Sales professionals are in a powerful position to create a collaborative meeting environment that is psychologically “safe,” where people are comfortable being themselves and expressing their opinions. Whether it is an insight presentation or a traditional discovery, problem-solving or conflict resolution meeting, high-performing sales professionals use their facilitation skills and presence to create an environment with mutual respect, genuine curiosity and vulnerability. The importance of these skills is highlighted by a recent study that found that sales professionals who facilitate meetings of high value for the buyer win deals 3.6 times more than their peers.

There are four types of meetings that salespeople need to be able to facilitate effectively:

  • An insight presentation is an opportunity to provide value by offering a new perspective or highlighting a high-level blind spot the buyer may have.
  • The discovery meeting is the traditional consultative approach to learning about a buyer’s needs before presenting how your product or solution can address them.
  • A problem-solving meeting is a collaborative effort where the buyer and seller work, through creativity and innovation, to identify a solution that was not initially obvious.
  • A conflict resolution meeting is a meeting structure intended to resolve a difference between expectation and reality.

From the Head: Facilitation Skills

No matter what type of meeting a sales professional is facilitating, when attendees sense that he or she has a genuine interest in engaging in a meaningful way, taking care of them by respecting their time and input, and responding with understanding and flexibility, they are more likely to respond positively and productively.

The facilitator’s job is to monitor the buyer’s level of energy and engagement and be able to adjust the dynamic of the meeting based on that feedback. To do so, the facilitator needs to be able to:

  • Manage time
  • Review the agenda and meeting objectives
  • Keep discussions on track
  • Ensure that all voices are heard, particularly the buyer’s
  • Respond to interpersonal dynamics as they evolve and address any that could hurt the meeting objectives
  • Ask appropriate questions to stimulate conversation
  • Listen for what is said and not said
  • Summarize the main points and reframe when necessary
  • Identify and coordinate next steps

From the Heart: Presence Skills

How you do what you do is as important as what you do. This “how” is called presence. To make buyers feel psychologically safe in the sales professional’s presence, there are four key things they should focus on, regardless of the type of meeting: knowing themselves, connecting with their audience, reading and adjusting to their audience, and staying present.

For a salesperson, improving their ability to create psychological safety begins with understanding how they show up in different selling situations. Becoming aware of and appropriately managing their emotions and their behavior in all types of meetings is the greatest tool they have to make others feel comfortable.

People are inspired to achieve great things when they form powerful connections with each other. There is so much research on the power of emotional connection to influence our decision-making. Making time and space for casual conversations and interpersonal connections results in a more engaged and receptive audience.

Salespeople need to be able to read the audience at a macro and micro level. At the macro level, it’s about noting the overall energy and mood in the room. Is the prospect attentive? Does the buyer group seem engaged and engaging? At the micro level, it’s about observing and responding to individuals’ cues from their body language, facial expressions and tones of voice. Do they look and sound interested? Is someone bored?

The salesperson’s job is to gauge, respond and adjust. Throughout the meeting, they should check in with their audience’s level of energy and engagement by observing, checking in verbally or both. By honing their ability to take in the verbal and nonverbal feedback and remain flexible, the salesperson will be able to adjust the meeting to better align with their audience.

Staying present allows the sales professional to be authentic and credible and stay connected to their audience. During the meeting, they should make time to periodically gauge how well they are manifesting the right presence traits and behaviors, including:

  • Making sure they are breathing enough
  • Conveying their interest and passion through a congruence of their voice, facial expression and body language
  • Maintaining appropriate eye contact with audience members
  • Staying emotionally available
  • Listening to their audience

These behaviors are easier to sustain when the meeting is going according to plan. It’s when something derails the meeting that the salesperson needs to work at a more conscious level at staying present. Symptoms of poor presence include pacing the floor or fidgeting, speaking too quickly, speaking in a higher register, and upspeak (when the speaker’s tone of voice goes up at the end of a sentence).

In a world where a competitive advantage is narrow or nonexistent, how well your team performs in buyer meetings can be the differentiator that will help your company win the deal. Pay attention to your sales professionals’ facilitation skills and presence. Help them to notice what they are doing well from the checklists above and to incrementally improve the skills and behaviors that they don’t demonstrate consistently and well.