ability to speak authoritatively on a subject in a way that makes your voice one that is listened to.

Make Time for Social Media

You probably are not going to be asked to be an expert panelist on CNN today. On social media, however, you already have an audience. For those serious about becoming an influencer in their area of expertise, social media isn’t a nuisance or waste of time. On the contrary, it is one of the first channels available to get your voice heard. Regularly plan time for creating concise and well-written statements for social media that highlight your expertise on a subject. This might involve a short daily block of time when you create a single post or two or a longer block on one day of the week where you create several posts that you schedule to release over the course of a week.

Book Seminars

As you begin to gain attention for your area of expertise, it pays to move beyond the screen to speaking to people face to face. Booking a seminar to educate people in your chosen field of interest can set you apart as someone worth listening to. Make time to attend seminars as well. This provides you with opportunities to network with others interested in your area of expertise as well as providing an opportunity to learn from others in your field.

Let your passion for your niche shine through and be a force of change for good. The benefits will not only be reflected in sales, but also in helping shape the future of your industry.

Learning to Make an Impact at Work and in Life

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Everyone wants to be able to have an impact—to know that the things that they’re doing really matter. There’s a drive to influence our circumstances and the people around us. While the ability to influence others doesn’t come naturally to everyone, however, it’s certainly a skill that can be learned.

At SNI, we offer comprehensive influence training, teaching our clients how to work with and influence others by helping them to understand the people with whom they’re working. Our clients often call these types of courses we offer “impact training” as they are all about how to make an impact on others. The content we cover is more than we can lay out in a single blog post, but we’d like to introduce you to a few of the core elements. To get the full benefit, take a look at our influence training program.

Ancient Strategies Adapted to a Modern Environment

Whether you’re talking about influence training for salespeople or any other of our impact training programs to help in general interactions, it all goes back thousands of years to Aristotle. The ancient philosopher taught about three elements to influence: Ethos, Pathos, and Logos—credibility, emotion, and logic, respectively. What that means is that in order to influence someone, you need to convince them that you know what you’re talking about, then appeal to both their hearts and their minds. Even now, thousands of years later, Aristotle’s philosophies hold true.

Show What You Know

In order to persuade someone of anything, you first must convince them that you’re worth listening to. Essentially, you have to demonstrate your credibility to them. While the heart of this is proving your knowledge of the subject you are discussing—whether that is a product or service you offer or a policy you are hoping to influence—it goes beyond that. You must also convince them that you have a full understanding of the situation from all perspectives, particularly that of the other person. They need to feel that you have their best interest in mind. If you can’t show that you see where they are coming from, it will be difficult to have any effect on them.

In order to build credibility, you need to listen closely to what the other party is saying. If you are working on a sales floor, chances are the other person has come to you with some need they are hoping to fill. Ask them questions to figure out what that need is, then actively address it. To truly demonstrate your understanding, listening is at least as important as talking, so pay attention.

Forging a Connection

Although some people claim to remain detached during any negotiation, there is an emotional component to any negotiation. That’s why one of the core skills you will find as part of any impact training is the ability to forge a connection with someone else. As you demonstrate an understanding of your audience, you can establish common ground and use language that they will respond to. Some words are charged with particular emotions, and as you learn more about your audience, you can use those words to evoke an emotional response.

Quick Tip on Forging Relationships: Next time you have a conversation with someone listen to which sense they tend to use the most – do they say “I heard this…”, “I felt like…”, I keep seeing…”, “I could smell…”, or “I could taste…”? People tend to use one sense more than others, if you mirror (mimic the other side – in this case, focus on that describing an experience with that same sense) you will find that the other party is more receptive, which in turn can help develop a connection.

Walk Them Through the Steps

Once you’ve established your credibility and made a connection with someone, you’ve earned some degree of trust. This means that they are more likely to pay attention to your logical appeal. Careful not to be condescending, you should lay out each point, citing facts, statistics, and other evidence to back up what you are saying. During your logical appeal, don’t embellish with flowery language; simply lay out each point, leading them to your conclusion. End with a specific call to action to give your audience a purpose on which they can act.

