One of the weightiest intangibles in business is the ability to demonstrate competence. Most people view it as a basic requirement, something as essential as common sense when dealing with other people (and their money). It’s a quality that entices people to listen, spend money, and place trust in others – behaviors that businesses climb over themselves to secure and foster in their clients. Yet efforts at projecting competence often fall short because it’s very easy to take for granted the various little things that actually define that quality.

Suppose you take a call from a prospective customer, a serious buyer asking questions about your company’s products or services. They’ll become a client if you give them enough information to convince themselves to buy from you. What, then, is the best way to a) reassure the buyer, b) balance risk with reward, and c) give yourself the opportunity to discuss value that the buyer may not have noticed or even considered?

Competence, that’s right. (Good guess.) Where business is concerned, it’s an air of acumen and proficiency that shows you know what you’re talking about. And it’s a combination of confidence and experience whose possession – or lack thereof – shows through very clearly, both in person and over the phone.

Unfortunately, simply blurting out your status as an encyclopedic business god to your customers tends to breed more mistrust than optimism. The trick is to show people how truly masterful you really are by giving off subtle clues that help them figure it out for themselves. How does one do that? Well, the act of being competent involves many different things, but these tips are a good start at giving the right impression:

  1. Cultivate a confident tone of voice. Confidence is always a great persuasive tool. Where commerce is concerned, people are always more likely to buy from whomever seems most capable.The danger with putting confidence behind a topic, of course, is that it’s just as easy to reinforce ignorance as it is to represent truth. And misleading clients by reinforcing incorrect or vague information tends to create problems that outweigh profits (whether it happens on purpose or not).It’s always okay to admit you don’t have the answers to everything. Press home the things you know. Your experience and passion will build momentum and lend credibility to your organization.
  2. Show respect for your clients’ time and corporate positions. You think you’re busy? Your clients are too. Most people, at all levels of business, have fairly established routines that move their daily tasks down the path of least resistance. Everything outside of those routines, like unsolicited phone calls, faxes, physical mail, email, file attachments, and so on must be shoehorned in as smoothly as possible without causing a decrease in productivity. Getting through to people without causing static can be a tall order, so when you do get through, be friendly, accommodating, and to-the-point.
  3. Ask questions. Don’t ever be afraid to do it. Ever. Even if it makes you feel kind of silly. No one knows everything about everything, and your client will realize that (or should). Besides, asking the right questions can prove wildly advantageous in business situations; sometimes all it takes is a question to shine light on a new approach to a problem, or to uncover a client’s pain point that perhaps even they didn’t realize was in play.
  4. Pay attention. Nothing takes the air out of a conversation like a good daydream. You might get away with letting your mind wander when you’re on the phone with a friendly repeat customer, but with a new, potential client? Forget about it. Credibility starts to slide the instant the caller feels they have to repeat themselves to get their point across. If you’re too distracted to talk, politely ask if you can reschedule. A delay may rock the boat, but lack of attention will sink it.

In essence, competence in business is the end result of doing the right thing with the right attitude in every facet of your job, whatever that may be. It’s the physical manifestation of you living up to the standards of excellence that you set for yourself.