Why Is Tonality Used In Sales?

I just got off of a sales call where I was in full control, and the prospect was hanging on my every word. It wasn’t so much about what I was saying that influenced the call, but how I was saying it – I knew it was because of my tonality.

I’ve also had calls go the opposite way, whereby everything I said was being misinterpreted by the prospect. Their level of unease increasing by the minute. 

This all comes down to tonality! It’s like a hidden, underlying code that can be used to calm, annoy, and ultimately influence – it’s a very powerful tool to use whilst in sales.

Why is tonality used in sales?

Tonality is fundamental in building rapport and trust with the prospect, which is critical, because we know that we buy from people we like. It influences both the unconscious and conscious mind, impacting how we judge on a logical, and on an emotional level. Above all, tonality is an effective way for sales professionals to persuade and create favourable outcomes throughout the sales process.

What is Tonality?

Communication is broken up into body language, tonality and the content of your words.

As you may have guessed tonality is the way you sound on the phone or in person.

It may not seem like much, but it has been attributed to impact almost 40% of the meaning that a person’s message may convey.

This finding was associated with the The Mehrabian and Ferris Study.

From a sales context, it’s a huge defining factor in how your message will be perceived by prospects.

And take into account that many SaaS sales teams now function purely as inside sales, this could account for 90% of how you are perceived on a call! 

So, what are the ways we use tonality? We do this through particular tonal patterns.

The Mehrabian And Ferris Results

CommunicationPercentage of Influence
Body Language55%
Tonality38%
Content of Words7%

Using Tonal Patterns

Tonal patterns, or language patterns, transfer your tonality to someone else.

They are used to convey that you are someone worth listening to, you have something important to share, or that you empathise with the prospect’s situation.

The power of a language pattern, when used correctly, is that it builds the idea that you are an expert in your field. 

We have been conditioned to trust and defer to the opinion of experts, from the family doctor, to lawyers, or even parents. And from an early age we have been wired to recognise what an expert sounds like; they aren’t vague, they are direct, professional and will assist your situation.

Think of an encounter with your family doctor. They are your ‘trusted advisor’ for any medical situation.

They have earned the right to ask questions, because you know it will help them fix your problem. You also listen to them when they come to conclusions about your health.

Within a sales context, the key is to use tonal patterns to enter the engagement as an expert. That way, you can control the encounter, asking the right questions to diagnose the prospect’s situation, and provide a solution to alleviate their pain points.


There are 3 core tonalities.


1. Emphasising (Rapport Building)

The emphasising tonality can be used when you are trying to build rapport and want the other person to like you. 
The way to use this tonality is to emphasise the last part of your sentence. You must, ‘go up’ at the end of the sentence.

However, it’s important to not overuse this friendly tonality because it can signal that the other person is more powerful than you.

We typically see this play out when you open a call with “Hey, how are you today”? – immediately power is relinquished in the conversation. To certain prospects, you may come across as soft or yielding, and it will be hard to get back into the position of influence.

It’s not to say that you shouldn’t use this tonality to open calls, but be mindful of it’s impact and choose it selectively.

2. Neutral (Influencing)


The neutral tonality is when you are not going ‘up’ or ‘down’ in your voice. This is the tonality that you should aim to stay in when selling because it is the most persuasive. 

Because you are using a uniform tone, you’re signalling to the prospect that you see the other person as an equal. They do not have the upper hand and they don’t have to feel inferior within the conversation, and because of this they can purely focus on what you are saying.

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3. Command (Certainty)

The last core tonality is the command tonality.

Though it sounds counter-intuitive for the purposes of engaging in a productive conversation, it can have a great impact on the outcome of your sales calls. 

Essentially, it’s when you talk to someone but you are going ‘down’ at the end of your sentence in a commanding way. If used in the wrong ways it will break rapport.

For this reason it definitely shouldn’t be used during any line of questioning on a sales call, rather its purpose is to articulate ideas and statements in a certain way.

A great example of how this plays out is when you speak about pricing.

Picture the difference between someone saying “The price for our product is $1,000 per month” in both a rapport command and emphasising tonality.

In an emphasising tonality it leaves the prospect thinking you lack confidence and even invites the conversation up to bargaining. In contrast, the rapport breaking tonality leaves nothing to question and that asking for that particular price is justified.   


Outside of the 3 core tonalities there are also 8 more. These were popularised by successful sales professional and businessman, Jordan Belfort.


1. Urgency
2. Utter Sincerity
3. Using a question when it should be declarative
4. Reasonable Man
5. Absolute Certainty
6. I really want to know
7. The presupposing tone
8. 3 up tones

To the right is an excellent example of how we can combined tonalities together to make an impact in our sales calls.

Using Tonality to Improve Cold Calling

By now we know why tonality is used in sales, so let’s take it one step further and show how to use it to make an impact, specifically when cold calling. 

When a prospect answers a call you have approximately 7 seconds to establish that you’re an expert and someone who can add some genuine value.

It’s virtually impossible to do this through just the content of your words alone.

As mentioned previously, we have been conditioned to know what experts sound like through stored patterns. Using tonality it’s possible to trigger these stored patterns; by-passing a prospect’s analysis and judgement of you. 

In doing so, there’s no thought of “Who is this guy?, “Is this worth my time?”, “Should I just hang up?.” when they answer the phone. 

So, what strategy should we use for this? Let’s look at 2 scenarios to illustrate.


Scenario 1

Typically when we start a cold call with a neutral tonality and say “Hi John it’s Dan here from “123” company, how are you?”, the prospect has their guard up.

There is no variation in the tonality and as soon as we mention our company name the prospect loses interest.

They already know it’s a sales call and at this point you aren’t in a position to influence them because they have tuned out.

Scenario 2

Instead we should use the emphasising tonality. Additionally, it’s important to state declaratives as questions.

*ring ring, ring ring*

“Hi John it’s Dan here, from “123” company, how have you been lately? – all words in italics are stated as questions in an emphasising tone.

Saying ‘lately’ also implies you’ve spoken in the past.


Converting the Call

At this point the prospect is left thinking “Do I know this guy?”, “When was the last time I spoke with 123 company?”.

They are focused on trying to figure out who you are because the conscious mind has been bypassed.

With the correct tonality you can access their stored patterns of what experts sound like, and that leaves them hanging off your every word.

The possibility of influence has been opened.

It’s important to make the distinction that tricking the prospect is not the goal. This strategy is about using language patterns to bypass their conscious mind, giving you an opportunity to provide insight to a prospect who will actively listen.

Now the key to converting the call is providing value to the prospect.

With permission, roll into a 5-10 minute discovery call and ask 2-4 questions to diagnose any pain points or challenges they have.

As you do this, you will build up trust because you show that you are someone who cares.
Your knowledge on the topic shows you’re a professional, and because you gave them some value you have the authority to ask for a second meeting.  

At the end of the call summarise how you aim to help and organise another time to show them through the strategy.

Conclusion

It’s undeniable that tonality plays a key role in controlling and persuading a prospect during sales calls. 

A tool you can use to tap straight into the unconscious mind of customers and clients alike; a window directly into the driver’s seat of their emotional decision making process.

Without it, you descend into the ordinary, leaving your persuasive ability to chance. You have no strategy to take those who are sitting on the fence, and turn them into buyers, permitted it’s the right thing to do.

Don’t leave your sales goals to chance!

Next time you have an important call, integrate the above examples to improve your effectiveness.

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