Lead—Don’t Push

When you are trying to influence someone, whether to agree to a proposal or to make a purchase, it’s important not to push. The instant someone feels as though you are trying to push them in a specific direction, the natural response is to resist. In the end, even if you’re able to convince them, it will likely leave a sour taste in their mouth, which can cause distrust down the road. Someone once said that the definition of the word “diplomacy” is “the ability to let someone else get your way.” At SNI, that is what we teach, but we do it in a way that focuses on finding solutions that benefit you, while ensuring that others are satisfied in the process.

How to Use Psychological Theories to Increase Conversions

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Though it’s not the first thing that might come to mind, psychology and sales techniques often go hand in hand. Effective salespeople know how to speak their customer’s language to build rapport and connect to what motivates them, and, for them to do that, they must understand the basics of what drives people to do what they do. Here are strategies to convince customers what you’re offering is in their best interests using the tenets of psychology.

Priming

In psychology, priming means offering a stimulus that influences someone’s future actions or thoughts – even when the stimulus seems unconnected from that action. When you prime a prospective client, you introduce something new or resurface older ideas from the subconscious. That way, what you’ve introduced is more accessible to that person’s mind. To use this technique, know that it comes with an expiration date. The thoughts you are priming them to keep at the front of their minds tend to recess into their subconscious, so primed ideas have about a 24-hour life cycle.

The pitfall to priming is when a salesperson is too obvious. For instance, if you’re selling grills, don’t ask how a client likes their meat cooked. Instead, ask questions about family get-togethers or holidays often celebrated outdoors, like the Fourth of July. The client’s mind will connect the dots between grills and family functions – without the salesperson having to do a hard sell.

Scarcity

The psychological response to scarcity is obvious any time there’s an impending natural disaster – grocery shelves stocked with water and bread suddenly become empty. In these situations, people often take much more than they need to survive the hurricane or tornado. But, since they are concerned about these items becoming scarce – even though it’s unlikely – they still over-purchase.

In sales, you can use this to your advantage. If prospects think a solution is in short supply, they’re motivated to act before they miss out. When something is rare, its perceived value goes up. Use these two types of scarcities to increase sales:

  • Time-related scarcity – Prospects must commit by a specific date or they will miss a rare-opportunity.
  • Quantity-related scarcity – There are only so many items currently available at a certain price, and, unless they purchase now, they won’t be able to purchase them again.
Specificity

The human mind is created to consider details, and, the more precise a description is, the more likely it is to be perceived as trustworthy. According to this tenet of psychology, arguments become more believable by being precise. Numbers may seem easier to retain when they’re approximate, but giving precise amounts increases your credibility. For example, saying your solution more than doubled productivity is not as effective as saying it increased productivity by 57 percent.

Precise details reinforce your authority and show your attention to detail, which the mind perceives as more trustworthy.

Social Influence

People are strongly influenced both by what others are doing and by how they view their relationship with the influencer, which makes social media such a goldmine for some industries.

To leverage this kind of influence, use information you already have to inject elements of social proof into your persuasive technique. Let prospects know how many people have used your product or services. Link them to positive feedback and case studies that show your organization’s strength. Find the people who interact most with your brand and use common characteristics to drive sales.

Getting people through the sales funnel takes time, in part because of how the mind works. When you are considering how to drive conversions, dust off your Psy 101 textbook – you may be surprised how much it will help you win a sale.

 

SNI’s Jeff Cochran Scores High at 2017 SAMA Conference

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Strategic Account Management Association, Inc. (SAMA) gathers talent in strategic and key account management from around the globe every year at their annual conferences, one in North America and another in Europe. At this year’s North American conference, SNI’s own Jeff Cochran presented the “The Power of Nice: Maximizing Your Most Crucial Negotiations”.  Jeff showcased SNI’s philosophy on how you can maximize your share while still maintaining a long-term relationship with the other side.

His ability to captivate and provide value to his audience was shown in his post evaluation scores and anonymous participants’ comments. Two examples are:

  • “Best session I attended during the conference.”
  • “Appreciated the handouts to use for note taking. Jeff did a super job of keeping everyone engaged, especially considering it was the last session of the day.”

Here is a summary of scores:

SAMA Report Card

SAMA Report Card

How Aristotle Invented Influence Training

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While we may think the basics of public speaking starting recently, it was actually 2,300 years ago that Aristotle recorded his theory on effective public speaking. He espoused the importance of ethos (credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic) to influence behavior. His principles are still the key foundation for negotiations training. Here’s how Aristotle’s tenets have shaped the art of argument and influence in business today.

