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Listen Louder Than Your Competition

Listen louder than your competition. Instead of influencing the sale, influence the relationship by asking thought-provoking questions. Sales people need to be savvy enough to ask questions their customers really want to explore and answer, and that is ultimately worth the sales person's time to listen to. "No one has a finer command of language than the person who keeps his mouth shut," said Sam Rayburn.

Let's get real! Listening is so unpopular with mainstream sales people because it seems like one is doing nothing. It is not proactive enough for hard charging, results oriented sales people. It is not assertive enough for their sensibilities. It is so passive. Their animated and winning personality is not able to project brightly enough.

I saw a book in the airport that I wanted to hide from all sales people; How to Talk so People will Listen. What would be more instructive for sales people is a book entitled; How to Listen to get Customers to Talk. Which book do you subscribe to? If they trust you and value you, customers have all day to talk to you, and have little to no time to listen to you. Let them buy, instead of you having to do the heavy burdensome task of selling.

Ask any sales person about what their biggest challenge is in selling in relationship to being better communicators and having more refined interpersonal skills, and they will invariably answer; being more persuasive and being better closers. The fact is in order to achieve those two goals they have to be better listeners and better openers. I have seen industry research that states 65% of customers would be favorably inclined to purchase from a sales person if they simply just listened to them.

An enlightened client of mine always asks sharp sales candidates a trick question while interviewing them. He will tell them that in 12 months they will master their territory and then they will probably hit a performance wall. He then asks them if they can guess what the reason will be. In 10 years of interviewing, only one can candidate nailed it; they got so good that they stopped listening. They had all the answers so they did not need to waste time getting the customer's own unique perspective.

The reason extreme athletes get a super charge out of what they do is it forces them into a temporary "state of now." The heightened "state of now" has to transform in today's sales world from the antiquated and very satisfying skill of selling and convincing, to the more subtle art of listening with humility and empathy. Keep in mind the old adage, those who do not know speak.

It is very difficult for traditional sales people to listen because of the fierce competitive roar of their agenda, ego and self-centered ambitions. "A hungry sales person doesn't hear. They don't listen people into buying because they're too busy talking their way out of the sale," said Bill Brooks. Sales people with the most overt and outgoing personalities are the most vulnerable to being poor listeners.

Sales people are so filled with enthusiasm to sell that they rarely pause to listen to the questions they pose. Too many orthodox sales people listen with "happy years." They have preconditioned, optimistic filters that seeks out good news and disregards bad news and so they do not effectively pick up nuances and hidden signals. They tend to be revisionists to their own detriment.

The more relaxed and accepting you are with customers and the fewer outcome expectations you have, the more information you will get from customers that you will not feel a need to filter. Mainstream sales people hate to stop selling and start listening because it represents to them the death of their ideas and cherished ego. Knowledge from listening does not necessarily come from content and interpretation, but from acceptance and quiet experience.

You need to be a sponge not a fire hose. You need to take in everything your customer is experiencing. Empathy, not persuasion represents the real heavy lifting in sales. Most sales people are only listening for superficial data (instead of emotional data), listening to themselves, and hearing only what they want to hear in respect to their own goals, expectations, agendas and ambitions. You need to listen beyond verbal communication and look for emotion or lack of emotion in what is being said, or not said. As long as you have a fixed agenda, you will not be able to hear the false as the false and the truth as the truth easily.

When most classically trained sales people are listening, they are conditioned by the past. They try to re-create what they know because the unknown is threatening to them, because they have no control over it. That is why they struggle remaining in the present and listening intently. The mind by nature tends to dislike and ignore the present. You know you are in the zone when you are not thinking ahead, or looking behind; you are not relating what you are hearing to the past, or to the future. When you listen with a past orientation it holds you back, and when you have a future orientation it forces you to leave the present (the zone) and speed things forward. Both orientations deter effective listening.

When you predominately sell leading with information, you mostly only hear what you are ready to know. When you sell by listening, you let your customer construct their convictions and you are able to learn new information about their own unique point of view. Their point of view is far more important than your point of view. The problem is most orthodox sales people do not know what they really need to know, and to make matters worse, they flee from the truth. Because sales people are so attached to their beliefs about their offering, they are rendered unavailable to hear anything new or opposing. They bias their questions to lead the discussion in the direction they want it to go, and they bias their listening to hear what they want and need to hear. The key to good listening always starts with good questioning.

You have to be patient with your customer's ramblings and like a good shrink listen for slips, a word out of place, an inadvertent thought that can lead, like to a rainbow, to a pot of gold. But make sure you do not neurologically anticipate good news or it might be bad news wrapped up as good news and you will end up being no more the wiser.

Sales people come so close to getting it right, and then they open up their mouth and everything goes to hell in a handbasket. "Selling is a dysfunctional activity because so many people try to sell preconceived solutions rather than listening to what clients want and ascertaining their needs," says Mahan Khalsa. Your customers are very telling, savvy and smart, you just need to listen. Your ears will outperform your mouth. Learn more (listen) and earn more.

Richard Farrell is President of Tangent Knowledge Systems, a national sales development and training firm based in Chicago. He is the author of the upcoming book Selling has Nothing to do with Selling. He trains and speaks around the world and has authored many articles on his unique non-selling sales posture.

Phone: 773-404-7915
EMail: rfarrell@tangentknowledge.com
Web: http://www.tangentknowledge.com