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Sellers are good listeners

| Saturday, Dec. 21, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Estimates are that we get something like 5,000 marketing and sales messages a day, and with the holiday shopping season in full swing, that number probably has increased.

But many of the sales pitches we receive may not come from those trying to get us to buy a new toaster or vacation in an exotic locale. Some come from those we work with, whether a colleague or a vendor.

Do you pay attention when you feel a team member is trying to “sell” you something? Or do you tune that person out?

If you're not receptive, you're not alone.

“People get defensive when they detect the pitch. They feel like something is being forced on them,” says Steve Yastrow, author of the upcoming “Ditch the Pitch: The Art of Improvised Persuasion.”

While we may ignore a sales pitch from our colleagues, the problem is that they're doing the same to us. If you're trying to sell an idea in a meeting to your team or boss, that means they may be unreceptive.

Or if you're trying to sell yourself to an employer during a job interview, that person automatically might reject what you're saying.

A better way to break down the resistance to a sales pitch is to use improvised conversations instead, Yastrow says.

Using this method, your sales pitch becomes a conversation that focuses on the needs of the other person. Unlike a sales pitch, the other person is doing most of the talking, which puts that person at ease and not on guard against a sales push, he says.

A new Ipsos Public Affairs survey commissioned by Sandler Training finds that 62 percent of 1,000 working Americans say that they spend an hour or less a day selling themselves even though 80 percent say that being able to do so effectively is key to getting ahead.

To become a better improvisational persuader, Yastrow suggests you need to be an active listener and ask questions. Craft your pitch around how you can help solve a problem or achieve a goal.

“Improvisation does not mean you don't prepare or you just ‘wing it,' ” he says. “You've got to know your stuff and your business.”

In his book Yastrow outlines several key habits to develop to drop your ineffective sales-pitch habits and develop better improvisational skills. One is learning to make 95 percent of the conversation about the other person.

He also advises not overwhelming them with more than about a paragraph's worth of information before taking a break.

Getting rid of “yes, but” responses is important: Don't say a project will be exciting, but it will take a lot of work.

Saying something like, “This project will be exciting, and I think we can find way to contain costs so you won't go over budget” keeps the conversation moving and focused on what you can offer.

“The idea of selling is sort of distasteful to some people, or they feel they're not capable of doing it right,” Yastrow says. “But if you have a conversation that matters to the other person and help them find the right solution, then it can be a situation of where you're collaborating, not selling.”

Write Anita Bruzzese in care of USA TODAY/Gannett, 7950 Jones Branch Drive, McLean, Va. 22108.

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