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    Is “being present” the next big sales skill your team needs to develop?

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    When you think of skills your sales team needs, the words “being present” probably don’t pop to mind. But when I spoke with Colleen Stanley, author of Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success and president of the sales leadership development firm Sales Leadership, she listed “being present” as the key skill salespeople and their managers need in order to build trust with each other and with buyers.

    So what exactly does it mean to “be present,” why does it matter, and how can we help our sales teams develop the skill? Here’s what Stanley had to say.

    Human connections are key to sales performance

    When we think of sales performance, very often we focus on KPIs such as quota attainment, activities, and other easy-to-measure numbers. When we train for sales performance, likewise we tend to train for relatively easily measured behaviors such as how to ask questions and how to find key decision makers.

    But in the real world, what really makes the difference between stellar sales performance and mediocre sales performance is very often whether the buyer trusts the seller.

    Trust underpins everything in the sales process, opening doors for probing questions, for referrals to decision makers, for unearthing and overcoming objections, for budget discussions, and, ultimately, for whether to take the risk associated with making the purchase.

    Stanley quotes the old adage that “people buy from people they like.”

    She says that this doesn’t mean you don’t have to have business acumen and competence and good products. But, she says, being liked is what sets you apart from your competitors.

    “If you’ve got a good competitor out there - and everyone does,” she says, “you have someone who is your equal in competence and product, and then the deciding factor is this: Does your salesperson get me?”

    That’s human connection.

    Human connection begins and ends with being present - and it’s declining worldwide

    Building human connections, says Stanley, begins and ends with being present.

    “Being present gives you the ability to know and care what another person is thinking and feeling,” says Stanley. It’s the skill of setting aside distractions and tuning into the conversation and the person on the other end of the conversation. It means not looking at your email while you talk, and not sitting there waiting for an opportunity to pitch.

    Almost everyone agrees that this skill, for many different reasons, is declining. We are constantly bombarded by emails, private messages, texts, voice mails, social media, and game notifications. Attention spans have shortened, and the ability to be “in the moment” has almost disappeared.

    Outcome attachment sabotages presence

    Aside from the overwhelming number of distractions available, one of the other big obstacles for salespeople, says Stanley, is attachment to an outcome.

    “When you’re thinking, ‘I’ve got to get a meeting, I’ve got to close the sale, I’ve got to make my number,’” she says, “you’re getting attached to an outcome, and you become unattached to being present and understanding the situation.”

    If you get attached to an outcome, you become unattached to being present.
    Colleen Stanley

    She recommends that salespeople develop self-awareness to notice when they’re becoming attached to outcomes, and learn to re-focus on listening and being present with the person in front of them.

    She also suggests that managers create environments where distractions are kept to a minimum, in order to make it easier for salespeople to focus on presence.

    When salespeople are truly present for a conversation, and not focused on outcomes, they can ask better questions.

    Self-focused salespeople, on the contrary, will hesitate to ask about incumbents, about competitors the buyer is considering, about objections the buyer may have. When they’re focused on the outcome, they may be afraid of the answer and avoid asking it.

    How to become unattached to outcomes

    Stanley says the solution to outcome attachment is really simple:

    Full sales pipelines.

    “Think about the mindset when you have a full pipeline,” she says. “You’re not desperate. You’re naturally curious about whether someone is the right fit. You’re open to disqualifying. You don’t want to waste your time or sell inappropriately because you want people to be happy. A full pipeline sets you free.”

    And the way to a full pipeline is delayed gratification - consistently putting in the work to fill the pipeline, and resilience to work through the times when you’re getting more nos than yeses.

    How managers can help their teams be more present

    Stanley says that one thing sales managers almost never measure is connection-building metrics. And she thinks they should. In particular, she suggests setting a “give goal” and measuring it.

    The “give goal” measures how much each salesperson “gives” to others - not just clients and prospects. For instance, she says if a salesperson is going to a networking event, they can set a “give goal” of helping two people. This may mean finding two people to whom they can give a referral, or two people for whom they can provide information or a resource.

    These instances of giving activate the reciprocity principle, which creates a desire on the part of recipients to give back. In turn, this leads to more incoming referrals and better long-term relationships.

    How managers can be more present for their teams

    Stanley says the connection between managers and salespeople is just as important as that between the salesperson and the buyer. And, it’s been declining.

    Managers, she says, get busy and don’t feel they have the time to coach. They may have good intentions, but by the time the salesperson arrives for coaching, they have a million things happening. They may check emails, check their phone, answer a call while the salesperson is in their office.

    Instead, Stanley says managers need to make a point to be present for coaching and for assisting their salespeople. When they prioritize listening and paying attention, then they can see what each salesperson needs and how best to help them.

    This leads to better performance overall and less need for managers to step in and put out fires.

    “If, as a manager, you’re constantly coming in to rescue deals, what you have is a failure to invest enough time transferring the habits, skills, and knowledge that made you a top performer yourself,” she says.

    Technology should help, not hinder, being present

    Technology can be a huge obstacle to presence. Constant notifications, sounds, and interruptions are more common than not.

    However, the right technologies can actually make it easier for your salespeople to be present with each conversation. When you provide them with checklists, processes, systems, and procedures in a simple and streamlined way, it frees them to focus on their work rather than on deciding what to do next or how to do it.

    Membrain was designed for exactly this purpose - to turn your best practices and processes into workflows that guide and inform salespeople so that they can free up their time and energy to focus on building relationships and facilitating purchases.

    We’d love to show you how it works. Let us know if you’d like a demo.

    The rest of the conversation with Stanley is chock full of insights, and you can access it right here.

    Stanley is the author of two books, Emotional Intelligence for Sales Success, and Emotional Intelligence for Sales Leadership, which can be found at any major book seller. She can also be found, along with some free resources, on her website at salesleadershipdevelopment.com.

    George Brontén
    Published August 4, 2021
    By George Brontén

    George is the founder & CEO of Membrain, the Sales Enablement CRM that makes it easy to execute your sales strategy. A life-long entrepreneur with 20 years of experience in the software space and a passion for sales and marketing. With the life motto "Don't settle for mainstream", he is always looking for new ways to achieve improved business results using innovative software, skills, and processes. George is also the author of the book Stop Killing Deals and the host of the Stop Killing Deals webinar and podcast series.

    Find out more about George Brontén on LinkedIn