May 05, 2009

Sell don’t tell: How improving your listening skills will increase your sales success

Great sales people are not great talkers:

Contrary to popular opinion great sales people are not great talkers, but great communicators. The difference is the ability to listen.

When the sales person listens he/she will be told things that will help sell. Real selling takes place in conversations, as opposed to monologues, in the two-way exchange of ideas, as opposed to formal presentation, and the joint exploration of problems, as opposed unilateral proposals.

We live in an age of sound bites, Instant feedback and direct response. With too much information and not enough time we want the conclusion without reading the report and the headlines before reading the article. The only problem is that conversations don’t work that way. There are no summaries, no headings and no bullet points. Often the person talking has to verbally reason their way through the detail before you get the headlines you need. You may have figured out the solution within the first few minutes of listening, but the other person has not finished talking yet.

Great talkers out number great listeners ten to one:

Listening is not easy, or else everybody would be doing it and we would live in the type of world described by John Lennon’s ‘Imagine’. Here is the problem: talking results in immediate gratification of the ego, listening on the other hand does not. The little show off in us all wants to be heard, wants the listener to know how much we know and wants to have our opinions aired.

The goal is to learn about the prospect’s problems so that you can sell your solutions. But it is also to make the person feel better, to show you care and to build rapport. By asking questions and listening to the prospect you build awareness of the problem, as well as ownership the solution. These are two vital ingredients of your sales success.

Tips To Improve Your Listening:

· You must earn the right to listen and encourage the prospect to open up, by owing that you are credible, trust-worthy and attentive. You must also tell the prospect that you want to listen and why. For many buyers this may seem unusual, or even unwelcome, with the sales person expected to talk rather than listen and the consultant suspected of repeating back what he/she has been told.

  • Listening is an attitude – it is built on openness and respect for the person talking. To listen well you need to be genuinely interested in the other person and what they have to say.

  • Listening is active, not passive. It is also a full body activity:

- Give visual encouragement to the speaker - face the speaker, maintain eye contact, nod your head as you listen, etc.

- Give non verbal feedback to show that you are listening - using words like "yes", "I see", etc.

  • Listening requires patience and discipline. Because we listen and process information faster than others can talk we must resist the temptation to interrupt, or to jump in. Your challenge is to let the speaker tell the story in his/her own words and at his/her own pace.

  • An intellectual understanding is not enough: great communicators empathize. They also understand the emotional context - reading the emotions and the body language of the person talking.

  • Beware of making judgments and try to remain objective and open-minded. Having been around quite a bit you most likely hae seen it all before. Yet, to really engage with the person talking it is important to sweep away your preconceived notions.

  • Probe by asking open questions (e.g. how do you feel about that? and, in particular, to explore the implications of what is being said.

  • Take some notes. This will aid your concentration at the time and assist your recall after the event. It can also demonstrate that you are listening.

  • Check regularly to ensure that you understand what is being said, paraphrasing the key points to confirm that it is correct and that you understand the importance, or emotion attached to it.

  • Put your ego in your back pocket, this is essential if you are going to listen effectively. Remember it is not about you, it is about the buyer. It does not matter whether what is being said is 'right' or 'wrong'. Resist the temptation to show that you know more than the buyer and protecting the prospects ego at every turn. Remember listening is also a manifestation of confidence on the part of the listener to be able to listen without interrupting.

  • Key to being a good listener is to demonstrate trustworthiness and making it safe for the buyer to open up.

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