Depending on your industry, your business will require face-to-face communication with clients on a constant basis.

Talk is easy, but great communication is a real skill—and lies at the heart of virtually every relationship.  

From building trust to overcoming objections, effective communication is a two-way street.

Understanding the finer nuances of communication can give you a huge advantage in any interaction and can often mean the difference between deals and duds.

  • The goal
  • Body language
  • Tone of voice
  • Keep it simple


The goal

Great communicators know that the fundamental goal of communication is not just to understand each other, but also to allow the other person to leave the interaction feeling good—to preserve or enhance their self-esteem—which in turn makes them feel better about you.

This element is critical because the instant someone feels foolish or uncomfortable, the conversation unravels and your stock starts dropping.

Volumes have been written on the art of communication, but for a shortcut, let’s focus on three simple elements that help determine how well you get your message across: body language, tone of voice, and finally, the actual words you choose.

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Body language

Body language conveys a huge amount of information. Research indicates that nonverbal cues such as eye contact, posture, and facial expressions contribute to almost 40% of all communication.

As a result, understanding and effectively using body language can significantly improve one's ability to communicate with others.

As human beings, we’re all acutely aware of how facial expressions convey feelings.

In general, that means you should practice smiling at your clients because it shows you like them; which typically results in them liking you back. People buy from people they like, so do the math.

While smiling is essential, overdoing it can be perceived as unprofessional. Try to strike a balance between warmth and professionalism, and avoid going overboard with your smile.

Remember: A genuine smile involves both the mouth and the eyes.

Eye contact is also important, but as someone once said, “There’s a fine line between steady eye contact and the steely gaze of a serial killer.” We tend to distrust people who won’t make eye contact, and yet are unnerved by people who stare; so maintain a good balance.

Not as easy as it sounds?

To avoid intensely staring and make you seem more approachable and engaging, try to maintain eye contact with the other person for a few seconds at a time, then look away briefly before returning your gaze.

Another way to maintain appropriate eye contact is to focus on the other person's face as a whole rather than just their eyes.  

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Tone of voice

It’s not just what you say; it’s how you say it. That means when talking with clients it’s a good idea to “put a smile in your voice” to make sure you’re projecting a positive image.

In fact, if you are smiling when you speak with them, it’s almost impossible to sound downbeat or irritated.

Additionally, it’s key to read the room. Match your tone of voice to situation and the client’s personality. For reserved clients, use a calming and reassuring tone. Outgoing clients should receive your best outgoing and enthusiastic tone. Whatever the situation, it’s crucial to vary your tone to keep the conversation engaging and interesting.

Being positive is important because clients don’t like to spend money with cranky salespeople. If they hear irritation in your voice they’ll assume they’re the cause, even if it’s actually because you got a flat tire on the way to their job site.

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Keep it simple

We all work in industries that are chock full of technical jargon. Unfortunately, your customers won’t always understand the jargon, and can feel foolish, intimidated, or even offended if you use a lot of terms they don’t understand; particularly when explaining something that will cost them thousands of dollars.

An important rule of thumb is to use what I call the “5th Grade Rule” when discussing technology with a client.

Simply put, when discussing anything technical, explain it as you would for a fifth grader. Don’t worry about sounding condescending. You won’t. In fact, the majority of customers will greatly appreciate your efforts to keep it simple and understandable.

Also, use their words.

That means when they say, “I was thinking of separate control screens in the dining room and kitchen.” You should say, “Control screens in the kitchen and dining room sound like a good idea.”

Resist the temptation to say, “You mean touch screens? Yes, separate touch screens are a good idea.”

Correcting them on the spot may make them feel foolish, or worse, condescended to. You can always correct them gently later by saying, “We talked about separate touch screens in the dining room and kitchen.”

Wrapping up

You’re out there communicating with people every day, and your business depends on doing it right. These simple tips around body language, words, and tone of voice can help you take your communication skills to the next level, and win you more deals.

David Chace is President at Cogent360.

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