Ethos – The Speaker’s Character

To persuade anyone of anything, you must appear credible. Regardless of what you wear, how solid your company is, or even how your reputation may precede you, if your listener has reason to question your credibility, your negotiations will suffer. Aristotle says a credible speaker conveys three qualities:

  • Competence – The knowledge and ability to do what you say you can do.
  • Good Intention – You intend to do good for your listener.
  • Empathy – The listener feels as if you have been in their shoes.

Ethos is both articulated and nonverbal. Your demeanor, body language, and tone all play a role in your perceived credibility. It’s about your audience’s perception of you and your ability to control that perception. To improve ethos, develop expertise in the subject you’re going to be speaking about. Learning more and growing more comfortable in the subject matter will allow you to speak confidently and convey knowledgeable insight.

Pathos – The Speaker’s Emotional Influence

If your goal is to persuade, you must make an emotional connection. Aristotle said if people feel anger, the speaker should discover with whom they are angry and why. The first step in doing this is to have a basic knowledge of your audience. What are their values and beliefs? Use techniques that appeal to their emotions and offer something they desire.

Choose presentation techniques with which your audience can identify. Use humor to get them laughing with you. Tell a story to draw them in and help them make personal connections. Use words that are charged with the emotion you seek to convey. Offer carefully chosen visuals so your audience sees what you have seen.

Logos – The Speaker’s Appeal to Reason

Only after you have established credibility and made an emotional connection, should you proceed with your logical statement. This step is as important as the other two, but, without ethos and pathos, logos will fail.

Evaluate your message to be sure it makes sense. Use plain language that everyone in your audience can understand. Repeat key ideas so they stand out. Present facts, statistics, and evidence to back up what you’re saying. Give your audience a clear call to action so they know what to do with what they’ve experienced.

Keep ethos, pathos, and logos in your mind the next time you come to the negotiation table.

 

How to Measure the Returns of Influence Training

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Many employers consider influence training for their staff but are unsure of how to measure their return on investment. Often, managers must provide metrics to the C-Suite to justify the expense of such programs. There are several ways to assess the benefits of influence training:

Take A Look At Their Actions

People may say a lot about their training experience. They may say they were engaged with the materials and they learned information, but actions speak louder than words. That’s why quantitative measures, rather than qualitative ones, are more effective in discussing further training with the C-Suite.

For example, use a simple response system like Poll Everywhere to conduct a short quiz to assess knowledge before and after a training session. This will help measure the returns on your training efforts and justify more training for your employees.

Here’s another idea: create a series of benchmarks before sending employees off for influence training. Once your employees return, list a series of scenarios to work through, and see if those benchmarks were met. This not only helps you determine who was engaged with the sessions, but it gauges the value of the sessions themselves.

Here are some other examples of assessments you can sell to management:

  • Best answer questions. A multiple-choice assessment will provide good quantitative data to give to your higher ups.
  • Peer review. Have trainees put together a product (either alone or in teams) that the rest of the workforce can review. Have them make suggestions for improvement or comment on the quality of the work.
Look at Metrics Over Time

One of the best ways to measure the return on your influence training investment is to look at quantitative trends in your business outcomes over time. Here are some examples of metrics to measure:

  • Productivity and output
  • Sales volume
  • Customer satisfaction, including retention and the number of customer complaints
  • Employee metrics, including  average length of employment and revenue per employee

Just be sure your metrics are relevant, measureable, and provide value to your stakeholders.

If you are looking to convince your employer to pay for your influence training because you feel it will have business and personal benefits, don’t forget that proving the former to management is the key. Prepare a plan to measure the returns on your training investment and follow through accordingly. You’ll find that influence training is well worth the cost.

Psychological Concepts Influencers Need to Know

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Influence is essentially a person’s ability to effect change in another. Ethical influencing is not manipulation. It is effective communication that resonates with others. If you understand the psychology behind influence and persuasion, you can build rapport with anyone and meet your goals in any industry.

 

Understanding Influence

Influencers amass hundreds of followers on social media. They win elections. They serve their communities, shape young minds, and build companies. Anyone can act as an influencer. In fact, everyone can benefit from understanding the psychology of influence. The concept dates back to ancient history, and many psychologists, self-help gurus, and businessmen have developed their own tactics from the basic understanding of communication.

