Salespeople need to have verbal flexibility. What does that mean?
First of all, they need to be able to adapt to the customer’s communication style. One customer wants to know all the details, another the big picture. There are various communication styles and these are all presented in the DISC model. Being able to adapt to the customer’s style, is a prerequisite to bring your message clearly across in a persuasive way.
Good salespeople realise when the choice of words becomes important. For instance, when you are in a negotiation, there is a big difference between the following two statements:
I am sorry, but that is impossible. I gave you my best price and I am not able to reduce it further.
That will be very hard. We have come a long way and I think that where we stand now is a reasonable compromise, that justifies your- and our interests.
Both statements are similar, but the first one slams the door, you can take it or leave it. The second one leaves the door open.
You can’t reconsider the words of the first statement without losing face.
The RIVM case
A lot can depend on your choice of words. A great example is the case of RIVM (The Dutch health organisation) regarding the Corona crisis.
People blame RIVM for being wrong about the impact of the Corona crisis. But is that justified?
In a tweet, RIVM wrote on the 28th of January 2020:
“This disease doesn’t appear to be very contagious. And it also doesn’t appear to be transmissible from human to human.”
In retrospect we know that both statements are not true. RIVM was torn to pieces on social media. But the words “appear” are essential, because it isn’t presented as a fact, but as a best educated guess.
If you want to be an excellent communicator, you have to be honest and also demonstrate credibility. Nobody can blame RIVM for not knowing everything about a new virus.
More carefully formulated words most probably (read these words:-)) wouldn’t have caused this hail of criticism:
“We are facing a new virus and we do everything we can to find out how it spreads and what the impact is. Unfortunately, we still do not know a lot about it. From what we know now, it doesn’t appear to be very contagious. And it looks as if it is not transmissible from human to human. We keep our finger on the pulse.”
What can we learn from this, as a salesperson?
Sometimes your customer turns the heat on. For instance: the customer needs something urgently and you don’t know whether you will be able to supply it in time.
Don’t make statements that you might regret at a later stage. So don’t say, when they hold your feet to the fire:
“I will make sure that it arrives in time”
It is better to say:
“I am going to do everything I can, to get it supplied in time.”
The last statement is the truth, the first is wishful thinking.
What if the customer doesn’t accept this? You could ask a question in return:
“What is it that you expect from me, a certain amount of comfort or the truth?”
“What is it that you expect from me, more than what I can do in my position to get it in time?”
You are not a miracle man. Honesty is the best policy.
In conversations it is very important to have verbal agility. This is especially true, when reacting to objections. There is a big difference between taking the objection away, or assuming, which will be punished immediately by the customer.
One of the objection techniques in my sales training programme is “positively rephrasing”. You summarise the objection in such a way, that the negative part is eliminated and replaced by its opposite positive. And you ask the customer to agree to that. From my 18 years experience as a sales trainer, and after about 100 training webinars, I know that most salespeople find it hard to apply this powerful technique in the correct manner.
Because this makes an appeal to their verbal agility.
An example. The customer says:
“I think you are asking a lot of money for this product!”
A great positive rephrase would be
“So if I understand you correctly, we need to agree on the price/performance ratio of this product, right?”
If the customer agrees, you can start talking about the price/performance ratio, and not just about the price.
The following rephrased version is not so good:
“So if I understand you correctly, you think it is too expensive?”
Of course, the customer will respond with “Yes”. And you have just entered the route to catastrophe… It is a rephrase, but it isn’t positive.
“So if I understand you correctly, you want it cheaper?”
This is not good either, because it is just a confirmation and things are getting worse. Now you have to talk about a discount.
“If I understand you correctly, you want a product that isn’t as good as this one?”
This is an assumption, and the customer most probably doesn’t agree to it.
So in short: verbal agility is essential to master the conversation. It requires a lot of training and one person will be able to do this better than the other.