I have written many articles on the importance of preparation, planning, presentation, attitude, prospecting, objection avoidance, leadership, and more in this newsletter. But there is one thing that runs as a common denominator for all of these topics. There is one area I need to cover that actually fuels the success of all of the above initiatives. This is an area that we all take for granted and yet, most of us literally STINK at it. As salespeople, there is perhaps no more impactful of a skill to have than the skill of effective listening.
We all initially got into sales because we are good talkers, good negotiators, good persuaders, and because we are comfortable when doing all of these things with strangers. We take courses on, attend seminars regarding, and read books about how to be better at “Getting our Point Across,” “Giving Professional Presentations,” “Overcoming Objections,” and “Power Phrases that Sell.” We constantly work on better ways to say what we want to say. We record ourselves on the phones talking and even video ourselves talking/pitching in role-play situations. Although all of this is important, what I notice getting lost on most salespeople of today is the tried and true art of listening.
I have yet to ever run into a truly top shelf successful salesperson that is not a great listener. Great salespeople realize that they MUST listen to the prospect/customer because:
- When they are listening, they are learning about the prospect/customer
- With more info on the prospect/customer needs, they have a better shot in recommending the proper solutions.
- What they are listening to are typically the answers to questions that are designed to control the process and lead the prospect/customer toward the benefits or solutions that the salesperson has to offer.
- When they are listening, they are building trust.
- When they are listening, the customer is buying into them—They are showing that they care.
- When they truly listen, the customer will tell them what to say (or ask) next.
I do a lot of training in the area of effective question asking to “open” a customer. I work on the reasons why we ask the questions that we do and how to best structure and practice those questions beforehand so that they appear very “off the cuff” and centered on the prospect/customer’s specific situation. However, I do not spend enough time discussing the art of listening to the answers and response strategies. I can only picture a mindless set of drones out in the marketplace asking a question, checking it off the list, and moving on to the next. Say it isn’t so!!!!
Let’s take a closer look at this term, shall we? How does one enthusiastically listen? When you think about that term, what comes to mind for you? I get a picture in my mind of someone leaning in (edge of their chair), eyes locked on whomever is talking, eyebrows raised, nodding in understanding, hanging on every word, and responding with requests for more. I see in my minds eye a child listening to an exciting bedtime story for the first time and asking things like “What happened next?” “Who is that?” “Why did she do that, Mommy?” “What does he look like, Daddy?” and so on.
In the profession of sales, that same wide-eyed enthusiasm over the words of our prospects/customers may be quite appropriate to a certain degree. INTERESTED is the word that we are going for here. I feel that the best way for a prospect/customer to be INTERESTED in you is to be genuinely INTERESTED in them. The problem is that most of us feel that we have to be INTERESTING! We feel that we have to speak eloquently, have a solid canned “pitch” that is compelling, and through these tactics, we will win over the hearts and minds of our prospects/customers. C’mon…. Get over yourself!! It’s not about you! It’s about them and their pains, their fears, their desires, and their highest value needs.
By listening enthusiastically, you will show the prospect/customer the greatest respect that you can. You will show that you care about their needs-not yours. You will show that you are interested in how to best create a solution for them. You will show that you are different, that you stand out! Below are a few tips to help you engage in the art of enthusiastic listening:
- Look’em in the eye! When a prospect/customer is speaking (answering your questions), do your best to look them directly in the eye as much as you can. It shows that you are focused on their response. A great tip to help you stay focused intently on them is to pick just one eye and look directly into that.
- Use appropriate facial expressions and nods. Use non-verbal feedback in the form of the occasional nod to show understanding and agreement, a head tilt with brow furrowing to show a lack of understanding (and thus a request for more info), a smile and nod to show clarity and agreement. Also use winces and other similar facial expressions to show that you feel their pain. Much can be said without saying a word. Learn to master this art through practice in front of a mirror.
- Lean into the conversation.
There is nothing wrong with leaning into the conversation during particularly intense or emotional points in which pains and fears are being discovered and discussed. Get on the edge of your chair and show them that you care.
- Take notes.
There is a term called “noteworthy” that seems to be appropriate for the purposes of a sales interaction. By writing down some of the main points of the conversation, you will not only show the prospect/customer that you are listening and that you care, you will also show that what she is saying is worthy of making note of it. Also, if you write down what they say word-for-word and how they say it (use quotes on these parts) then you will have a tool to use later in the sales process to assist in closing the sale.
- Ask follow-up questions with active probing verbs.
An example of some solid follow up questions might be:
- “Can you expand on that?”
- “Paint me a picture of that.”
- “Can you give me an example?”
- “How long has that been the case?”
- “Have you always felt that way?”
- “Why do you suppose that is?”
- Re-Phrase statements made by the prospect/customer.
When a customer has expressed concerns (another word for pains) regarding a specific issue, show that you truly listened by rephrasing the statement. Example:
They say: “I am a little worried about how the fluctuating interest rates are going to affect my variable mortgage and also about buying this home in an area which has had several houses sell for under appraised value in the past.”
Salesperson says as a rephrase and a re-cap point: “I understand that your specific concerns are about interest rates and resale value, is that correct?”
**A word of caution here. Too much usage of this tool will appear to be practiced and fake. It will have a tendency to show the customer that you are merely using a sales technique to create a bond and it will become a turn-off. Use moderately.
So, in the future, think about that young child listening intently to his/her parent reading Peter Pan for the first time to them. See if you can see the look in their eyes, the curiosity in their entire demeanor. Create that same level of enthusiastic curiosity in yourself as you head into your next sales call. Listening is a skill and one that can be learned. Tap into as many resources as you can to sharpen this skill and tap into the world of sales success!