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Don’t Count On Your Customer To Be Good At Communicating

by David Brock on January 2nd, 2013

As sales professionals, we spend a lot of time learning how to communicate.  We read countless books and articles, we learn how to ask better questions, we learn (hopefully) how to be better listeners, we learn how to be more persuasive and to do much better presentations.  We seek to become master communicators.

But we forget, effective communications is two ways.  Regardless how effective we are as communicators (and too many of us have a loooonng way to go), if our customers can’t communicate, we can’t be impactful.

Unfortunately, we take it for granted.  We assume that our customers can communicate effectively–with us and with their colleagues.  We assume they know how to get things done within their own organizations.  I’ve written before, that our customers have to learn how to “sell” internally to get approval of what they want to do in implementing our solutions.  If they are ineffective in communicating, they will be ineffective in their internal selling efforts.

Our customers may not understand the importance of being effective communicators, they just want to do their jobs.  Our customers may not know they aren’t great communicators.  They don’t get the training and coaching we get–so they may not have the opportunities to improve their ability to communicate.

But if this impacts our abilities to achieve our goals and help the customer achieve their goals, we have to do something about this.  What do we do to connect more effectively and impactfully, even if our customers aren’t effective communicators?

I’ve a couple of thoughts, but would also be interested in yours.

  1. We have to invest time with the customer.  Too often, in the day to day rush both we and our customers face, we rush the communications—we may “talk at” each other, “message” each other, but we aren’t connecting and communicating.  We have to take the time to engage the customer, to get into conversations that are more than just verbal exchanges, but to probe, understand–not just the situation but them.  Our customers won’t allocate the time to do this, if we aren’t creating value for them in each and every interchange.
  2. Related to my previous point, we have to focus less on us and more on them.  What drives them, what are they trying to achieve, why?  What stands in the way of their ability to achieve these things?  What are the consequences of not achieving it?  What do they need to go the next step?  How can we help them?
  3. We have to capture their hearts, imaginations, and minds.  Too often, we focus on the latter—“Here’s the data about our products and solutions……”  We have to not only tell them stories, but we have to understand their story.   We have to connect with them emotionally.  We have to give them a context and framework that enables them to develop a story about what they want to achieve and why.  This helps us better connect with them, and provides them a basis for selling what they want within their own organizations.
  4. We have to understand our customers don’t know how to buy—but may not recognize this.  They don’t know who in the organization should be involved, they don’t know how to organize them to achieve something, they don’t know how to set a project goal and objectives, they don’t know how to manage differing priorities or agendas, they don’t know how to talk to each other.  Until we help them organize themselves to buy, all our attempts to sell are wasted.
  5. We have to confront, openly, “how are we going to sell this, within the organization?”  Most customers are likely to respond, “Don’t worry, that’s easy, we’ll get it done.”  But don’t accept it.  Getting things done within organizations has changed.  Great business cases don’t get funded, they have to be tied to the priorities and initiatives of top management.
  6. We have to focus on the conversation.  What is a conversation?  How do we become effective “conversationalists?”  How do we engage others in being part of the conversation?

It’s not easy.  The first step is ridding ourselves of the assumption that our customers are effective communicators.

What are your thoughts?

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  1. So true – it sometimes helps to view your customer as a dysfunctional communicator, and it’s up to the salesperson to competently drive the conversation forward.

    After all, they don’t know when it’s time to ask the closing questions. That’s our job.

  2. Great post wish I was as articulate as you Dave

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