A rep can hone the greatest sales skills and master the top-tier techniques. You can be smooth like butter, but experts agree that if you don’t exude credibility and trustworthiness, you’re never going to close a sale, much less open the door to one.
We talked to sales insiders who advised us on what salespeople are doing wrong – overlooking details, telling little white lies, talking too much, and so on – and how to break out of habits that damage your credibility.
1 - Talking Like a Jerk
Buyers are begging for people to simplify the complex. Unfortunately, there are still salespeople out there doing it the other way around, says popular business blogger Geoffrey James, whose new book, Business Without the Bullshit, will be out in May.
James says the business world of today is in a new era of honesty and straightforwardness.
“We’ve all seen the old corporate mission statements that are full of baseless claims and static promises to be the best at something,” he says. “But people, especially people under 30, don’t think that way anymore. That’s a formality of the past that today looks tired and old.”
Several old-school habits that creep into the way a sales rep speaks need to be curtailed, he says, including speaking in jargon, clichés and using overly complex words.
“Technical jargon is OK for experts to use, in an abbreviated fashion,” says James. “Sometimes it’s unavoidable. But words like ‘repurposing’ and ‘leveraging’ just make you sound lacking in credibility. It sounds shifty, and it’s unclear. When somebody sends me an e-mail and says they are ‘reaching out,’ it gives me a mental image of a baby reaching out of a crib.”
Talk in jargon and risk sounding like the Pointy-Haired Boss from the Dilbert cartoons. Ditto, the cliches. Leave the “out-of-the-box thinking” and “hitting it out of the ballpark” to the buffoonish cartoon characters.
“There’s no need to describe something as having a ‘world-wide focus,’” James says. “What does that mean – the focus is not beaming out to Mars? It’s all part of what I call Biz-Blab.”
James also advocates putting the kibosh on using long, fancy words when communicating with clients. “Big words are used by insecure people who think they have to dress up their speech,” he says. “Some people feel like it makes them seem more impressive than they are. But you know what? It’s just the opposite. We’re in a world of information overload. People want clarity. Today, whoever can be the clearest is going to be the most credible.”
2 - Inattention to Details
A salesperson is as good as what they deliver, not just what they promise. Early in her sales consultancy career, Lori Richardson needed logoed pens. The founder and CEO of New Hampshire-based Score More Sales was working with a sales rep who sent her a proof by e-mail of how her logo would look on the pen. Everything seemed good to go.
But when the pens arrived, the logo was so small you could barely read the words. Richardson decided giving them out would hurt the credibility of her new company. She wound up donating the pens to a charity.
“At the time, I wish the sales rep would have taken more steps to let me know what I was getting,” says Richardson. “They could have said that ink in that color doesn’t show up as well as another color. The person I was working with was very nice and I liked them. But their credibility was shot and I never used that company again –and I have ordered thousands of pens since then.”
3 - Phoning It In
You can shoot yourself in the foot before even speaking to a prospective customer –just leave them a message and never follow up.
A big part of cold-calling is leaving a voicemail, and Richardson says you can establish credibility with the right strategy.
“Some people don’t want to leave a voicemail at all,” she says, meaning they’d rather try to catch a person on the phone and create a first impression without a message.
But short voice messages left while prospecting new clients can lead to a path of new sales. “The key is leaving a very short voicemail, and to end with the message that you will follow up with them at a future time,” she says. “Then, you follow up with them at the time you said you would.” Even if you don’t catch them on the phone at that point, you are establishing the fact that you are good to your word.
“Yes, the credibility is one-sided at this point,” she says. “But maybe by the fourth time you call, they remember your name.”
If you do arrange a time to talk with a potential client at a particular time, remember they are making time for you, so go out of your way to clear the time they pick.
“Don’t be like the salesperson I know who was reaching out to a very busy prospect and gave them several options of times to talk,” says Richardson. “The executive agreed to a time. Then, the salesperson called back and tried to schedule a different appointment time. The potential customer simply said, no. And that destroyed the sales opportunity.”
4 - No Guts
Deciding what to say and what kind of message to leave can sometimes be secondary to just having the courage to pick up the phone at all. There are rookie and even mid-
career inside salespeople who fear prospecting. And that’s where Connie Kadansky comes in.
The Phoenix-based Sales Reluctance coach and trainer says before you can develop credibility, you have to build courage and self-confidence. She teaches a five-step process to get people comfortable with direct prospecting by first believing in their own abilities
“I coach people to create the idea in their own minds that they are flipping the situation,” says Kadansky. “So they are not selling something, but that potential customers are counting on them to provide marketing ideas that will help make them money.”
5 - Those Little White Lies
The truth shall set you free, and it will also create a credibility base in your relationship with customers, says St. Paul, MN-based sales expert Jill Konrath. She’s written SNAP Selling and Selling to Big Companies; her new book Agile Selling comes out in May.
“In my world, if you fudge the truth, you forfeit the opportunity,” she says.
Konrath recalls a recent e-mail from a salesperson. She immediately realized the rep was lying to her.