 

Aristotle’s Rhetoric

At SNI, our understanding of influencing and our program dates back to Aristotle’s teachings in 350 BC. The wise ancient Greek philosopher dissected the psychology of influence into three different elements – ethos (character or credibility), pathos (emotion), and logos (logic). To successfully win over an audience, a person must establish credibility, appeal to the audience’s emotion or perspective, and appeal to the audience’s sense of reason.

The next time you listen to someone deliver a speech, listen out for these elements. Most political candidates and public speakers will address all three elements over the course of the communication. Once established, an influencer may only need to appeal to emotion and logic to effect changes in thoughts, beliefs, and actions.

Today, many professionals sell their own methodologies and understanding of influence. However, every program and book that promises results today originates from the fundamental teachings that Aristotle imparted so long ago.

 

Influencing Tactics

If you’re looking for ways to strengthen your own ability to appeal to the ethos, pathos, and logos of an audience, consider some of these popularly used techniques and ideas:

  • Conversion theory. First posited by psychologist Serge Moscovici, conversion theory states that a consistent, seemingly unbiased, and vocal minority can have an uneven effect on the beliefs and actions of the majority. An example of real world use of conversion theory is women’s suffrage in the early 1900s. The theory teaches us that you don’t need a popular or majority-backed concept to effect change.
  • Reciprocity norm. Reciprocity is the societal understanding that we should return favors. If someone offers an appetizer on the house, a diner may reciprocate the gesture and leave a larger tip. If someone buys you a gift for your birthday, you may feel obligated to do the same for that person. These returned niceties are acceptable and often expected behaviors in society and can help influencers create a desired behavior in an individual or an audience.
  • Priming. The concept of priming speaks to the subconscious influence we have on one another. Someone can use word associations and representations to encourage another to reach a certain conclusion on his or her own. For example, a clever magician might use this tactic to suggest a certain card or location during a trick setup.

The art of influencing includes many other tactics, but these three represent the range of techniques influencers can use to secure a better dining table, encourage public action, or strengthen a business relationship. With understanding and practice, anyone can learn the art of influencing.

How to Influence High-End Clients

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Many business owners are so preoccupied with the task of acquiring more customers, they stop attracting the right customers. Even in the world of retail and services, sometimes quality is much more important than quantity. For many small and large businesses, high-end clients can significantly boost monthly revenue, profitability, and growth. All you need to do is know how to reach and influence them.

Step One: Mindset

Before you can start bringing in those premium clients, you must be mentally prepared. It’s not enough to just want to bring them in. You also have to believe in yourself and your product and stop any negative thoughts before they even begin. “I can’t imagine charging such a high price,” or “Who am I to work with these high-end people?” are the sort of phrases you should avoid at all costs. Identify and dispose of those thoughts, or you could end up limiting yourself from the beginning.

 

Step Two: Build a Customer Profile

Before you can target your ideal customer, you must know who they are. Building a customer profile will allow you to put yourself in their shoes and think about the sort of products and services they need and how to market to them.

Draft at least one profile (more are better), complete with demographics of the customer to whom you want to appeal. Age, income, sex, location, industry, emotional buying triggers, and company size are all things to consider. The more specific you are, the more thoroughly you’ll be able to understand their point of view.

 

Step Three: Create the Right Message

Now that you know who your ideal customers are and what they want, create a message that will appeal to them. It should communicate the feeling or ideal end-result your products or services offer. Remember, people make purchases based on their benefits and emotional appeal. Use the most effective angle for your customer profile

 

Choose Your Channels

Premium clients, in all likelihood, won’t be visiting the same channels as more mainstream consumers. Some will be reachable through online campaigns and traditional outlets, while others will rely primarily on referrals and networks. Think about how you’re likely to get to them, and focus your efforts there. It may take some mixing and matching to get the results you’re looking for, but, again, your customer profile will be helpful.

Planning ahead is the most important part of reaching premium clients. Put your effort into fine-tuning your understanding of your customers, and it’s sure to pay off.

