Over the course of a year I talk with thousands of complaining sales people. Some complain about getting to the right people. Others complain about making pitches that stick; others about competition; some about the support they get from their company, etc. etc.

When I suggest what they should do, they either say they already know that and/or they're already doing that. However, as I delve deeper, or ask them to role-play with me, it becomes obvious to both of us that there is a big difference between my suggestion and what they're doing. I call this a subtlety so as not to bruise egos. I also call it a subtlety because just a few words rephrased, or a few steps rearranged can make huge differences.

Today I was talking with someone trying to sell corporate tax benefit packages to senior executives. He said he gets lots of voicemail rejections. I told him everyone does unless they have a compelling message to leave on the prospects voicemail. However, what the salesperson thinks should be a compelling message usually isn't, or else they’d get their calls returned. However, making a few networking calls could uncover a compelling message for this individual. This would be a subtlety.

In another conversation the salesperson didn't understand why his pitch to senior executives wasn't being received with more interest. I told him it wasn't the pitch per se. It was that he was giving the pitch before the person was ready for it. This may sound obvious but here is the subtlety. When a sales person finally gets in front of a person of power (or others), that person usually presses the salesperson for the pitch - in one way or another. But the person isn't ready for a pitch until (1) the salesperson has establishes credibility; (2) the pitch is exactly what that person wants to hear; and (3) before the person wants to hear anything, s/he has to feel the salesperson completely understands his or her situation. Again, this may sound obvious, but here's the subtlety in the form of an example conversation.

Typical Conversation – Condensed Version

Salesperson / Powerful Person: "Hi", "Hi" – Small talk Small talk.

PP: "So what have you got for me today?"
SP: "Well, I’ve got a lot. Let me tell you. Blah blah blah."

Subtle Version

PP: "So what have you got for me today?"
SP: "I’ve got a lot and I'd be happy to tell you all about it, but first, what do you want to hear about?"
PP: “What kind of question is that? You wanted to see me.”
SP: “I know, but you agreed to see me for a reason and I need to know what that is so I can target my information and not bore you or waste your time with a lot of stuff you could care less about.”
PP: "Well, Mary said you've got something about tax benefits that I should hear about."

Side note: ‘Mary said’ is another subtlety about networking that we’ll discuss in another article.

SP: "Well Mary's right, but why don't you tell me about issues or challenges you’re having or opportunities you'd like to pursue as it relates to your taxes."

I could continue but let's stop here and analyze.

The subtleties with the above are:

1. You're pushing the person to tell you about his or her situation. That is, his or her state of mind as it relates to taxes in this example. Once the person vocalizes it, s/he will then feel that you know his or her situation. This is important and sales people usually don’t take the time to establish this feeling with their prospects. They assume the person knows they know and charge ahead. People don’t know that you know and need to feel comfortable that you do before they feel comfortable with you.

Additionally, by asking, you'll know what's of interest, and what's not. Now you may think you know what the person wants to hear because you do this with similar people regularly, but that's the subtlety. The person whom you're talking with, again, doesn't know what you know.

Another subtlety is that you may think s/he needs to know what s/he hasn't mentioned. But unless you query him or her about it, and agree that s/he wants to know about it, you'd be well advised to stay away from it -- even though you think it should be important. There is nothing worse than talking about something that your audience (especially a powerful person) is not interested in. Call this a given or a no-brainer, but just think about how many salespeople talk to you about things that you're not interested in, rather than ask you what you're interested in, and then tell you about it.

2. This little switch from telling what you have (even though the person asked for it) to asking what they'd like to hear about, makes the conversation all about the person rather than you. Yes, you think you're presenting benefits that are all about helping this individual, but it's not received that way until the person has shared his soul. All about him or her, rather than all about you makes a big difference.

3. By exploring, digging, and letting the person explain and describe in detail, you're building credibility -- even though you're not talking. It’s like going to a psychologist. You feel better after you get it off your chest.

I could go on, but the point is that little shifts (subtleties) in words and actions make big differences, and unless you’re really astute, these are extremely difficult to detect in your approach and delivery. However, just as with a professional athlete -- a golfer, a baseball player, etc. -- the only way you'll pick up and adjust is by working with a coach. Think about it for a second. Those that are the best in their field, use coaches to help them improve.

Actually, this should be one of the primary functions of sales managers. Unfortunately, most sales managers have never been trained on how to be good mentors and coaches for their salespeople. So if you feel that's the case with you, and you need to improve in your sales profession, it's about time you invest in coaching. There are many venues available.

Your kids use coaches and teachers. Your spouse and maybe you probably use a trainer for fitness, etc. However, who coaches you to improve your career? Please, don’t say you don’t need it. Tell Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson, they don’t need their coaches. Get the point?

Think of what makes the differences between amateurs and professionals. Besides the money, it is the subtleties of the ways they go about their business – the nuances, the little gestures, the spin, etc. And the differences between OK performance and big money performances are the subtleties.

And now I invite you to learn more.

Bonus Tip: FREE E-Book “Getting Past Gatekeepers and Handling Blockers”. Just click this C-Level Relationship Selling Link Sam Manfer makes it easy for any sales person to be effective and feel comfortable connecting with and relationship selling C-Level leaders.

Author's Bio: 

Sam Manfer is an expert sales strategist, entertaining key note speaker and author of TAKE ME TO YOUR LEADER$, The Complete Guide to C-Level Selling - getting to and influencing top level decision-makers. Sam makes it easy for any sales person to generate quality leads, and become a 70% closer. Sign-Up for Sam’s FREE E-Books, Articles and other Advanced Sales Training Tips at http://www.sammanfer.com