Finding a selling “style” congruent with your personality and your experience is a crucial determinant of your business development success.
One of the best pieces of advice I received early in my sales career was from a consulting industry veteran who urged me to “find my own style” in order to sell effectively. I've found the advice to be as relevant today as it was over a decade ago when I was just making the transition from managing large consulting projects to selling them.
One of the stages all professionals must go through in their careers is to learn to build relationships with senior client executives. To move from being a “do-er” to a trusted business advisor.
In my case I struggled early on to adapt to this. The role models and teachers I had were great – highly effective relationship builders. But I just couldn't seem to do the things they did. The techniques they used just didn't seem to work for me.
Luckily one of my mentors gave me the clue to finding my own style. “Look at those other guys.” he said, “You can't do what they do or say what they say because you're not them. You don't have the same experience or the same capabilities. You have to achieve the same outcomes in different ways. Ways that work for you”.
When we talked over what he meant, he highlighted two main areas:
- Adapting the words you use to fit in with your natural language patterns
- Making sure your personal positioning – your source of credibility – is based on your actual experience and capabilities.
When it comes to language, I see mistakes most often when it comes to scripts – for example for cold calls, or elevator speeches. These can be really helpful to focus communication and avoid the umms and ahhs that creep in to our speech when we're under pressure. But many of the scripts I've seen include language that I can't imagine anyone other than a character from a 19th century novel using.
For example: “In researching your firm prior to calling you today, I noticed that….”
Really, does anyone you know speak like this? Do you?
The idea is great – show you've done your homework. And most of the cold-call scripts people showcase contain great thoughts and are well structured and proven in the field.
Don't change those aspects. But please, please, before launching them on your own potential customers, adapt the language so it fits with your style.
I don't mean major changes. If you've got a good script don't change the structure or the key words – especially if you're new to sales. You run the risk of changing the very elements that make the script work.
But do make sure that you can use the words naturally – they fit with your way of speaking. If you wouldn't say the phrase “in researching your company prior to this call” in real life, then it won't sound natural. Try “When I was researching your company before this call”. You keep the structure and the critical words like “research” – but gain a naturalness which will shine through.
The other key area where your style is important – probably even more than with your language – is what I call your “source of credibility”.
One of the crucial criteria for effective sales is that the customer trusts that your product really does do what you say it does. When the product or service you sell is complex or intangible, customers rely very heavily on their impression of you yourself for that trust and credibility – since they can't see, touch or easily “test drive” the product itself.
You need to think through why your customer should trust your opinion and your advice – and position yourself in that way. In my case, I was trying to copy successful business developers whose source of credibility was their many years experience as senior executives in business, or the fact that they were part of the same “old boys network”.
But the strategies they adopted and the words they used didn't work for me – because I didn't have the same source of credibility. I couldn't talk to senior executives about the business challenges they faced as if I had faced the same ones running my company – because I hadn't.
But what I did have was many years as a consultant successfully helping clients overcome similar challenges. I was able to use this track record as my source of credibility – my invitation to the “top table conversation”. And from there I was able to build strong business level relationships with senior executives – relationships that led to major sales.
Similarly, any business developer needs to build on their own source of credibility. By thinking about what qualifies them to talk with authority about their product or service they should get an excellent start.