Have you ever been around someone who seemed unsure of themselves when meeting or interacting with people? They just had a difficult time stating what they believed was true in a confident manner. They could not ask an important and sensitive question or give a strong reply when challenged. Even children show a high or low degree of social confidence when young and out on the play yards.
Assertiveness is a trait that, in some sales positions, is highly valued—even critically necessary. We define it as “the salesperson’s confidence to control the sales process from the initial contact to asking someone to buy.” This trait is measured in the CTS Sales Profile, which assesses the effects of assertiveness on the performance of high-activity sales professionals in companies with closing cycles of 90 days or less.
How Assertiveness Impacts Sales Performance
Let’s start by thinking about prospecting and setting appointments. Assertiveness is critical in this stage as it helps sales professionals move toward people with confidence and to stand out and make a lasting impression when networking for potential clients. Or it gives someone the capability of providing a strong benefit statement when making calls to new contacts.
As the CTS Sales Profile explains in its definition, high scorers in assertiveness can “assert themselves to control the sales presentation with their strong phrasing and direct eye contact.” This can be especially useful in making a good first impression and sets the tone for the face-to-face sales process which follows.
First Impressions and Developing Rapport
A sales professional’s first step in an outstanding sales process begins with approaching people and developing rapport with them. Assertiveness will be useful in this stage as it helps sales professionals build confidence and establish trust with potential clients. As author David J. Schwartz notes in his book, The Magic of Thinking Big, “Assertiveness is not what you do, it’s who you are.” By being assertive people, sales professionals can establish themselves as confident and trustworthy individuals who are capable of meeting the needs of their clients.
As a consultative sales process continues, salespeople guide a person through a discovery stage when at times they may ask sensitive questions to determine the needs and wants and problems of their potential clients. Again, assertiveness can be useful in this stage as it helps sales professionals to ask the tough questions and get to the heart of the matter. As sales coach Colleen Francis notes, “The best salespeople are those who are willing to ask the tough questions and have the courage to listen to the answers.”
In Matthew Dixonand Brent Adamson’s book The Challenger Sales: Taking Control of the Customer, the authors argue that many top salespeople teach customers something new about their company. They engage in sometimes disruptive two-way conversations in a way that challenges buyers to move away from the status quo and to a new solution. While great questions are very important, so is the ability to teach in an assertive manner a new and better way. Complex, big deal sales often need this type of person on the team.
Presenting Solutions to Meet Needs
Once the needs and wants of the potential client have been determined, a rep enters a demonstration or advice giving stage or a time of presenting solutions. Assertiveness can be useful in this stage as it helps sales professionals present their solutions with word pictures in a confident and persuasive manner. As sales trainer Brian Tracy notes, “Confidence is the key to persuasion.” By embodying assertiveness, sales professionals can establish themselves as confident and persuasive individuals who are capable of meeting the needs of their clients.
Handling Objections in a Confident Manner
As a salesperson presents, they, at times, find themselves faced with objections and concerns. In this stage, sales professionals need to be able to address any concerns or objections that potential clients may have. I remember being on a sales call with my business partner, Steve.
The conversation with the prospect was going well even to the end of the presentation. Then suddenly Steve asked, “How do you think this sounds?” After a few good replies, Steve followed this up with, “Do you see any way this would not work for your company.” We were there another 30 minutes fielding some tough replies. The moral to the story, salespeople must be able to get the real problems to the surface, and they must do this with social confidence.
Obviously, assertiveness helps what is often called the “objections” stage as it helps sales professionals to address these concerns in a confident and persuasive manner. As sales coach Jeb Blount notes, “The best salespeople are those who can handle objections and concerns with confidence and grace.”
Proposal and Asking for the Sale
Finally, the last stage of the sales process is when sales reps ask people to make a decision, or they propose a buying action. As the CTS Sales Profile explains in its definition for assertiveness, “Low Scorers too often yield control of the face-to-face interaction to the buyer. They are too accommodating, or they find it difficult and unnatural to ask closing questions without training—training that emphasizes how to ask people to make a decision.” Assertive sales professionals can, with greater ease, ask potential clients to make a decision and close the sale.
Assertiveness is a critical trait in the world of sales. It impacts every stage of the sales process, from prospecting and setting appointments to asking people to make a decision. By embodying assertiveness, sales professionals can establish themselves as confident and trustworthy individuals who are capable of meeting the needs of their clients.
As sales coach Zig Ziglar notes, “You don’t have to be great to start, but you have to start to be great.” So, if you are a sales professional looking to improve your sales performance, consider working on developing your assertiveness. Remember, assertiveness is not about being pushy or aggressive, but about being confident and persuasive in your approach to fill needs, solve problems or satisfy a person’s wants.