A dog's ability to listen and be present is part of their magic. It's what makes us feel cared for, no matter how hard the day has been. In fact, listening is so conducive to building connections that you should steal this trick from your dog if you want to keep your sales pipeline full.
Listen to your prospect. It's that easy.
When you listen, you're working to solve their problem, not sell your product. Even experts agree that listening is a tried-and-true sales strategy. Read on to see how to get clients by talking less and listening more.
Why Listening Is Key to Your Sales Strategy
Workplace expert Heather Monahan (@_heathermonahan) describes listening as the "single most important step in the sales process."
"If we cannot thoroughly understand a client's pain points and why they're important, we will never be able to help them solve their problems."
Steven Benson, cofounder of the sales routing app Badger Maps (@BadgerMaps), agrees: "Taking the time to understand the drivers of my customer's business allows me to differentiate my solution over my competitors."
For an example, Benson recalls a time a competitor's customer was calling in. The prospect's use case was different than the companies that normally used Badger Maps. Before the call, Benson familiarized himself with their business. This allowed him to ask more in-depth questions.
"Listening to their answers helped me understand their unique situation," says Benson. "Because I understood their business model and what their goals were, I was able to describe how my solution would benefit them more than my competitor's."
For more tips on filling your sales pipeline, see "How to Get Clients by Growing Your Business Network."
What Salespeople Need to Listen For
Knowing you need to listen is one thing. Knowing what to listen for is something else entirely.
Kyle Brost (@Kyle_Brost), founder and principal consultant at Choice Strategy Group (@ChoiceStrategy), suggests you listen for:
- Statements that aren’t actually fact. He says statements like "we never" or "every company" indicate your client is making an assumption. And for Brost, an assumption is an opportunity to offer insight. "If I heard the statement 'every company,'" says Brost, "I might respond with, 'One of my clients actually does XYZ and they have seen ABC as a result. I would be happy to connect you with them.'"
- Repeated statements. These indicate that you haven't resolved their concerns and you should try digging a little deeper.
Once Brost was working with a client who kept repeating, "I wish we could just decide on a direction and start moving forward." However, he had been taught to let clients come up with their own solutions. So instead of digging deeper, he kept asking the client, "How do you think you can decide?" The cycle repeated itself two or three times before both moved on.
"He wanted someone to help make the decision and gave me multiple opportunities," says Brost. "I just wasn't listening."
How to Improve Your Listening Skills
Before you can improve your listening skills, Monahan says you need to get your "baseline."
"I recommend asking your supervisor, peers, and a few clients to evaluate your listening skills and give you feedback," says Monahan. "You may be surprised at what you find."
Once you learn how others perceive you, it's time to make a plan. Monahan suggests you…
- Visualize. "My first boss reminded me that we have two ears and one mouth for a reason. We must listen twice as much as we speak," Monahan says.
- Take notes. "When I am so focused on taking notes and hearing what the other person is saying, I do a much better job as a listener."
- Stop talking. Monahan says, "Training yourself to sit quietly and allow others to speak pays major dividends."
Business coach Patricia Weber (@patweber) says it's also important to demonstrate that you're listening. Show you're paying attention by:
- Asking questions. In particular, Weber recommends asking for clarification because what's in your head may not match what's in your client's.
- Making eye contact. According to Weber, introverts generally maintain eye contact, but extroverts often look away when they aren't talking. Know your style so you can work on the habit.
- Using non-verbal cues. Weber suggests nodding, but smiling and leaning in often indicate you're paying attention.
Weber says anyone who needs to sell should practice their listening skills so they can make the customer feel more "valued, validated, and important. Like they are buying, and not being sold."
Need a place to practice your listening skills? Join one of "The 7 Best Small Business Groups for Networking."
About the Contributors
Steven Benson is the cofounder of Badger Maps, Inc., a San Francisco software company that enables field sales teams to manage their territory by combining Google Maps, CRM data, route optimization, schedule planning, and lead generation. Before starting Badger Maps in 2012, Benson worked in sales at IBM, HP, and Google where he was Google Enterprise's Top Sales Executive in 2009.
Kyle Brost is the founder and principal consultant at Choice Strategy Group, a strategy consulting firm specializing in strategic thinking. He is the creator of Confluence Theory(TM), a dynamic and unique approach to strategy for organizations, leaders, and teams. He is also the CEO of Kyle Brost INTL, a majority stakeholder and management company for multiple early stage startups.
Heather Monahan is a workplace expert known as the "Boss in Heels." Monahan is a social media influencer, keynote speaker, Glass Ceiling award recipient, and C-level executive in media. Monahan is committed to advancing others via her website.
As an author, speaker, blogger and coach Patricia Weber helps the more introverted go from timid to remarkable in getting their voice heard in everyday business and life situations. She is a Coachville graduate, a neuro-linguistic programming (NLP) practitioner, and a two-time award winner of Peninsula Women's Networker of the Year. Weber has served clients around the world since 1990 with expertise and experiences in sales, marketing, leadership, presentations, and networking. You can find her books via Amazon and her blog.