Face-To-Face Selling – Let’s Get Vocal About It!

February 27, 2012 by  Filed under: Sales 

Face-to-face communication often involves selling; face-to-face selling always involves communication.

Even outside the sales presentation environment, it is no secret that the ability to convincingly communicate one-on-one is a bonus. In career terms, it can be the tie-breaker between employees of otherwise equal ability; on the social scene, it can mean the difference between popularity and obscurity. So in my selling skills workshops, we get right back to basics, always beginning the journey with a thorough revision of the three ‘Vs’ – verbal, vocal, and visual. Our verbal skills – using the right words in the right context – and our recognition of the key visual signs – sending and receiving the critical body and facial language signals – are obviously high on the agenda, but we can never overlook the importance of the vocal aspects. Let’s take a quick look at some of them here…

Vocal signs are conveyed by inflection, accent, tone, volume, and perhaps most importantly, the timing of our speech. In the English language, these elements can often override the actual words used, changing meaning and intent, sometimes to the point of implying the opposite. Even so, we should be content with our lot. Compared with people living in multi-lingual environments such as Europe, we need to master only this one language, so we really should be pretty good at it. Yes, as professional communicators, salespeople should be nothing short of superb with the use of their native language. However, before we get carried away with the idea, there is a real case for a bit of conservatism.

For example, although varying the volume of our speech can be an effective tool, particularly a deliberate lowering of the voice which implies importance, inclusion, secrecy – even intimacy – we should be careful not to overdo it. We know that if we want to smell something better we sniff harder; if we want to feel something better, we touch harder; if we want to see something better, we can focus harder; but short of holding a horn to our ear, it is physically impossible to hear harder. Vital meanings in our whispered message could be lost, particularly if our listener is one of the surprisingly large percentage of people who are hard of hearing, or there is distracting background noise.

Again, my workshop exercises reveal that an alarming percentage of people struggle a little in the hearing department, and the situation is not likely to get better any time soon. Degenerative hearing impairment is becoming much more widespread than generally recognised, particularly as our population is ageing due to the effects of the post WWII ‘baby boomer bubble’ combined with longer life expectancy. Added to this is a higher incidence of actual hearing damage. Among the younger generations, this is growing alarmingly, with high-volume use of personal MP3 players often pumping an unreasonable level and intensity of sound direct to the eardrums. This is now surpassing industrial noise as the main culprit.

The reality is that most people are too embarrassed to ask us to repeat what we have said, so the risk of miscommunication is unnecessarily high. In a normal discussion, it is better to be a bit too loud than too soft. Of course, it is important to avoid the dreaded monotone pitch, but we can rely on our carefully chosen timing and inflections to do that. They can provide all the emphasis, even the pizzazz, we will ever need, but first we need to be heard.

Speaking too quickly is another common pitfall, often prompted by nervous excitement or anxiety. It can be caused by urgency to close the deal because we are running behind time, or we are feeling the pressure to press home a key point. Mostly we are quite oblivious to it. When we are ‘on a roll’, we simply don’t realise we are speaking too fast. To make matters worse, we inevitably speed up even further to compensate for the waning interest of our listener, which ends up turning them off completely. Our greatest challenge is to try to foresee circumstances that are likely to prompt this, recognise it in time, and maintain our discipline of speaking slowly and clearly.

This is where thoughtful use of the pause can help. As well as controlling our own flow of adrenalin, silence is the ultimate attention-grabber… it can be used to succinctly prompt our listener to absorb what we just said or to signal that something important is about to come. That is why the well-timed pause is such a vital control tool for those experienced in chairing meetings or MC-ing conferences. They know that the engaging silence makes them appear more confident and more sincere. Salespeople too, should recognise the importance of timing, and remember that pacing ourselves with our customer, rather than raising our intensity or galloping off ahead, contributes enormously to the building of both trust and empathy.

All this cautionary advice might appear contradictory, because, just like the other Latin-derived languages, English is heavily dependent on these variables for its richness and texture. However, on the selling stage, we must recognise that there are no Shakespearian scholarships on offer, so the first rule must be to underpin our speech with a clear and controlled middle-of-the-road language. We must avoid the ‘vocal gymnastics’ and save our flamboyance for the truly high-impact moments. We need to keep in mind too, that our multicultural society is now bringing us into more and more contact with fellow businesspeople whose first language is not English, so the theatrical subtleties of slang, sarcasm, cynicism, and nuance may not only prove to be wasted effort, but lead to problems of translation, and even run the risk of offending them.

Yes, when we are selling, our vocal skills are not about gratification… they’re about communication!

About the Author:

In a distinguished career spanning half a century, Keith Rowe has managed the full journey from shop floor to boardroom. Along the way, he has headed the Australian sales and marketing operations for three of the world’s largest Consumer Electronics manufacturers – Toshiba, Sanyo and Sharp.

Keith is not just a successful businessman. He is an accomplished speaker and trainer, specialising in interpersonal skills. His latest book – the KNACK of Negotiating – is essential reading for all those involved in commercial buying and selling. It is available in all the popular eBook formats, from Apple iTunes to Amazon Kindle.



© 2012 Keith Rowe – all rights reserved worldwide

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