“The salesperson said she had been talking to a colleague about me, and referenced my hometown and the official name of my company,” Konrath says. “But the thing is: The rep got the hometown wrong, and nobody refers to my company by the official name.”
The e-mail said: “I found you in our executive database and wanted to reach out. I’d like to set up a brief phone conversation at your convenience to discuss our unique platform that would be an excellent resource for finding new prospects just in time for Q4.”
Even if the product had any interest to Konrath, there was no way she’d ever do business with the rep.
“Her lies zapped her credibility,” she says.
6 - So-So Social Media Presence
If she’d had any interest at all in the seller who e-mailed her little white lies, Konrath could have easily searched social media sites to glean more insight. And that harkens another of her pet peeves – people who have sites that are in a state of shambles.
“Look, these days it’s so easy, and it’s human nature, to check out the people who leave you messages,” she says. “And you’d be surprised how many people have a LinkedIn page that is a mess.”
First, realize that people are going to go get whatever information is out there. Before they set up a sales meeting, or maybe after agreeing to a meeting, buyers want to know who they are going to come into contact with. These days, people do their research.
“So be ready for them,” says Konrath. “Don’t have a page that has out-of-date pictures, or descriptions of old jobs. And don’t leave people wondering what your product is or how you can help customers achieve their goals. Position yourself online, for example, as a person who can help buyers of promotional logoed products increase revenues at trade shows. Position yourself as a person who knows how to leverage products for a business outcome.”
There are numerous places online to make all that data available. Don’t look like a lightweight.
7 - Fudge, Deflect, Bounce
Nobody hands out credibility to new hires. Rather, it’s something built up in the long-haul, says Kansas City-based sales consultant and speaker Troy Harrison, who wrote Sell Like You Mean It! Outselling Your Competitors By Understanding Your Customers.
“Credibility is created over time, and the best thing a new salesperson can do is make sure they don’t destroy their credibility in the beginning,” he says.
Harrison points to several ways to build a base with customers – don’t fudge answers, don’t blame others in your company for mistakes and try to stay in one job for as long as you can.
Like the Hippocratic Oath for doctors, Harrison says, “First, do no harm. Everybody wants to be an expert. But part of expertise is knowing what you don’t know. If you don’t know the answer to a question, don’t wing it. Salespeople shouldn’t be afraid of giving the ‘I’ll get back to you on that’ answer. Does it bog down the selling process? Maybe yes, maybe no. With technology, though, we can get the right answer much more quickly.”
Harrison also says throwing your team members under the bus when problems arise is not going to result in a positive perception for a salesperson. Your company wins as a team and loses as a team.
“Customers don’t care if production messed up, or something happened in accounting or shipping missed a deadline,” he says. “In the eyes of the customer, you are the company. The correct answer is ‘we messed up,’ not ‘they messed up.’ Throw yourself on the sword and you’ll look better in the long run.”
Harrison realizes the reality of the workplace, but firmly believes credible salespeople are the ones who have been in their jobs for a reasonable period of time.
“Job jumping kills it,” he says. “You can’t go into a situation and tell a customer that Company A is the greatest, and shortly after that go in and tell them that Company B is the greatest. What do you expect a customer to think? They’re not going to know what to believe.”
8 - Jumping the Gun
One of the challenges in getting new sales is that while you’re out there working on proving your credibility, so are your competitors. If a prospect doesn’t know you or your company, they have to be convinced that making a change is worth the hassle, you offer tangible benefits and you can support their requirements for change.
To paint the best credibility picture possible, Kelly Riggs offers a three-step process. The founder and president of Vmax Performance Group in Tulsa, OK, and author of Quit Whining And Start Selling – A Step-By-Step Guide to a Hall of Fame Career In Sales, advises to: avoid stereotype, quit boasting and differentiate, and rely on third-party proofs.
The first tenet is basic. Never fail to be courteous and professional. Look and sound the part. Treat people you meet with respect and don’t make assumptions about roles, responsibilities and who might influence a sale.
“Keep in mind that people dislike the stereotype of a used car salesman who says things like, ‘What do I have to do to get you in a car today?’’ says Riggs. “If you’ve just met somebody, don’t pretend like they’ve been your best buddy for the past five years. Don’t be overly familiar, don’t talk too much and listen.”
Now that you’ve created a conversation rather than a sales pitch, avoid boasts about your company and services and begin to differentiate yourself from the competition.
“Don’t begin telling people you’re the best, the biggest, the fastest or that you have the best service in the industry,” he says. “That’s what everybody is saying. Prospects hear that all day. General boasts are a deal killer. Instead of inane generalities, get specific. Do your homework and quantify what you have to offer.”
Finally, along with the specifics, use third-party proofs to strategically describe how successful implementation of your product or service has benefited other companies.
“It’s important to realize that any salesperson can take advantage of their company’s success stories,” says Riggs. “Even if it’s your first week on the job, you’re the face of the company and you get credit for the stories of saving money or making something more efficient.”
Riggs advises that it’s key to do these steps in order, and to not start selling before you’ve established credibility. “Some people want to jump ahead,” he says, “but you can’t show the movie credits before you show the movie.”