Core Communication Skills

Core Communication Skills

Introduction

There are six Communication Skills, each with a separate function. These skills are a basic requirement for effective communication:

  • connecting
  • encouraging
  • questioning
  • listening
  • confirming
  • providing

These skills are equally relevant whether you are working to meet the needs of a customer and his or her organisation or working with an associate to meet mutual, personal, and organisational needs.

The Communication Skills are used to progress a discussion. However, the sequence in which you use those skills, and the emphasis you give them, will vary.

Communication Skills

Skill Function
Connecting To establish a personal bond with the customer
Encouraging To keep the customer participating in the meeting
Questioning To get in-depth information on the situation, problems, needs
Listening To hear and remember the facts and feelings shared by the customers
Confirming To make the progress of the meeting explicit
Providing To give information to create a clear, positive image of the salesperson, company, products, and services

Connecting

Connecting skills are used to establish a personal bond, resulting in rapport between you and the customer.

Element Description
Using eye contact Look into the other person’s eyes when possible.
Adapting Use patterns for the following that are compatible with the other person:

  • Speech
  • Gestures
  • Body posture
Building Rapport As appropriate:

  • Smile
  • Compliment
  • Use small talk
  • Find areas of mutual interest

 

Encouraging

Encouraging skills are used to keep the other person participating in the discussion, resulting in interaction.

Element Description
Reinforcing
  • Give short, verbal and non-verbal signals.
  • Use supportive questions and phrases to show you want to hear more.

Example: ‘That sounds very important to you. Can you tell me more?’

Empathising
  • Show that you understand how the other person feels.

Examples: ‘That must be frustrating.’ ‘That’s something to be proud of!’ Note: This does not necessarily imply agreement.

Accepting Show that you have received the information being communicated.Examples: ‘I understand your view.’ ‘That’s an interesting observation.’ Note: This does not necessarily imply agreement.

 

Questioning

Questioning skills are used to obtain in-depth information about the situation, problems and needs of the other person, resulting in information obtained from the customer.

Element Description
Close-ended questioning Direct questions that can be answered with one or two words
Open-ended questioning Questions that:

  • require more than a simple yes or no answer
  • usually begin with who, what, when, where, why, or how
High-impact questioning Open-ended questions that ask customers to search for new meanings in existing information.

 

High-Impact Questions

Introduction

High-impact questions maximise the meeting by returning high-value information in an efficient amount of time.

HIGH-IMPACT QUESTIONS = HIGH VALUE INFORMATION

Description

High-impact questions require customers to think, organise information, and search for new meanings to existing information before responding. They ask customers to:

  • evaluate or analyse
  • speculate
  • express feelings
  • react

The result is the type of information you might hear if you were to attend a customer’s problem-solving or planning session. Good high-impact questions make customers say:

“Well, I don’t know. I haven’t thought about that.’’

“Hmm…I have not put those ideas together that way before.”

Criteria

High-impact questions should be:

  • brief and clear
  • open-ended
  • phrased to require a thoughtful answer
  • relevant to the customer’s situation and position

Benefits

Using high-impact questions in meetings has several benefits to you. High-impact questions are likely to:

  • involve the customer by requiring him or her to think
  • increase the amount of time that customers talk
  • provide new insights into problems
  • produce high-quality information
  • expose underlying issues
  • result in people being seen as perceptive professionals who can function as consultants
  • cause the customer to believe that the meeting was valuable

Comparison to open ended questions

Open-ended questions invite customers to respond with more than a yes or no answer. However, open-ended questions may elicit factual information that easily could be found in files, reports, or organisational charts.

Customers who enjoy talking about their organisations or themselves may respond willingly to open-ended questions for a while, since it allows them to talk. However, such conversation usually does not require customers to engage in high-level thinking, nor is it likely to produce any new insights of value for them.

Tips on High-Impact Questions

Prepare high-impact questions to use with a customer as part of your sales tool kit.   Once in front of a customer, you may use these prepared questions or devise others spontaneously in response to points the customer has raised.

Encourage the customer

High-impact questions are tough to answer. If you do not encourage while questioning, the customer may feel interrogated. By encouraging frequently, you can take the edge of your high-impact questions and make the section more conversational.

Asking Difficult Questions

Introduction

Some questions may be challenging to ask because they are personal, controversial, or direct in nature. One way to ask difficult questions is with the supported question format:

Reason + Benefit + Question

Supported Questions

A supporting statement braces a difficult question with the reason for the question and the benefit to the customer of responding; this format helps you to earn the right to ask the difficult question.

Example:

“Let’s ensure that we include everyone from your company that needs to be involved.’’ (reason)

“This will enable you to provide any necessary information to them up front and to reduce the need for repetition.” (benefit)

“Who in your company would be responsible for making this type of decision?” (question)

 

Silence

Introduction

Effective high-impact questions may result in periods of silence, during which the customer is formulating a response. Frequently, when conversation seems to stop during a meeting, the salesperson will feel obligated to fill the silence. This is not only unnecessary, but it does not make use of technique that can be powerful.

Tips of using silence

When there is a silence, consider these tips:

  • Listening is the critical skill during the meeting. You cannot listen if you are talking.
  • If you are nervous, you may be talking more rapidly than usual. Keep in mind that what feels like silence to you may be the natural rhythm of the conversation.
  • You do not need to ‘own the silence.’ If you wait a few more seconds, your prospect may feel the need to pick up where he or she left off, and give you more valuable information.

Listening

While listening is a separate Communication Skill, it is also an umbrella over all other skills. Effective listening is critical to building consultative relationships.

Listening for Needs

Customers express needs in different ways. Not all needs will be overtly expressed. You should listen for the following three types of needs:

 

NEED DESCRIPTION EXAMPLE
Stated Clear statement by customer of what is needed ‘I need to attract new customers’
Implied Need expressed in a vague way ‘My boss is concerned about the number of customers that walk past our stores.’
Hidden Recognised by you, but not by customer ‘We do everything we can think of to make our exterior appealing in an effort to attract passing foot traffic into the stores.’

 

Four Types To Avoid

There are four main unproductive listening behaviours that should be avoided.

Listening behaviours to avoid Description
Pseudo Merely appearing to listen by superficially using listening actions (body language, non-verbal techniques)
Selective Only listening for information that matters to you, while ignoring any that does not
Reactive Formulating a response while listening
Insensitive Hearing only the words-not the nuances and non-verbal clues.

 

Tips on Consultative Listening

  1. Listen for pivotal words, ideas concepts, and needs, and incorporate them into your response.
  2. Interpret importance, priority, and implications.
  3. Observe and use appropriate body language.
  4. Take notes to focus on customer needs.
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