Making Sales Teams ‘People’ Skilled

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by Andrew Milbourn, CEO of Kiss The Fish

Can anyone be a salesperson?” That’s a question I get asked a lot by CEOs who are struggling to find good salespeople. It goes with “Are salespeople born or can you make one?”.

Why is this important? Well, from the work that Kiss The Fish does, (helping sales teams accelerate growth) we do find that the single most important block to sales growth is in fact the people selling. In reality, it means the teams out there really aren’t very good at making a good first impression – and they should be.

In a pure sense, selling is hard because it needs the salesperson to be able to remove any self-interest and only focus on the other party. This isn’t normal human behavior which is why it is hard to do. We have a natural instinctive default which is for self-preservation. I didn’t wake up this morning thinking that I could bless the world. Instead, my first thoughts were all about what I was going to have for breakfast. Are the kids behaving? What time is my first meeting? Who is it with? Am I going to have a good day? etc. Spending 3 minutes with anyone will reveal that most people (if not all people), will naturally default to self-interest in any situation.

It simply isn’t natural human instinct for anyone, let alone salespeople, to remove the pressure that they feel in their job to get things done so that they get paid a salary and their job objectives are achieved. For a salesperson, that means how are they going to hit the target and earn a bonus? This leads them to think about what they need in their world to sell something, rather than worrying about what their potential customer might need or prefer as they seek to buy something.

Salespeople who underachieve will frequently default to talking about the product and price far too early in the meeting. There simply isn’t enough engagement with the human being sitting across the desk (or hanging on the other end of the phone) and no rapport or trust is built.

All the recent research in decision-making shows that the human brain needs ‘emotional’ triggering before it will allow a person (stranger) to be trusted. And yet we arm our sales teams with brochures, web info, product sheets, tech spec, and price lists rather than teach them how to relate to people.

The people skill is the crucial one. Buyers are going to make decisions on who they like and if they don’t like someone, whilst they may still buy from them, sooner or later that account will be vulnerable to a switch of a supplier. Buyers make choices that appear daft or unreasonable to salespeople but that’s because salespeople don’t understand the need for people skills, rapport, and trust.

Of course, some people are naturally more empathic than others. They have a higher Emotional Intelligence, and, in an interview, this is what you need to be looking for – are they naturally gifted in making people feel comfortable? If they are, then they have an advantage and they are what we call “natural sales talent”. It gives them an advantage because building trust is the first essential step in improving sales. You may have some of these ‘room changers’ in your team but if you don’t then consider my five top tips for people engagement skills below.

My top tips for creating people warmth, engagement, and trust in any situation

  1. SMILE – it’s the universal signal for ‘I like you and I’m glad I’m here with you
  2. CHECK YOUR THOUGHTS – are they positive about the situation or negative? If they are negative, then the other person will read your body language which will be directly controlled by your thinking. “YOU CREATE THE WORLD YOU LIVE IN BY THE WAY YOU THINK”, so if you are thinking about how uncomfortable you feel, you will start to look uncomfortable.
  3. MAKE EYE CONTACT – as you shake hands and use an equal (not over firm) comfortable handshake. In these times we find that people may be reluctant to shake hands, in which case, as you make a first connection or elbow bump, ensure you make and keep eye contact and SMILE.
  4. ASK INTERESTING QUESTIONS ABOUT THE PERSON – ask questions that include ‘comfort’ or well-being’. Don’t default to just talking about business. ”Have you got anything planned for the weekend?” is a perfect question for a meeting with a stranger taking place on Weds/Thurs/Fridays. Relate as a friend would, not as someone who isn’t interested would.
  5. DEVELOP THE ART OF STORY TELLING – when asked questions of yourself don’t just state simple answers. Instead, use short stories that build brain engagement (pictures in the other parties’ brains). People will ask you ‘How is business?”. It’s an acknowledgment, nothing more, and it’s not an important question but your answer can change the relationship quickly to build rapport. “It’s very good thanks. Do you know, a client called me back after we had shaken hands on a deal only yesterday to ask me to double the order? Things are good – how about you?”

If you feel your team needs to be better at making buyers feel more comfortable then do get in touch. We have a team of top sales coaches who can help your team improve what they do.

My email is and my personal mobile number is 07880 558000. I’ll be delighted to hear from you.

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