The Giving of Good Listening Will Trump the Giving of Good Advice
The information economy has changed the profession of sales forever. In bygone years a salesperson could define their value through the unique quality and differentiation of their products and services. Today, with the abundance, ease and access to information, salespeople can no longer rely on their information to carry the day for them.
This seismic shift is forcing sales organizations to look at how they go to market and it is redefining their value proposition. Incidentally, most companies have made, at best, cosmetic changes and those who have are finding that their sales force is struggling with the implementation.
The only true differentiator that is sustainable for companies in defining their value is through their quality of engagement. Their value is now defined by getting information, instead of giving information. This puts all the focus on the prospect and totally deemphasizes the salesperson and their offering. And the tactic to implement the re-channeling of information is through the art of listening and asking thought-provoking questions.
Listening and questioning go hand-in-hand. In sales you can’t do one without the other. I believe salespeople aren’t necessarily bad listeners, but rather they are ineffective at asking questions that elicit important information that is worth listening to. So bad questioning is the real culprit in bad listening. If salespeople ask meaningful questions that elicit meaningful information they’d end up being great listeners overnight by default.
Salespeople too often are willing to only listen to themselves talk. Their intent isn’t to learn and understand, rather to quickly get to the point where they can make their salient sales points. The best way to persuade is through listening and not through selling. This flies in the face of the way most salespeople sell. When was the last time you heard someone complimenting a potential salesperson by saying, “You are a very good listener, you’d be great as a salesperson!”?
To promote good listening, it is very important to take on a non-selling posture. A non-selling posture is all about putting all the focus on the prospect and having your product and solution taking a backseat.
The following are basic principles that make up the non-selling posture that promote and enhance active listening. Improve your questioning skills and your listening skills will improve exponentially.
- Your need to have people like you, and your need for approval will impede your confidence to ask thought-provoking questions.
- The most underrated and underutilized selling skill is the ability to find the truth. Finding the truth is a far more valuable skill set than selling and persuading.
- Salespeople who believe that their product information and solution are the least important part of the sales equation position themselves well as very caring listeners.
- Once you get good, you ask questions and listen intently more for the benefit of the prospect than for yourself.
- The best salesperson at the selling event is always the prospect. Let them internally sell themselves and then listen intently to how effective they are in selling you on changing.
- Need based selling is counterproductive. Prospects put more weight and value on what they want rather than on what they need. Listen intently more for wants than needs.
- Behavioral research states that 93% of communication is nonverbal. So all the talking you’re doing instead of listening is having very little influence.
- Listen for personal and individual buying cues more so than corporate buying cues. Prospects buy individually and justify their buying decisions to salespeople corporately.
- Listen more for buying cues driven by problems, fear, dissatisfaction, loss and insecurity than for superficial reasons of gain, benefit, advantage, growth and opportunity.
- You are paid for your questions, not your answers.
- Listening is rewarded when you seek to understand before being understood, when you understand that it is more important to be interested than it is to be interesting, and when you realize that prospects don’t care how much you know until you demonstrate first how much you care.
- Ironically, the more you tell the less you sell and the more you set yourself up for unfair comparison and objections. The less you tell the more you are forced to listen. Unlike selling, listening more effectively promotes trust.
- 5% of success in sales is based on closing. 95% of success is based on opening. Closing is a non-event. Opening is all about listening and questioning.
You’re not in the business you think you are. Once you realize that, selling becomes much more strategic. For example; a software salesperson believes they are in the technology business and they position their product accordingly. They sell all the bells and whistles. However, their product should be positioned solely as a business solution. Their focus should be on operations, efficiency, profit, cost reduction and an overall business solution. Technology and software should be the furthest thing from their dialogue with their prospect.
So without anything to push, tout and drum, they’re left with intense listening about the ins and outs of their prospect’s business.
The combination of active listening and thoughtful probing negates the traditional reliance salespeople have on enthusiastic, eager, upbeat and can-do selling. How is it possible to probe deeply and listen intently in a diagnostic way for problems and pains without taking a sensitive, caring, introspective and pensive posture? Enthusiastic selling is the antithesis of selling by listening.
If prospects were really proficient in thoroughly understanding what their problems were, then listening wouldn’t be as critical a skill set in selling. But in today’s hyper changing, fast-paced and time-constraint driven environment, prospects are juggling so many balls at once, they don’t have the luxury of focus that they did in the past. Hence, they rely on and value more than ever salespeople who can bring fresh insight and perspective to their business and their problems. Nothing accomplishes this strategy more effectively than a strategic thinker and listener.