People often think selling is all about talking. People assume that if someone is a “good talker” they may be successful in a sales position. Productive salespeople do indeed need to be skilled at communicating, yet the act of talking is only part of that communication between client and sales rep. Being persuasive as a seller is a necessary skill, but I suggest that listening is a big key to persuasiveness and, in turn, to overall sales success.
Listening is a big part of selling. I mean active and engaged listening. Active listening means “not waiting until the client stops talking so I can ask my next question” type of listening. Be honest; you know who you are. Do you silently admit that you sometimes find yourself not even hearing what the client is saying because you know you have a surefire “next” question that will just cement the sale, and you wish they would shut up so you can ask it?
Here are a few of suggestions that may help produce better results when communicating with clients.
- Don’t ask questions that you should have easily found answers to before you asked the client for time in their schedules. Nothing destroys credibility faster than unprepared salespeople full of softball questions, such as “How many locations do you have?”
- Be authentic. Make sure you ask well-thought-out and properly researched and focused questions that seek to get the client talking about his or her business. Show your understanding of the client’s basic business, current marketing, and/or industry trends by asking questions that show this preparation and focus.
- Try this: I always liked to visualize each conversation as a tree above ground with many roots below ground that need unearthing. The tree is your initial question; the roots are the many possible follow-up questions whose answers you seek to unearth given what the client tells you. This is where the active listening really comes into play. You can’t formulate your next question until you hear the client’s response to the first question. You are seeking a depth of understanding to the many issues your client’s business may be facing, so engagement and listening in real time is key to a successful needs analysis.
- Start the conversation with questions that are broad in nature relating the customer’s business. This will allow you to begin to understand what the types of challenges or issues the client may be facing, because most of the time the most pressing issues bubble to the top. Trees are broad, right?
- Take notes. Doing so communicates non-verbally that you are truly interested in understanding, and then you can use the notes to summarize and eventually prioritize the conversation.
- Finally, one question I have found that many salespeople NEVER ask. As you are ready to close the conversation ask “What should we have talked about today that we have not yet covered?” This allows the client to disclose a last and possibly most important topic that had not yet surfaced.
Listening is hard work. Remember to summarize from your notes the needs you unearthed, and then prioritize with your client which one they want assistance with solving first. Keep track of the information you uncover with a good activity spreadsheet or in the notes section of your media sales CRM. Your client will appreciate it when you remember what they told you the first time!