Retail Sales Training: What it Takes to Succeed in Retail Sales

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Working as a salesperson in retail has evolved into a very unusual profession. When people walk into a store, it’s a fair assumption that they would like to buy something. Otherwise, they wouldn’t really have any reason to enter the store. Ironically enough, though, many people will do everything in their power to avoid engaging a salesperson. They will avoid eye contact, “casually” wander into a different part of the store, or sometimes, just turn around and walk right back out the door.

It turns out that people typically do want to buy something when they enter a store—but they don’t want to be sold to. For centuries people have been bombarded with images and stories of the crooked salesman. And, even the salespeople that don’t have shady intentions, are portrayed as being a “hassle.” How often do you go into a clothing store looking for something in particular and tell the salesperson you are “just looking” in response to his/her offer to help you?

So how does a good salesperson succeed? How can you sell something to someone who doesn’t want to be sold to? What can sales workers do to go beyond the negative stereotypes and help their customers to walk out the door satisfied with their purchase?

While some parts of finding success in retail sales come naturally, there are other skills that can be taught and honed through retail sales training. Our team at Shapiro Negotiations can help you and your team to develop these skills and so that not only will you be able to make the sale—your customer will be happy with their purchase.

So what are some of the skills your team will want to develop to be really successful in sales?

Sincere Customer Service

One of the most important skills any retail salesperson can develop is customer service. After years of distrust, most customers are wary of salespeople. In some instances, they see the salesperson as their adversary, someone who is trying to sell them something that they don’t want to buy.

Part of a salesperson’s job is to convince the customer that they are not, in fact, an adversary who is trying to convince them to buy something they never wanted. Instead, the salesperson is an ally and a facilitator. The salesperson is there to help them buy something they do want. Considering the fact that they have already taken the first step of walking through the door, this is a fair assumption.

When working with customers, be sincere. The minute a customer suspects that a salesperson is trying to manipulate them, they will snap a wall into place. Once this happens, any potential sale essentially becomes a lost cause.

Communication

When we are trying to convince someone of a point, the natural tendency is to talk more. After all, the more a salesperson talks, the more of a positive impression they can give of their product. If the salesperson talks enough, the customer is sure to by, right?

Hardly. A successful salesperson listens more than talks. In order to better determine what the customer wants, it is important for them to ask sincere, probing questions. As it becomes clear what the customer is looking for, the salesperson can then help to guide them to an appropriate choice. Dale Carnegie put it best with a short couplet in his 1936 book, How to Win Friends and Influence People: “A man convinced against his will is of the same opinion still.”

SNI’s retail sales training is based upon our founder Ron Shapiro’s book, The Power of Nice.  The goal is to find a situation where everyone wins. After all, if a customer walks out the door satisfied with the purchase he has made, he’s much less likely to regret the purchase and return it. Meanwhile, he is more likely to return and even recommend the store to others.

Product Knowledge

In order to convince someone that a particular product will meet their needs, a salesperson should have a solid working knowledge of that product. The salesperson serves as an expert on the product and should be able to answer any questions the customer asks. If a salesperson demonstrates that they are unfamiliar with the product they are pushing, it can seriously damage their credibility in the customer’s eyes. After all, if a salesperson doesn’t know anything about the product they are selling, then how can they honestly know that it will do the job the customer needs?

A good salesperson must be able to identify and capture the value that their product will deliver to the customer. To do so, they need to know the product backwards and forwards. The customer will naturally have objections, and a salesperson will need to overcome those objections. SNI’s trainers can instruct sales teams just how to do so through a five step process and help them to develop answers to some of the most common objections in our clients’ fields.

Industry Knowledge

A salesperson’s knowledge should go beyond just the individual products they are trying to sell. Knowledge of the industry is important as well.

By knowing about recent innovations in the industry, a salesperson can make recommendations to a customer, sometimes even beyond those that they have available to sell (see Sincere Customer Service above). SNI’s trainers can teach your team to discern what exactly a potential customer is looking for and then apply industry knowledge to direct them to products they may not even know about.

All of these skills can be significant assets when negotiating with a customer or helping to direct them to the right product. Also, keep in mind that many customers will come in seeking to use their own set of tactics to negotiate a lower price. As part of our training, SNI can teach your sales team how to recognize and respond to these tactics. For more information, contact us, and we will help you to determine how best to train your sales team so they can achieve the best results possible.