Listening is most effective when a salesperson directs the conversation by asking good questions and allowing the customer to share information uninterrupted. Learn more today!
Part 1 – Directed Conversations & Active Listening
As a sales professional, my biggest pet peeve is salespeople that don’t listen. Experience has shown me that many salespeople view customer meetings as an opportunity to “hold court.” I find it obnoxious and rude, so much so that I’ve been known to kick colleagues under the table when I’ve noticed customers unsuccessfully trying to enter the conversation, being interrupted or having their sentences finished. Of course, listening is most effective when a salesperson directs the conversation by asking good questions and allowing the customer to share information uninterrupted. The only exception is when clarifying questions are needed to dig further into something the customer has shared, reinforcing that you’re actively listening and interested in what the client has to say.
Here is an example of how I might start a meeting: Thank you for meeting with us today. I forwarded an agenda ahead of time and we agreed the topics would make for a productive meeting. But before we begin, I have a few questions that will help our team direct today’s conversation. We want to be sure to cover information that’s meaningful and relevant to your business needs.
- Describe your business to me. For example, is there a particular way you breakdown your business.
- Can you highlight your value proposition or market offer for me?
- Can you describe your competitive advantage?
- Describe your typical customer.
- What selling channels do you use and how do you measure the performance of each?
- What is your typical deal size? If it varies by business segment, feel free to elaborate.
- How many new customers do you activate in a year?
- Is there a facet of your business where margins are more attractive than others?
- Are there success criteria or dashboards used for sales and marketing and, if so, can you give me a sense of what that looks like?
- Can you share current organizational gaps that are holding back your ability to grow or take advantage of opportunities in the marketplace?
*Note – Going through all of these might be too much and some might be covered in a pre-meeting, but they get the customer talking and sharing valuable information.
The point of getting customers to share information is to identify specific areas of interest them and ignore subject areas that will waste time or be of little value to you and the customer.
Let’s set the stage. The customer has agreed to a meeting during prime time to have a conversation. When a salesperson asks the right questions and then stops talking, they have the opportunity to gain insights, pain points, gaps or emerging areas of interest within the customer’s business (as examples). With that information, the salesperson has the opportunity to tailor or position their solution in a way that not only meets the customer’s business requirements but potentially makes the competition irrelevant. This new found information might justify a higher price or fee. It’s also possible that a custom solution delivered to the client can be repurposed and sold elsewhere. But without listening this fountain of information never has the opportunity to be shared. Why? Because the salesperson valued talking over engaging in a directed conversation with active listening.
The trick is to engage in active listening. In The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey gave us Habit #5 which is Seek First to Understand, Then to be Understood. Active listening is very similar.
The following are tips for salespeople interested in the practice of active listening:
- Interrupt the customer mid-sentence
- Talk over the customer
- Be a story stealer
- Finish the customer’s sentences
- Think of your response while the customer is answering your questions
- Feature dump – “My product/service does this, this, this and these 3 other things. And wait, there’s more!” Think of a massive run-on sentence filled with features and benefits.
- Take notes
- Listen with the intent to understand
- Ask clarifying questions to further understand a point. Note – This should be done in a way that doesn’t interrupt the flow of the conversation. Jot down notes and interject questions when appropriate – this may be later in the meeting and requires finesse.
- Recap important points at the end of the meeting to make sure you accurately understand the content and context of what was shared.
Within the Sales Toolbox, directed conversations and active listening might be the greatest tool available to sales professionals. If you begin to have directed conversations and become an active listener, you’ll have productive customer meetings, advance more sales opportunities and close more business. More importantly, customers will take note of your consultative nature, separating you from the pack.
I hope this information is helpful and I look forward to your comments.