Assessing conversational competence helps drive business

December 19, 2013 By    

Looking back to the past while driving a business into tomorrow is like cruising down the highway using only a rearview mirror.

Most business executives can generate myriad financial and operational reports to be debated and deliberated in a series of endless management meetings. As the economy tanks, business leaders use these reports to trim overhead, shutter stores and lay off staff in an effort to stay in business. Additionally, they study the bottom line and plan changes designed to grow profits and increase revenue down the road.

Unfortunately for most of these professionals, this data, though useful, does not supply key information critical to the future success of the company.

Management professionals may not understand commerce is generated when people exchange commitments over the course of business conversations. Therefore, any and all financial reports are representative of the effectiveness of the communication skills of the individuals within the company.

The problem facing most organizations is they rely on the financial reports without accurately assessing the conversational competence of the members of their staff.

For example, if a company engages in 1,000 sales conversations each month with an overall closing percentage of 20 percent, the company has successfully completed 200 sales. The literal sales numbers generate the financials, but this doesn’t assess the reasons why the remaining 800 calls didn’t produce any sales. Furthermore, the financials do not assess the competence of the salespeople who were successful. The data, as such, is incomplete.

Additionally, although many companies record customer service and sales conversations, they lack the distinctions needed to make grounded assessments about the conversations that generate the numbers. This lack of data about the language that creates the very essence of the company inhibits even the most well meaning of business managers from planning the future in the most effective way.

By planning only through the study of past data without assessing communications competence in the future, business leaders are in effect driving their company forward while looking into the rearview mirror – a dangerous way to drive a vehicle and a business.

Management needs to be able to look into their company person by person, as well as branch by branch, to accurately assess the competence of their staff. The simplest assessment should be based on coordinating action successfully. For instance, sales and customer service staff need to be able to coordinate action with customers and prospects, while managers and operational staff need to be able to coordinate action internally.

Assessing competence in the domain of communication necessitates we have core distinctions upon which we base our assessments, and can fix problem areas we encounter.

For instance, measuring a person’s ability and understanding about how to “build trust and credibility” and how to design conversations, which “produce the desired action,” is a starting point. This leads to questions about designing with language. In addition to moving our bodies, all we have to generate revenues in our business is “language.” So a good question to ask is, “What is the language that produces trust?” Another one would be, “How do you design conversations that produce productive action between two or more people?”

Additionally, core distinctions such as “What constitutes a great customer service call?” and “What constitutes a great effort with a new prospect during a sales call?” are central to being able to project the likelihood of future success. If leaders, managers, coaches and trainers can’t articulate the standards and demonstrate how they need to be applied in the future, odds are good the future won’t be what you want.

Typically, business leaders articulate a clear vision about what the future of the company looks like. They lay out new products, policies and procedures for handling financial transactions. Where the rubber meets the road, however, is in the sales, customer service and operational conversations. In these areas, the ability to assess competence generally does not exist.

Dan Molloy is president and CEO of Molloy Business Development Group, which helps companies grow sales by improving communication skills. Contact him at 877-212-6001 or

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