From soft skill to power skill, why awareness can make or break sales success
Awareness is like the scrawny neighbour’s kid who went away to college and returned home the 6’4 football star.
This previously ignored “soft skill” is suddenly the buzzword of 2022, invited to all the teambuilding retreats, collaboration workshops, and digital transformation programmes. As for the C-Suite and leadership set? Let’s be honest, when it comes to focusing on awareness, they can’t get enough.
And yet, when we look at awareness’ relationship with the sales function (arguably the most pivotable function in commercial businesses), there’s silence.
We get it; salespeople don’t have time to talk about awareness but look around: times have changed. If you’re under pressure to amp up sales results, awareness is the only skill you should be talking about.
What is awareness in a sales success context?
When you ask a salesperson about their take on awareness, they will most likely start talking about self-awareness.
It’s a fair answer; self-awareness is important, but it’s one of five different areas of awareness that can impact the sales function and can transform results.
Although salespeople may know the most about self-awareness, when it comes to sales success, each of the five are equally important and necessary to create positive outcomes.
Self-awareness refers to understanding your personal strengths and potential weaknesses in selling relationships (internal awareness), and how you’re actually perceived by your customers (external awareness).
This knowledge is foundational to sales success, and certainly the most interesting to learners (who doesn’t love to learn about themselves?) yet it’s often the most challenging kind of awareness to develop.
In fact, organisational psychologist Dr Tasha Eurich suggests that this combination of internal and external self-awareness happens in less than 15% of people.
At Insights, our core system, Insights Discovery, reveals your personal behavioural and communication preferences. We’ve debriefed thousands of executives and found that, while most people think they are self-aware, they are nonetheless floored by the behaviours and patterns revealed throughout the Insights Discovery process.
Even for those sales leaders who do have a good grasp of their own inner workings (meaning that they know their preferences, hopes and motivators), accepting how one’s well-intentioned behaviours are received by others is illuminating (if not challenging for some).
For example, a salesperson who naturally focuses on data and processes (we’d call this Cool Blue Energy) can be perceived as cold by a customer who is relationship-minded (Earth Green Energy), or as boring and detached if the customer is outgoing, gregarious and social (Sunshine Yellow Energy).
On the flipside, if the salesperson leads with Sunshine Yellow and focuses on humour and relationship building instead of the data, their Cool Blue inclined customer may feel their time is being wasted and perceive the salesperson as frivolous and loud.
Combining internal and external self-awareness and accepting the realities of how others may perceive you and why is deeply empowering and will drive that next level of growth and success.
This refers to awareness of the customer’s preferences, needs, hopes and values, as well as their strengths and challenges.
In sales, it means listening to your customer with genuine curiosity and intentionality. It’s the difference between asking ‘how are you?’ and ‘how does it feel to be you today?’ and listening the answer without expectations, judgements or assumptions.
This sounds like an easy thing to do, but it’s harder than it looks (especially if you’re someone whose natural exuberance results in talking over others).
There’s a reason that accredited counsellors must go through years of training; active listening is not an easy skill to acquire, but it’s so powerful. The ability to listen without assumptions or feeling the need to control the conversation is a tremendous competitive advantage in the selling arena (and no doubt enriches personal relationships as well).
This is awareness about the situation that sparked the selling opportunity or the context of the potential sale.
Sure, you know what the main issue is, but is that all there is?
Keen situational awareness allows you to glean important information about the situation that may not be overtly communicated by your client. Listen between the lines and you’ll find there’s a lot going on. For example, your customer may be dealing with conflict from a department head or pressure due to a competing project.
The intent here cannot be to exploit this information; rather, it’s to approach the situation from a place of authentic service. Think: Given what I have learned about them and their challenges, how can I make this person’s life or job better? Is there a way I can truly help them solve their problem on different levels?
This is similar to other-awareness in that it requires active listening and genuine curiosity, but in addition to learning about the other person, we are intentional about understanding the reality of their situation. We want to get beyond the single issue that sparked the sales conversation in the first place, and how, as salespeople, we can add value and earn trust in a meaningful way.
Awareness of a performance goal
This frequently overlooked aspect of awareness focuses on activating each salesperson’s performance goals.
It’s a powerful way to increase the effectiveness of sales training methodology, because people are naturally primed to pay attention to the training and resources that will be of most use to them.
Awareness of personal performance goals allows each salesperson to focus on their key areas of development, which in turn builds a foundation of engagement upon which the seeds of a training programmes can grow into embedded behaviour.
To take it a step further, combining this kind of awareness with other-awareness (becoming aware of the customer’s personal performance goals), can be a gamechanger in B2B sales.
Awareness of future potential or hidden opportunities
Seeing beyond your customer’s stated issue and your initial assumptions about how you can help them is a powerful way to build trust and achieve deeper penetration into key accounts.
This kind of advanced awareness can reveal hidden opportunities, but it requires leveraging a tremendous amount of other-awareness and situational awareness to tease out additional pain points where you can add value and trust.
Once again, the intent of this kind of awareness is never to exploit. Failure to combine this kind of awareness with authenticity may come off as aggressive rather than helpful. But if you're able to embrace the other four kinds of awareness, you’ll reach a point where awareness of hidden opportunities comes naturally.
If you’d like to build greater awareness, connect more deeply with customers and smash your sales targets, find out about Insights Discovering Sales and Influencing programme today.