Last week my husband I went to the Rogers Cup tennis tournament, in Toronto. We were excited to watch The Roger Federer play Juan Ignacio Chela. It was a qualifying game. My husband insisted that we see this game, because Roger Federer is to tennis what Tiger Woods is to golf. He was referring to Federer winning the most ‘grand slams’
of the major tennis tournaments. Although we enjoyed the energy of the stadium and the alternation of baseline to net shots played by Federer, I could not help but notice how many mistakes he made. At this level, to see so many serves and returns go into the net, or be hit out, seemed excessive. It appeared he was out of control.
Andre Agassi, another tennis great, wrote, in his biography, advice he received from a friend: “Quit going for the knockout. Stop swinging for the fences. All you have to be is solid… Stop thinking about yourself, and your own game, and remember that the guy on the other side of the net has weaknesses. Attack his weaknesses. You don’t have to be the best in the world every time you go out there. You just have to be better than one guy. ”
This is true in the sales world. I would suggest, however, not “attacking” the weakness, but perhaps just letting the prospect explore it. Ask him the right questions, would do the trick.
Mistakes, or missteps, can increase tension in a sales meeting. This is often due to opposing agendas, conflicting values, or polar personalities.
There are ways to reduce tension and gain control in any sales environment. Although not an exhaustive list, here are some techniques that can be immediately applied to gain control:
- Start your meeting with a loose agenda. Something like, “I will tell you a little about our organization for context (2 minutes max). Then spend most of your time focusing on your business objectives, and see if there is an opportunity to work together, now or in the future.” Gain agreement – “Is this OK?” If they respond favourably, which usually happens, the prospect has agreed to you running the meeting and will less likely try to take control.
- When you feel there is an increase in tension, or you’re losing control. Ask a question and then be quiet and listen. I know this can be challenging , but it will be important as tension rises. Keep reminding yourself, “It is not about me”.
- Probe deep into a particular issue until you completely understand their perspective. With further inquiries, you demonstrate empathy and genuine interest, not to mention that it provides you with time to think, WHILE LISTENING.
- Never let them see you sweat! Something we, at Ignite Excellence, always teach in our presentation training is: “It is not what happens to you, it is how you deal with it”. Make sure your body language is relaxed. Place your hands in the centre of your body. Your voice will tend to sound calmer and you will appear more in control. Furthermore, over-using gestures could create an opposite impression. Lastly, relax your shoulders, as the perceived impressions are often emulated from the shoulders. The more relaxed your shoulders are, the more relaxed you will appear (without slouching of course). A relaxed appearance will promote a contagious effect.
Another way to remember some of these techniques is to maintain control – Hear, Acknowledge, Inquire, and Respond; otherwise known as ‘controlling your H.A.I.R’.
It is imperative in any interaction with the prospect/client that they have confidence in you and your company’s ability to provide the solution put forth. How you deal with tension and maintain control may be perceived as a direct reflection of how you and your company will execute or deliver a product or service.
The best tool to combat the unexpected, prior to the heat of the moment, is preparation. Know the industry; know possible issues in the industry; know the history of the company; know who will be in the discussion. Even the experienced sales person will sometimes forget that preparation is King – without it, it becomes a lot more challenging to get the ball over the net.
Action: For your next meeting, internal or external, start with an agenda. Really focus on the other person by probing deep into a particular issue until you completely understand their perspective. When you leave, they will feel that your interaction was a good use of their time and you will be one step closer to influencing the sale.