You really can hear a lot just by listening

If you ask sales managers what one of the most common mistakes they see even the best of sales reps make from time to time, it is simply:  talking too much.  Other research has shown that when a customer isn’t happy with a salesperson, it is usually symptomatic of a rep that didn’t probe enough to understand the businesses true needs, or actually listen to what the customer was telling them.  Instead, the rep usually tries to short cut things and launch a full frontal selling siege on the customer.  Of course, this isn’t a good selling practice.  But during a time when most reps are being pressed for better results and higher sales productivity, are you surprised? 

Some people are natural listeners, while others are chomping at the bit to speak, continuously!!  Here are some suggestions on how to improve your focus on what the customer has to say.

  1. Get ready to listen. Before your meeting starts, check all those personal issues at the front door.  You need to be attentive and concentrate on hearing what the customer has to say.
  2. Start with a set of good probing questions. The probing phase it really pretty basic (in concept) — ask good questions, then wait for the answer.  This is not just being polite; it also shows that you respect your question enough to wait to hear a real answer. The best indicators that you hear and understand someone come from your questions and how you ask them.
  3. Replay back what you hear. For example: “Tom, thank you for sharing that with me, what your telling me is that X, Y, and Z are very important to you, correct?” This technique makes sure that you are tuned in and listening. It also confirms what you thought you heard. 
  4. Show some empathy. There is no question that this bad economy has had an impact of all businesses, especially small business.  When you hear the difficulties, issues, and challenges they face, acknowledge how difficult it must be for them. If you respond to human issues, people may be ready to develop a relationship with you when it comes time to focus on the business items.
  5. Seize opportunities to inject some humor. In the course of natural conversation, a little humor enhances what may otherwise be an overly serious, perhaps even negative situation. We’re not talking about sarcasm, but more a lighter moment between two people.  No, you’re not expected to be a stand-up comic.  But seize the moment when a humorous comment helps the conversation along. 
  6. Note the non-verbal communication clues: These can range for facial expressions, tone of voice, body gestures, and more. Repetition of certain words can also be a sign to consider. These can all be telling symptoms for what the customer is thinking.
  7. Know the value of silence. A brief period of silence is ok, and will generally cause whomever speaks next to produce a more quality, in-depth response.  It also allows both of you to regroup and process on what’s just been said, to ask additional questions, seek further clarification, or provide even more information.

Take the time to care.  Take the time to listen.  Take the time to complete the sale.

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