“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.” This principle from author Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” has the power to solve an industry-wide sales challenge – under-developed listening skills.
In today’s Information Age, prospective customers often come to the table armed with enough information to make their own logical decision. Only, most of us ultimately make decisions from a place of emotion with salespeople we feel connected to and trust. The sales rep’s role has transitioned from information provider to relationship builder, and the foundation to any good relationship begins with listening.
For reps trained under the old features/benefits sales model, making this shift can be challenging. It requires a rep to ask high-impact, open-ended questions and listen carefully 80 percent of the time. While it can be tricky, we do have two ears and just one mouth for a reason.
A secondary benefit to developing strong listening skills, beyond building relationships and closing more business, is it allows for greater prospecting efficiency. By listening more than you talk, you can quickly distinguish between good prospects and dead ends, avoiding time killers and moving on to stronger prospects.
As you work to sharpen your listening skills, avoid these common pitfalls:
Rehearsing: Resist the temptation to focus so much on what you’re going to say next that you miss what the prospect says.
Mind reading: Avoid making assumptions, answering questions that haven’t been asked, or solving problems that haven’t been articulated.
Derailing: If you switch subjects too quickly, your prospect may assume you’re not really listening.
Placating: Relating to or agreeing with most everything a prospect says may come across as self-serving.
Fixing: Working too hard to prove you have the solution to every problem your prospect may have can be interpreted by your prospect as insincere.
Remember customers buy primarily based on emotion versus intellect, so don’t underestimate the importance of rapport building. Then ask thoughtful questions that encourage your prospects to articulate their problems. You won’t close sales by telling a prospect what his problems are. Ask leading questions that allow the prospect to realize this on his own.
Ask meaningful follow-up questions. For example, when you hear your prospect identify a source of pain, say “tell me how much this problem is likely costing you.” Occasionally restate what you’ve heard to demonstrate you’re paying attention. Lastly, recognize silence as a powerful tool for bringing out information a prospect may never have intended to share.
Developing heightened listening skills takes discipline but can pay off big dividends.
Lori Turner-Wilson is an award-winning columnist and Founder/CEO of RedRover Sales & Marketing, www.redrovercompany.com. You can follow RedRover on Twitter (@redrovercompany and @loriturner) and Facebook (facebook.com/redrovercompany).