The 12 Keys to Communication

Nothing is more essential to successful selling than good communication. Communication is a two-way process that includes listening to the customer with complete concentration and understanding and speaking with excitement and enthusiasm, in such a way that the customer understands you.

People can speak English at a rate of approximately 150 words per minute, but we have the ability to hear 1,000 words per minute. In a sales situation, this means it’s easy to be distracted or to lose concentration when there are conversations, loud music, or other interruptions in the background.

It’s also easy for customers to be distracted, so as salespeople we have to train ourselves to block out everything going on around us when we are selling and focus only on the customer. Here are 12 keys to improving communication:

1. Maintain direct eye contact. There’s an old saying, “The eyes are the windows to the soul.” If both parties are looking each other directly in the eye, the chance of the communication cycle being complete is greatly enhanced. People give off indicators with their eyes that can say more than the words they are actually speaking. Maintaining eye contact also indicates that what they are saying is important to you.

2. Watch for nonverbal indicators. Nonverbal indicators, or “body language,” speak volumes. Body movements are one of the best indicators of whether the client is involved or uncomfortable with your presentation. If a customer fidgets, looks away, or crosses his arms, you’re probably losing him. Movements like nodding the head, smiling, and talking signal that the customer is involved.

3. Concentrate. What the customer has to say is the most important thing on your agenda at that time. You already know what you know, but you don’t know what the customer knows—and the only way to find out is by listening. Understanding your customers’ thoughts and ideas is essential to increasing the number of sales you close.

4. Keep them talking. I truly believe if the customer is talking, he or she is buying.

If you can keep them talking, they will tell you what they want, why they want it, and what else they may need. This is the easiest way to keep your clients involved, but to draw them out you have to ask the right questions—and listen to the answers.

5. Be empathetic. Many people confuse “empathy” with “sympathy.” Empathy is understanding what someone else is feeling; sympathy is feeling the same way. For example, if a customer thinks an item is too expensive, the empathetic response would be, “Yes, many things are more expensive than they used to be,” rather than commiserating, “Isn’t it awful—I wouldn’t spend that much either.” It’s important to understand what your customers are feeling, but don’t get hung up feeling sorry for them, or you could talk yourself out of the sale. Remember, they chose to come into the store.

6. Keep it simple. Communicate in easy-to-understand terms. Don’t “talk down” to people, but don’t confuse customers by using jargon that’s unfamiliar to the general population. For example, don’t begin by asking bridal customers if they want a GIA-certified stone. Instead, ask if they’re familiar with the “four Cs” of how diamonds are evaluated. If you use words and phrases that customers don’t understand, most won’t ask you to explain, they’ll just become uninvolved—which results in a lost opportunity.

7. Respond. Whether it’s a direct response or a nonverbal movement, let the customer know he’s being heard. I don’t believe there is anything customers want more than to be heard and acknowledged. When a salesperson asks a question and the customer answers, the salesperson should always respond to the answer.

8. Never pre-qualify. Whether they look like they can’t afford to even pay attention, or they can’t speak clearly, or they just don’t look like your “typical” customer, every customer deserves your full attention. Many sales are lost when salespeople think they know what the customer is thinking or what they can afford. I believe that if a customer is breathing, he or she is qualified!

9. Know your regulars. When you recognize a previous customer, try to discreetly look in your database or customer records to find out as much as possible about their likes, dislikes, special occasions, and previous purchases. Communicating on a personal level with repeat customers helps solidify the relationship.

10. The importance of words. Every word and phrase you use sends a message about who you are. The quality of what you’re selling can be greatly enhanced or romanced with a few small words: added value, extraordinary products, superb service.

By contrast, avoid using “weasel” words and phrases. Saying “I think she might like this necklace” is not nearly as powerful as saying “based on what you’ve told me about her, I’m sure she will absolutely love this necklace!”

11. Tone, enunciation, and rate of speech. Use your voice tone, enunciation, and rate of speech to make important points. If your customer speaks slowly, slow down your normal rate. If the customer speaks rapidly, you can increase your rate of speech, but be careful to stay inside your comfort zone, otherwise you can break your concentration.

You can make major points by increasing or decreasing your tone of voice—in particular, don’t disregard the strategy of decreasing your tone. It may be even more powerful than increasing your tone, simply because it’s used less frequently.

The famous sales trainer Zig Ziglar uses the following sentence as an exercise in speech: “I didn’t say he stole the money.” By changing the emphasis from one word to the next, this single sentence has seven different meanings. Say the sentence putting the emphasis on each different word to get the different meanings.

12. Sincerity. There is an old saying that holds a tremendous amount of truth: “You can’t fake sincerity, just as you can’t hide sincerity.” If you carry a smile on your face and some love in your heart, your clients will see it and feel it. You cannot hide the fact that you sincerely care about them as people and customers. Allow yourself to care and then be sincere in your approach and how you speak to people … and I guarantee an increase in the number of sales you close.

Author, trainer, consultant, and speaker Brad Huisken is president of IAS Training and author of the book I’m a Salesman! Not a Ph.D. He developed the PMSA Relationship Selling Program, the Professional Sales Management Course, The Mystery Shoppers Kit, The Weekly Sales Training Meeting Video Series (exclusively for the jewelry industry), as well as various aptitude tests and proficiency examinations for new hires, current sales staff, and sales managers. Huisken also publishes a free weekly newsletter called “Sales Insight.” For a free subscription or more information, contact IAS Training, (800) 248-7703, fax (303) 936-9581, e-mail:, Web site: