S-h-h-h-h! Can You Hear It?
Throughout modern corporate America, untold billions in sales were lost because someone didn’t listen.
Think back to your own lost sales. Did you miss something, misunderstand something, or fail to hear a message critical to the sale?
In selling, there’s no greater asset than our ability to actively listen, understand what’s said and apply what’s heard. This is painfully true in financial and professional services because we deal in intangibles. The prospect can’t touch, sniff, see and try our offer beforehand. So, let me ask you: Do you believe you are a good listener?
Here’s a quick and revealing test:
- Do you ever react to a problem before gathering all the facts?
- Do you step on or finish sentences of slow, deliberate talkers so you can get to the next point?
- If a prospect confuses you, are you reluctant to ask clarifying questions?
- Are you thinking about what you want to say next while the other person is still speaking?
- Can you match clues in body language with the prospect’s actual words?
If you answered yes to any of questions 1 – 4, your natural tendencies are likely ratcheting down your ability for deep listening. If you answered no to question 5, you are definitely missing a golden opportunity to see gaps in the prospect’s mental fabric, which you can use to later lay down trust between you. More on this in upcoming posts.
Killing Me Softly
In financial sales, I’ve sat in on many compensation committee meetings, quietly listening to the various contributors, as I decoded their agendas. Often, a phrase or word from the CFO or VP-HR fell softly from mouth to table without the group noticing, yet it held the key to the right course of action: “But the CEO wants more performance.” “The Board won’t agree.” “We could lose John, if we do this.” Because I heard every word, I was able to reconstruct the proposal on the spot.
Magnify What’s Said
In process selling, our 5-step approach to simplify the complex sale, called MERGE, step one is Magnify. That means you zero in on what the prospect values by fully understanding his pain point, her problem, or their unique situation. Here, you do your homework on primary and secondary sources. You talk to vendors, analysts, competitors, past clients or former employees of the prospect, if possible. You listen for nuances in conversation, you listen for what’s not said, you listen between-the-lines for gems to guide you forward.
Active listening is the Red Bull® of strategic marketing . Psychiatrist Mark Goulston offers amazing insight on how listening can help you get through to absolutely anyone in his book, Just Listen. Mim Goldberg, in an article for Selling Power, outlines seven key steps to listening closely to customers shared below with comments:
7 Steps to Active Listening
- Listen to understand, not to reply. It’s not just polite to give buyers all the time they want to speak, it’s the life jacket of sales. Hear everything being said, take notes, watch nonverbal signals, show them you value their thinking.
- Make eye contact. Sounds obvious, but many people shortchange trust-building by failing to stay in eye contact. Natural facial expressions show authenticity. Raise eyebrows if something surprises you, show empathy for the prospect’s plight, smile at his jokes, just be real, and eye-to-eye.
- Ask questions. Prepare questions ahead of a meeting. Use the 80/20 talking rule. Ask questions during your 20 percent. Use questions to bring conversation back to the point. Ask the question behind the question. “John, you’re planning to make this decision in the fall, yes?” . . .”Who else is involved in the decision making process and what are their respective roles?”
- Repeat important points. Do this throughout the conversation; it stimulates agreement and demonstrates how well you listen.
- Remove obstacles to good listening. Drop your filters, biases, and opinions. It’s not about your agenda; it’s about helping the prospect to grasp the value you bring in solving his problem.
- Keep your composure. Relax as you listen. That way, an amygdala hijack (the reptile brain) won’t drive you to overreact to objections, complaints, or prospect condescension.
- Listen actively. Subordinate your thinking while the prospect talks. Engage your mind in every word, facial expression or body movement. Your prospect wants to be heard. And understood.
One way I learned to listen well―I asked my children, my wife, my friends, my peers and my subordinates: “Am I a good listener?”
The answers stung a little, but I got better and better at this essential life and business skill. You can, too.
See you on the upside,
Other thoughts on listening:
“You learn when you listen. You earn when you listen—not just money, but respect.”―Harvey Mackay
“It often shows a fine command of the language to say nothing.” ―Anonymous
“Big egos have little ears.” —Robert Schuller