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Don’t we have some great radio? I often think how fortunate we are here in the UK – it’s one of the things the BBC does fantastically well, commercial radio would never produce some of the stuff we get.

On Wednesday evening this week I was driving and absentmindedly tuned in to Radio 4, the subject was the Glasgow Art scene and the lady being interviewed was very fond of the word ‘conversations’. Art in her world was a conversation. Odd, I initially thought, not a word I would have used.

Hang on a minute…

Now bear with me here – Mulling this over for a few seconds I converted conversation to communication and the fact that what I’d just heard was her attempt at communicating to others this particular concept. The concept was that ‘Art’ was a conversation – a means of communicating a view on a particular subject – but one that illustrates the problem of communication – it’s actually fraught with risk – what the sender is trying to say (en-coding) will not be received in the same way by the receiver (de-coding)

Conversations are the iterative process that qualifies, refines and restates to improve the quality of the communication. At least that’s what I took away and that may have been nothing to do with what she was trying to say. That’s the beauty of thought provoking radio!

What do you hear?

Communication is at the heart of the modern world. It’s becoming rapidly more complex – email, social media are adding to the mix, yet communicating well is not a skill we generally spend much time learning about.

Her comments had set me thinking about just how many opportunities we have to mis-communicate, particularly in business – what are the key elements of communication – how many opportunities are there to get it wrong? In sales it’s a minefield yet its vital to ensure we understand what our prospects are saying and that they understand us. So how can we communicate effectively with the people we do business with ?


Well before you even speak you look and listen for clues on your prospect’s preferred communication style. This gives you a better chance of en-coding your message in a way your prospect will be able to de-code.

You tailor your communication with respect to that and to further understand how they are going to attempt to understand you. Too often with salespeople, through either laziness or ego, it’s about their preference not the prospects’.

Permission to speak

You will also need to get permission to actually have a conversation. Your prospect is expecting a sales message – if you don’t do what they expect they are likely to be confused.

You are aware of the things that often prevent that happening – your prospect may short change you on time so you feel time pressure and end up short-circuiting the sales process. Or you fail to establish at the outset what your respective expectations are for their meeting or to discuss what might be acceptable outcomes.

Subsequently the conversation becomes a game of trying to guess the others agenda- which more often than not results in both sides failing to clearly understand each other.

Get permission to deal with those issues before they cause problems.

Become a Conversationalist

You continuously develop your sales conversational skills and you change the focus of your conversation. For most people their focus is to demonstrate their credibility or earn the approval of their prospect so they are not listening to understand but to impress, listening for their cue to metaphorically jump onto the stage and earn their prospects applause.

You could say they are present physically but mentally they are not ‘tuned in’. They gloss over potential issues, fail to allow their prospect to work out their questions, often because they believe they have heard something negative and they are worried that it will jeopardise the outcome they want – a ‘Yes’.

The failure to communicate effectively results in the seller focusing on painting the picture they want their prospect to see – a ‘Features and Benefits’ pitch. The prospect knows it’s not quite what they are looking for, so they try to spot the flaws. They avoid making decisions, they think up objections, they go into hiding.

Instead, invite your prospect to have an open and honest conversation about the problem they are trying to solve, the money they might be willing to spend and help them work out if and how it’s something they can decide on.

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